Monthly Archives: November 2010

Are You Generating Creative Tension?

Lately I’ve reading about leaders… people who find the best in themselves and in turn inspire, engage and mobilize others under demanding circumstances.

Three weeks ago while on a flight to a west coast conference I was confronted with 6 hours to catch-up on reading. I had recently started Ronald Heifetz’s Leadership without Easy Answers. Heifetz, a senior lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the co-founder of the Center for Public Leadership is an expert on leadership. A colleague had warned that Heifertz’s book is “quite dense” and requires extra effort to draw parallels to today’s business environment. And so I asked a flight attendant for coffee.

Fully caffeinated I settled in for 6 hours of tough work… but then recalled that I had packed November’s Harvard Business Review which highlighted lessons on leadership from the military. I decided to flip through the issue before getting back to Heifertz’s book. Two hours later I was still reading the HBR.

It’s good thing that I did.

November’s HBR showed how specific leadership strategies can directly impact success. And Robert Simon’s article “Stress-test your Strategy” provides 7 key measures that leaders should use to gauge the health of their business strategy. And one of these measures is always in a product manager’s bag.

Creative Tension
Simons maintains that a primary role of business leaders is to make sure that outside market pressures are felt inside the business. He contends that unless competitive pressures are made palpable to the staff, motivation to create solutions that win is unlikely to occur. Product development staff can sometimes feel insulated from external pressures and leaders need to create a sense of urgency to rouse staff from their “comfortable ruts.”

During the conference I used Twitter to extend my eyes and ears back to the team in Boston. I discovered that several competitors were moving faster in the mobile computing space and several had recently launched applications that offered customers more convenient ways to stay connected while “on the go.”

So, what did I do?

I opened my bag and reached for a well worn product management tool… I generated creative tension. I simply posted an image on Twitter of a competitor’s recently launched iPad / iPhone member services application. I didn’t say the words. I didn’t need to. But the message was clear; “we are behind in mobile computing.”


Innovation is a business imperative and there is unmistakable correlation between financial success and product innovation. And generating creative tension is one technique that will spur innovation.

Leaders know to introduce creative tension in slow drips. Time is needed to weigh costs and benefits within an overarching strategy.

Drip, drip, drip.

It really works. If you’re impatient, it might feel like a waste of your time. You may even be tempted to give up. But stick it out

As a product manager, make sure that you are generating creative tension inside your firm. Then channel that energy and make something happen.