DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Leadership Potential of Pregnant Pauses

Written by: on October 7, 2020

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.

About the Author


Shawn Cramer

10 responses to “Leadership Potential of Pregnant Pauses”

  1. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    I really appreciate the questions you pose at the end. Are these questions asked during each “pause” as a point of evaluation? How do you envision this process working in a ministry context that moves quickly, and often times responsively rather than proactively? The problem with the pause is it slows things down- which can be very beneficial- but is also quite counter cultural. How would you prep your team for moving at a slower pace that incorporates a particular process which leads to an open handed outcome? Have you seen this done effectively at Cru in the past?

    • mm Shawn Cramer says:

      People don’t change unless there is pain. I’m imagine a fast-paced organization will only provide pauses after there have been some misses and failures. The key, then, would be to make sure there are pauses enough to acknowledge those failures before quickly moving onto the the next sprint.

  2. mm Greg Reich says:

    I think that pauses needed and questions are brilliant. There are very few lines form movies that haunt my thoughts but one from Jurassic Park that has stuck with me all these years. Ian Malcom is voicing his concerns with the hap hazard science of not learning the knowledge for themselves but just adding to what already had been done. “Your scientists were so occupied with whether they could they didn’t stop to think if they should.” How do these pauses and questions prevent you from just taking the next logical step and ask the hard questions around long term costs and ramifications of the choices being made?

  3. mm John McLarty says:

    I hate the pause, but I know you’re right. It’s in that space where we give ourselves the freedom to be critical and, more importantly, the room to lean into the leading of the Spirit. Other possible questions in the pause: “Are we asking the right questions? Are we trying to solve the right problem?”

  4. mm Dylan Branson says:

    I think I would add two more pauses – one before you begin the process and one after the final step. I believe in an earlier post you (or maybe someone else – likely Greg; I don’t remember at this point haha) mentioned how important it is to pause BEFORE you begin the design process to ask if it is something that’s truly needed (I think some of the questions you list imply a pre-design process reflection though). The final pause AFTER the process breeds reflection on the entire process as well as allows for reflection on whether the goal has been achieved and who has been affected by the process. Though, again, maybe that’s an implied part of the process.

  5. mm Chris Pollock says:

    The critique, correction and creativity.

    I like the idea of pausing or, being brought to break/pause. Thanks for writing about this, Shawn. And, the diagram is awesome.

    In these pauses, releasing into effective negative capabilities (calm) giving way for maximum creative capacity. How could maximum creative capacity come about here? These deep breaths and moments of release.

    We want to get to the end so quickly. And, does it need to be a stress to get there?

  6. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    I think I can frame it in the journey. At times we sprint, others we rest, and others we keep the pace. A proper framing will allow groups that like to move quickly to embrace this… and it isn’t pausing for months, it could be just minutes, asking the Spirit to highlight what we’re leaving out.

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