Systems Thinking Theory and Practice

Creative Tension - Why our Vision Must Be Ambitious

By Kevin Mueller,

Creative tension is a concept formulated by Robert Fritz and made popular by Peter Senge1.

Creative tension is what we ideally get when struggling to achieve our vision. It is a tension that arises when dealing with the conflicts the struggle brings. This can only happen, if our vision is ambitious; if we are taking a risk in formulating overall goals that will be hard to reach.

The risk involved in having an ambitious vision is that the conflicts arising from the struggle to achieve our vision can go sour rather than creating creative tension. Senge and Fritz call the state of being torn between powerlessness or unworthiness and our vision as the “forces of structural conflict”.

I think creative tension is very powerful. It is something I have felt and experienced at work, but had no name or real concept for it. If it is there, work is hard but rewarding. I remember the feeling of satisfaction whenever we came a step closer in working towards reaching our vision for an idea, project or product because we had to work hard to get there. There were not too many such moments though. It takes an inspiring team and interesting, meaningful problems to solve.

  1. Robert Fritz “The Path of Least Resistance for Managers” and Peter M. Senge “The Fifth Discipline, The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization”