Let’s talk about Creative Tension. The energy that lies in the center of every great concept. We are all familiar with tension, in the literal sense. It’s a force, a tightness, a tautness. In advertising and marketing, it’s key to to igniting action. It’s a structure that can unlock creativity.

Peter Senge explains it best:

“The gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy. If there were no gap, there would be no need for any action to move towards the vision. We call this gap creative tension.”

Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline

Creative Tension Graphic

As a creative, harnessing that tension allows the work to establish a foothold in the audience’s mind. It causes action and emotional dissonance, which demands resolution. It also grounds your vision to a trigger point in the current cultural reality—giving the conversation a place to begin.

In order for a creative message to connect and really cut through, the message should illustrate a gap in the consumer’s daily lives that perhaps he or she did not realize existed. As a marketer, the work establishes a “vision” of a better reality, beyond what the current reality is. The bigger the gap, the stronger the call to action.

It’s only been within the last year that I have really tried to use this methodology as a framing for creative problem solving. Over the years, I have utilized some form or another of this thinking to create messaging and solutions that defined a gap for the consumer. It was more intuition than anything else. But I have to say, seeing it explained with this metaphor is massively helpful. It sharpens the thinking, and forces you to acknowledge the true reality of the problem at hand, and then, unlock the truth or energy that will move the target audience to action. The audience needs to SEE the gap in their current situation and how product X can improve it. If there’s no gap, there would be no reason for action.

We applied this tension model to how we developed our approach to Creative How. We knew there were many great interview podcasts out there that basically gave listeners the guest’s “baseball card” bio. We saw an opportunity to skip a majority of that and jump more quickly to the meat of what listeners would be looking for as they explore possibly starting on the guest’s same career path. We know a guest’s personal story is important and interesting, but we want to balance that with ACTIONABLE insights.

So here’s how we could define the creative tension for Creative How :

Utilitarian podcast that gives you the how-to’s of creative careers << gap >> Over-long biographical interview podcasts and success stories

How are you using creative tension to develop work and ideas that will resonate with your audience?