With an expressed attitude of “bias towards actions,” Design Thinking, in its most popular form, lacks helpful pauses to assess, think, and reflect. These pauses possess the potential to be pregnant with critique, corrections and creativity. What rests are to musicians, lines breaks are to poets, and negative spaces are to artists, so pregnant pauses are to leaders. D’Souza and Renner point to a work by Robert French, Peter Simpson, and Charles Harvey to which I turn my attention here (Not Knowing, 112-117).
In “‘Negative Capability’: A Contribution to the Understanding of Creative Leadership,” the authors contrast positive and negative capabilities:
A leader’s ‘positive capabilities’ are those which are generally described as the skills, competencies, knowledge and technologies of leadership. The underpinning image of leadership is based on knowing and is manifested through activity, work and achievement. There is, however, a quite other dimension of leadership, based on not knowing, on not doing, on being-done-to, and on being no longer in control of one’s own situation. It is the capacity to work creatively with this dimension of human experience that the poet John Keats called‘ Negative Capability.’ (288).
Negative capabilities hold space, give free reign to the imagination, and create what French and his peers call “creative capacity” (302). These are essential characteristics of those who desire to lead in liminality and at the edge of certainty and uncertainty.
These negative capabilities do not outweigh the positive capabilities, but work in correlation. The positive capabilities mobilize the negative and negative unify the positive. The tyranny of the urgent and the pull to obsessive doing plague leaders who can barely sit through a stoplight or bowel movement without attending to their digital leash. It’s no wonder, then, that individuals who fail to pause create methods and environments where pauses are ignored.
Design Thinking traditionally asks three questions about viability, feasibility, and desirability. Will people buy it? Can we make it? Do people want it? These are the positive capabilities of innovation, but without the negative capabilities – without reflection, without pause – these same three questions downward spiral dangerously. I suggest (at least) four pauses at the boundary line of each phase of the Design Thinking process in which I invite your critique.
1. What are the humanitarian ethics involved in this problem, idea, or solution?
2. To what extent does this problem, idea or solution promote justice, equity, and shalom?
3. What are the long-term impacts of this problem, idea, or solution?
4. Who is most served by the idea? Least served?
5. Whose voice are missing at this point?
6. Where do we sense the Spirit’s leading?
The gap between is and ought begs for creative capacity. The left and right foot of positive and negative capabilities help a leader walk as she is constantly pressured to react – to individuals, events, and the Market. Leaders must employ pregnant pauses if creation solutions are to be birthed.
Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner, Not Doing: The Art of Effortless Action (New York: LID Publishing, 2018).
Robert French, Peter Simpson, and Charles Harvey, “‘Negative Capability’: A Contribution to the Understanding of Creative Leadership.” In Psychoanalytic Studies of Organizations: Contributions from the International Society of Organizations: Contributions from the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations. Edited by B. Sievers, with H. Brunning, J. De Gooijer, L.J. Gould, and R. R. Mersky. Londong: Karnac Books, 2009.