We talk about stress as if it’s a bad thing. Maybe it’s just a stretch.

The scope and ability to hold different points of view at the same time. Leading and following. Glass half full, glass half empty. Literal and exaggerated. Rapid fire versus slow and methodical. Push and pull. Inputs and outputs. Individual knowledge compared to collective knowledge. Consonance and dissonance. Breathe in, breathe out.

There is tension around us. All the time. So maybe it’s not a problem to solve, but an extension to manage.

Take the epic love story for example. Romance novels are often written in a dual point of view format allowing for a lot of push and pull between the hero and heroine. There are even opposing views on the quest to conquer our lover: “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is the belief that time apart is good for us, while “out of sight, out of mind” is the belief that being separated from one -the other is disastrous for love to win. It is the tension in the journey to find true lasting love that compels the reader to devour hundreds of pages as they envision their happily ever after.

There is a lot of tension in innovation, especially when using human-centered design principles. Think of a Venn diagram with overlapping, competing components of customer desirability, technical feasibility, and business viability. Thousands of data points can be analyzed and reconciled before the product or service is brought to market in a way that best supports each interrelated interest. It is the tension of overlap that drives the innovative mindset.

The Tour de France is an epic example of tension. The legendary sport dates back to 1903 and brings together the greatest cyclists from around the world. It’s a grueling 2,200 miles over 21 stages, including time trials, ancient cobbled roads and mountain climbs of the Alps and Pyrenees. Highly skilled riders specialize in the familiar roles of sprinter, climber, time trialist, puncher and sprinter. Globally we stream the event live at all hours of the day and night to watch riders compete – or worse, crash. We cheer on the breakaway riders and marvel at the pulse of the Peloton. For the world of cycling, it is the most iconic event that exemplifies the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Race, eat, recover, repeat is the mantra for the 176 novice riders each year trying to make a name for themselves and their team. The entire event is a strategic masterpiece – competing for time, points and jerseys – and is filled with nothing but tension.

Stacey Mason

Music lives in the conflict between consonance and dissonance. The consonance is harmonious and pleasing to the ear. At the same time, dissonance—notes that don’t sound like they go together—gives a sharp, harsh, and unpleasant sound sensation and causes a sense of disharmony. Dissonant sounds create turmoil, and composers use this disharmony to give the music a “sense of urgency.” In most musical scores, the tension will be resolved in a few short measures after the tension is felt. So why create a tension that needs to be resolved? Because it forces you to listen differently, to experience the music more viscerally.

Finally, there is popularity and singularity. The strongest internal tension is man’s desire to fit in and stand out.

Most of our social ills live in a constant state of tension, and we naturally want to see this friction resolved. While we may not know how to do so immediately, the tension—the push and pull, the overlap, the competition, the dissonance—forces us to pay attention and engage differently. And that can’t be a bad thing.

There is tension everywhere. It’s never going away. Embrace the stretch h.

However, I am learning…

Stacey Mason is the founder of The Improv Lab, a professional development business in Bentonville. More information is available by calling 479-877-0131. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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