What was it, that made you learn best, back in school? Was that when you were totally captured by a topic or the way it was presented by your teacher? Or was that when your parents stood behind you (virtually “with a stick”) giving you a hard time by pushing you to do your homework?

Yesterday, I read the following in some article: “[…] which are closely related and characterized by constructive tension […]”. That resonated. “Constructive Tension” – What is this really? How can “tension” be “constructive”? How would anyone think of “tension” to be the driving force behind an initiative and imagine that it can be created to be “constructive”?

It was some 12 years ago – commencing into my people management years – when I learned to adopt a principle – first theoretically, later by literally experiencing it in my daily job: “Suction instead of Tension” *). That is why I instantly believed that “constructive tension” cannot exist. Here’s why:

  1. Tension is a force – physical or emotional – that leads to strain. Strain is in no case a constructive feeling – rather destructive.
  2. Goals, outcomes, deliverables, … targeted by applying tension to the actors are normally either not achieved at all or are not perfect. At least, they are not sustainable. Accepting imperfect or non-sustainable results to an initiative is like accepting to be second best. Hence, applying tension in the assumption that it might be constructive is accepting tension for the benefit of its constructiveness over first-class awesomeness of an initiative and its outcome. Noone would really wanna do that.
  3. People loaded with tension steadily float into a state of sneaking demotivation. The constant personal pressure put on them by the tension applied to the respective initiative may lead to some positive results but experience shows that in the long run people get less productive, less motivated and less constructive – eventually leading to an all-time motivational “low”, fully disabling them to yield great results. Rather destructive than constructive, that is.

Bottom line: There is no such thing like “constructive tension”. It cannot exist. By definition. It is a paradox in itself.

The only constructive force supporting personal motivation and thereby leading to utterly perfect results and a sustainable, positive outcome of an initiative is “suction”. By creating a culture of intrinsic motivation, self-responsibility, involvement and identification with a goal, mission, vision and strategy, people will work their axxxx off to achieve the utmost perfection and exceed any goals set. I have experienced “suction moments” in teams which have enough force to blow you away and leave you standing in awe about what is possible if the motivation is just right.

You can reach beyond any all-time high if not tension is your pushing force, but a culture of “suction” is your guiding path!

*) in German: "Sog statt Druck" - which is one of those rare cases were the German language offers the better flow

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