Find the tension that makes you tick

Alignment is a central part of how you build a brand, and I always expound the value of making sure this and that work together to achieve the same end. But it only does so much and needs another element to push the kind of deep work that is present in great organisations and the resulting brand.

The other element is tension.

Look under the covers of successful organisations and you will find tension at work. I’m not talking about the “this place sucks” kind. This tension is more like the laws of nature where opposing forces work to balance each other.

It is found embedded within the organisation’s identity. In the purpose and values. And that’s the perfect place for it to live. The identity is how the organisation translates the world, making decisions and acting to respond to fantastic struggles and fortuitous moments alike.

It pulls and pushes at the same time so that a kind of energetic equilibrium can exist in the middle. An example of this kind of tension lives in the first two parts of Patagonia’s mission statement: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm…”

The best product requires environmental harm. All manufacturing does, even when practised using recycled and renewable resources. Cause no unnecessary harm is the counterpoint requiring them to continually look at how they are causing harm and remove as much of it as possible from the way they operate, while still building the best product.

The active, ongoing tension between best product and unnecessary harm is a driver for the way Patagonia does business. To learn more about the roots of Patagonia click here.

To be clear, this is not about a trade of one area for the other. It is about how you achieve both in equal measure. And once you start looking tension is everywhere. Here are a few other examples from my work.

Discipline and play.

Lightness and grit.

Form and function.

Form and function is a famous and glibly used tension. When the tension between the two is not active you get a beautiful chair that is exquisitely uncomfortable to sit in. A bland blob of a car that drives like it’s on rails.

If you’ve done the work to dig into your identity and understand your purpose and values, it’s likely there will be tension somewhere in the relationship between them. Navigating that tension is how you progress and get better. How you get a beautiful chair that is also comfortable to sit in.

And because it’s part of your identity, it’s always there forcing you to consider the promises you are making and how you will keep them.

Think about your organisation. What’s your tension? What elements push and pull in equal measure.

See you next week.

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