Monday, March 12, 2012

Fire in the Earth

A friend and I were talking about a perennial topic – how organizations seek to control the environments they operate in. Control is, at most, very limited; the 24-hour news cycle, te flood of social media, citizens journalism, and the increasing distrust of all institutions are only a few of the forces steadily dismantling the notion that organizations can control their worlds. The fact is, we can’t, if we ever could.

This desire for control remains strong, however. Promises to investors depend on it. And the desire for control is one reason why organizations both seek creativity and fear it. Creativity allows the organization to adapt to new and changing circumstances. But creativity is a two-edged sword – it also leads to change within the organization, upsetting status quos, challenging closely held assumptions and beliefs, and rendering sacred cows obsolete if not actually slaughtering them.

Creativity is like fire, and fire, says David Whyte in The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, contains two qualities simultaneously. Fire warms and nourishes, providing heat and light; it also consumes, acting as a “dance of energy that devours and sublimates the outworn.”

To avoid this “fear of fire,” and especially in the corporate workplace, Whyte says, we will take the path of ice “to freeze everything and everyone around us so that they cannot move or take light.” To control and secure, corporations tend to touch everything with a “bureaucratic hoarfrost.”

At times, I’ve felt like road kill on the path of ice. And yet as painful as it can be, it’s part of what creativity is about. You have to risk the vulnerability of pain and loss to crate something new and needed and powerful.

Oddly enough, this is also the source of joy in the workplace, Whyte says, and joy is rare. “the rare appearance of joy at work is so painfully exquisite that we may actually experience joy as a moment of terror…it means we are made more vulnerable to loss in a corporate culture where loss is the first bullet point on the important list of things not to be experienced.”

To know joy at work means we must know grief at work. Both happen; both are intimately connected so that the same things often bring both. Grief is not a risk of creativity; grief alongside joy is an inevitable outcome of creativity.

At Tweetspeak Poetry, we’re discussing David Whyte’s The Heart Aroused. This week we’re covering chapters three and four, led by Lyla Lindquist. Lyla’s discussion and links by others participating will be live on Wednesday. My post today covers chapter 3, “Fire in the Earth.” If I get really ambitious, I will have a post on chapter four, “Fire in the Voice,” later this week.


Anonymous said...

a business will go downhill fast if it is being run out of the place of fear.

L.L. Barkat said...

I am struck by Nance's comment. Yes, so true.

And this is just really standing out to me... "You have to risk the vulnerability of pain and loss to create something new and needed and powerful."

That feels about right, right about now. :)

Lyla Willingham Lindquist said...

That image he used of "bureaucratic hoarfrost" really captured me. Perhaps because we went through several days of hoarfrost in my area recently. It's an amazing beautiful thing from a distance, but up close it is spiky and sharp, what I termed a month or so as that "you're beautiful when you're angry sort of way."

But when it spreads throughout the region, it touches everything and it's almost as though the whole world stops. In nature, it's stunning and lovely. In business, it's just cold and deadening. Appreciate your voice in the discussion, Glynn. Looking forward to your thoughts tomorrow on fire in the voice -- I wasn't able to even get near that chapter in my post. Too full. ;-)