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Some tension is good for your brand

I recently read a post by David C. Baker, a thought leader in creative entrepreneurship, about a few places where keeping a productive tension can be helpful as a principle of a firm.

Baker likens these tensions to a bridge:

“Imagine a suspension bridge, where the massive cables are buried deep in the rocks on either side of the river, and pulling against those cables is the static weight of the bridge and the traffic that crosses it. That tension must be held in balance or the bridge collapses.”


As leaders, if we are doing our jobs right, much of our time is spent trying to get to the root of and resolve various tensions. We need to dig in and find the real answers, and make sure that we are not letting unhealthy tension fester.

But are there tensions that we should not be solving? By assuming that all tension is negative, could we actually be pulling those cables out of the rocks and causing harm to the stability of our organizations?

It caused me to reflect on places where I have seen productive tension in our clients’ family brands – suspension bridge tension.


Here are 10 that immediately came to mind:


  • Honoring the past and building upon the strong foundation of what has worked for the business… while staying open to new opportunities for evolution that will keep the business growing and engaging for future generations.


  • Running a profitable business… while staying true to your values.


  • Staying humble and focused on excellence… while still clearly communicating the exceptional value your team works so hard to consistently deliver.


  • Seeing new opportunities for growth and untapped potential for the brand… while still staying focused on a single vision, with clarity and consistency.


  • A focus on results and metrics with the knowledge that “what gets measured gets done” … without assuming that the only measure of success is topline sales or profitability.


  • Appreciating long-term customer, vendor, and employee relationships… without becoming so fearful of losing those relationships that they start to hamper the brand’s potential for evolution.


  • Being “customer obsessed” and speaking to your customers regularly… while still picking your head up and looking at bigger trends and patterns that they don’t see yet.


  • Sticking to your brand’s core in order to make sure that you don’t erode its value or push into areas where you can’t compete… but also scanning for opportunities to expand into new areas that aren’t immediately obvious.


  • Engaging experts and hiring people who have already done what you want to do with your brand to push it further than you can on your own… and still having confidence that your vision and your gut feeling for the direction of your brand is right.


  • Presenting a brand image that is accurate, trustworthy, and authentic… but identifying the times when articulating a strong “next stage” vision for the brand can help to attract the customers, partners, and employees who can make that vision a reality.


Confidence, maturity, and precise steadiness are required to hold this tension effectively. It also requires a curiosity and openness to dwelling in questions that don’t have immediate answers, and being okay with that.

I am reminded of this quote from the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke:

“Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.”

When you are next feeling like there are unsolved questions in your brand strategy, or tensions between past and future, or change and stasis, or opportunity and focus, try to enjoy the questions that come up. These “suspension bridge” tensions are making your brand stronger, and may be the very things that allow you to safely cross the chasm below.