Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Control vs. Spontaneity by Michelle Kunz

Analysis kills spontaneity. -- Henri-Frederic Amiel

The author of genius does keep till his last breath the spontaneity, the ready sensitiveness, of a child...the ability to respond freshly and quickly...to see traits and characteristics as though each were new-minted...instead of sorting them quickly into dusty categories and pigeon-holing them without wonder or surprise... -- Dorothea Brande

Perfection is control.
Excellence is spontaneous.

When we began this series we observed that many good intentions can be reshaped into obsession below the radar of our awareness, and control is another great example of this phenomenon. Some amount of control is often appropriate and perhaps even preferable, for example where highly emotional displays are concerned, but too much control can also lay the groundwork for apathy, boredom and at its worst, anger, frustration and rage.

In our last post we discussed how anger and frustration can be the natural result of the desire to be right, fueled by the resulting fear of making a mistake, which ultimately leads an individual to attempt to control aspects of life which cannot actually be controlled. This is one example of how control can be destructive.

Control can also result when an individual suffers from other types of fear (coupled with the resulting typical behavior):
  • Fear of intimacy (I will not allow myself to get too close)
  • Fear of embarrassment (I will control how others see me)
  • Fear of failure (I will control the outcome)
  • Fear of success (I will control the outcome)
  • Fear of losing control (I will exert more control)
  • Fear of intensity (I will shut my emotions off)
  • Fear of personal flaws (I will overwork or I will not try)
  • Fear of commitment -- to a person or a decision (I will procrastinate)

Control taken to these levels often becomes the overarching rule by which perfectionists run their lives, and although they may suspect something is out of balance, they may be unable to see where the inequity lies or make any moves to produce a change. Relationships suffer greatly, both personally and professionally, and overall effectiveness is compromised.

Why is excellence spontaneous?

For individuals who have relied on control to govern their fears, spontaneity at first glance seems like chaos. It is dangerous, inviting all varieties of unpredictability into a life where once ruled smooth uniformity and routine. Calm, cool and collected is traded for intensely emotional displays run amok. There are far too many variables involved to even consider, and the temptation is to shut the door and return to the familiar comfort of a highly controlled environment, whether internal, external or both.

However, let's examine the true nature of spontaneity and challenge these limiting beliefs.

According to Encarta, the first definition of spontaneous is: "arising from internal cause: resulting from internal or natural processes, with no apparent external influence." The definition most people associate with the word -- "unrestrained" -- is the third definition.

What would happen if we allowed our internal system of values and beliefs, our fundamental intelligence and creativity, to speak up and inspire us to say what's on our minds without concern for appearances, failure, negative feedback, rejection, pressure, politics, or any other perceived or real external influence?

A powerful leader knows how to be spontaneous and how to encourage it in others. It is in spontaneity that fresh ideas are born and problems solved. It is here that lively debate can occur, the lifeblood of a healthy, productive team. Why do we like brainstorming sessions? Because when done well, they are spontaneous, and fantastic schemes can be invented and explored without judgment.

Spontaneity is childlike but it is not childish. A powerful leader knows the difference and can confidently and adeptly nourish the former while keeping the latter at bay. Control has its place, but teams are hungry for spontaneity, and there is a wilderness of room available for exploration.


Rafael said...

Excellent post. It is so true that spontaneity is the key action that spawns new and fresh ideas. I believe that new business leaders must let go of some "old school” approaches and be more encouraging of spontaneous thoughts and actions amongst their teams. There is no worse feeling that an employee gets when he believes that his ideas or either not wanted or simply dismissed. To that effect, nothing kills the motivation and ambition of a team member faster than micro-managing and a “total control attitude from the leadership. If leaders of companies want their teams to have positive and productive influences that directly affect the bottom line, they must incorporate spontaneity into their corporate culture.

Michelle Kunz said...

Great comment, Rafael. You touch on a great point -- how lousy it feels to have water poured on your great idea without the opportunity to at least be heard all the way through. And yes, this "total control" attitude you speak of does exactly what you suggest: demotivates and leads to apathy. It takes a great deal of courage to lead with spontaneity because some control is sacrificed in the process.

Keep it coming!