Communication, Creativity, & Constraint

Most of us understand communication in two forms: a one-sided transfer of information or a two-sided transactional process where dialogue occurs. But leaders cannot rely solely on communication in these two forms. Leaders have to leverage communication to balance creativity and constraint.

Creativity & Constraint

In their book, Organizational Communication: Balancing Creativity and Constraint, Authors Eric Eisenberg, H. L. Goodall, Jr., and Angela Trethewey define communication as, “the moment-to-moment working out of the tension between individual creativity and organizational constraint.” On one side of the equation is the individual’s desire to create, innovate, dream, and reexamine routines and practices that are often taken for granted. On the other side of the equation are the very real organizational constraints such as deadlines, finances, rules, etc.

Leaders have to leverage communication to balance creativity and constraint. Click To Tweet

This tension will never be resolved…and it’s not meant to be resolved. It is a tension in which leaders must use their skills as communicators to balance the tension and make essential progress. You can’t squelch the creativity of your employees or they’ll disengage. And you can’t ignore your responsibility to steward the organization’s resources wisely or you’ll go broke. You have to balance the need to maintain control (constraint) while at the same time promoting change (creativity). So what do you as a leader do to create that balance?

  • Make Room for Creative Dialogue – If every conversation begins with guards standing at the door of tradition, then you’ll put the brakes on any creativity and drive some of your best thinkers out of the organization.
  • Shift from “Don’t” to “How – Your “constraint” mindset will naturally say, “We DON’T have the money!” That may be true but it’s a very limiting way to think. Change the statement slightly: “HOW can we get the money?” This one shift can open the doors to a world of possibility.
  • Look for Multiple Options – When a “creative type” comes up with a great new idea, sometimes a mentality exists that it’s the only worthwhile idea…or the best way to solve a problem. Stretch your team to expand the idea or to think of additional options. Don’t say, “No” to the idea…just make room for more ideas. Sometimes an alternative idea will be equally effective yet bust through the constraints of the organization. Remember, ideas are free…until you act on them. Having multiple ideas gives you options and helps you deal more effectively with constraints.
  • Find Opportunity in Your Constraints – Most of us look at constraints as our limiting factors to success rather than investigating what opportunities are buried in the constraints. Craig Groeschel from admits that one of their greatest opportunities–going multi-site with video teaching–was discovered when they were faced with a constraint. Craig’s wife was about to give birth to a child which meant Craig would miss the Sunday service, leaving the church without a communicator. Somebody suggested they play the video of Craig’s message from the Saturday night service…and the rest is history.

You have creative people on your team looking for opportunities to exercise their gift. At the same time, you’re reminded nearly every day of your organizational constraints. Remember, it’s not either or. Use moment-to-moment interactions with your team to balance the tension and make forward progress.

Question: What tensions between creativity and constraint exist in your church or organization? How have you communicated as the leader to bring value to both sides of the tension? How can you leverage the tension to make progress?