How to Develop Kinetic Stability

7645861006_2831e7121e_k This post is by Dennis Rader

When the psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi discusses the phenomenon of flow, he is referring to kinetic stability. The term indicates both movement and balance—action fueled by self-generated wings and guided by an inner gyroscope. Individuals, or systems, with kinetic stability are dynamic, changing, effective, and, at the same time, hard to knock out of kilter. They maintain purposeful direction despite disruptive and derailing influences. Despite the challenges and pitfalls of white water, they maintain purpose and balance.

The athlete in the zone, the philosopher or poet lost in thought, the musician at one with the music, the child enraptured by the placing of colored beads on a string, all exhibit kinetic stability. An organization like 3M is kinetically stable—and it is no accident that play is an essential characteristic of their 75 years of success. The kinetically stable have focus but not fixation, attention but not dysfunction. Distractions may surround them and occasionally burst through the intensity of their focus, but their confident passion soon reasserts itself. They find a way to stay true to the call of their endeavors.

So how can organizations develop kinetic stability?

For increased KINETIC STABILITY organizations need training that:

  • Helps them recognize the power of guiding metaphors—those images of the endeavor that determine methods and materials—and how to change them when necessary.
  • Encourages the imagination, interest, and initiative of everyone involved—as well as the understanding and judgment that guide those factors.
  • Recognizes that learning has a dynamic ecology—and that making ground-up, not top-down, adjustments to the process in mid-flow is essential.
  • Redefines learning toward a balance between utilizing both left and right-brain capabilities.

The answer to all these issues is simple: All we need are sufficient whacks upon the sides of our collective heads to knock the bad ideas out of our personal and organizational minds. And we have a lot of whacking to do.

This is what Roger von Oech has been proposing for over thirty years. In his book, A Whack on the Side of The Head: How to Unlock Your Mind for Innovation, he writes about the difference between hard thinking (left brain) and soft thinking (right brain):

Soft thinking is metaphorical, approximate, diffuse, humorous, playful, and capable of dealing with contradiction. Hard thinking, on the other hand, tends to be more logical, precise, exact, specific, and consistent. We might say that hard thinking is like a spotlight. It is bright, clear, and intense, but the focus is narrow. Soft thinking is like a floodlight. It is more diffuse, not as intense, but covers a wider area.

Schooling, as well as professional development, has been fixated on the development of spotlights. But a canoe in white water guided only by spotlights will not be able to ride the current; it will too often find itself slammed into boulders that suddenly loom out of the always dark future. It will lose direction and momentum, and may even be capsized. We need more floodlights; we need more right brain capabilities. And we need to learn how to communicate between left and right brain; riding the current requires both spotlights and floodlights dancing together to help us see the way and deal with the problems and possibilities.

So we need the whacks on the head necessary to change our schooling and our professional training. That is, if we want kinetic stability. That is, if we want effectiveness in today’s tumultuous world.

Is your organization developing kinetic stability? If so, how? If not, why?

Photo by Ashley MacKinnon