One of the most (potentially) frustrating things for anyone attempting to create is dissonance. Productivity guru David Allen has described it as all of the “stuff” that’s floating out in the nebulous regions of our mind that we know we need to do, but haven’t yet addressed. In our creating, I tend to define dissonance as when the “why” and the “what” don’t add up.
In organizations this often occurs when there’s a break between client strategy and creative strategy. (In other words, when what we’re doing doesn’t line up with what we say we’re trying to do.) It can also play out systemically in our organizations when the “why” (what we say we’re about, our stated organizational values, the “main thing”) doesn’t line up with the “what” (our systems, our day-to-day work, the product we produce.) When this break begins to creep into our teams, we often experience the emergence of the “black box” phenomenon.
The “black box” is the (unknown, unseen) place where the “why” formula resides. Because we aren’t able to see the connection between cause and effect (the over-arching “why” and the practical “what” of our work) we assume that there must be some mystical, unknowable force (let’s call them our manager) who holds the key to understanding the universe. The problem in this situation is that it can be incredibly demotivating to live within a system where there’s a cause/effect disconnect. Ultimately it leads to disconnectedness and apathy about results, a lack of ability to generate ideas and see connections, and a culture of self-protection. (There’s often an unwillingness to take risks when cause/effect connections are tenuous.)
There are tons of ways that this can creep into our lives and orgs, but for now here are a few things to keep our eyes this week on as we go about our work:
Leaders: We must eliminate any dissonance that exists within the org. We must focus on making the “why” (the existence questions of the org) and the “what” (our systems, processes, work) line up. Drive clarity. Have effective feedback loops (both ways – I’ve often really stunk at this in my leading.) Make it safe to ask the “why” questions. Eliminate the myth of the black box. Stand in the gap for your team.
Creatives: Seek clarity. Stop playing the victim. (If we give a self-pitying mindset any ground, it will grow like kudzu.) Ground yourself in the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where, why) before moving to the “how.” If you can’t answer the 5 W’s, then stop work until you can. Have the equivalent of a “client strategy” in your personal creating. Be your own creative director.
Seriously, people. If we don’t get a grip on dissonance it will take us down. As my friend Brian always says, “small weed now, big problem later.” Over time, weeds in a sidewalk will allow room for water to get in. Over the seasons, water freezes and thaws, expands and contracts, and destroys the sidewalk. Do the little bit of work now to uproot the weeds now. It’s a lot easier in the long run.