Don’t Force It

Roger Von Oech, one of the world’s foremost experts on creativity, tells the story of an architect who built a cluster of office buildings around a central green.

When construction was finished, the landscape crew asked him where he wanted the sidewalks.

“Just plant the grass solidly between the buildings”, he replied.

By late summer, the new lawn was laced with paths of trodden grass between the buildings. These paths turned in easy curves and were sized according to traffic flow. In the fall, the architect simply paved the paths. Not only were the paths beautiful, they responded directly to user needs.

So often we become fixated on how our plan is supposed to be or how we must follow it, to the point where we begin to unnaturally force matters.

Inflexibility abounds.

Rigidity and dogmatism rule.

Like a toddler trying to shove a star shaped block into a square hole, we grow increasingly exasperated – yet at the same time, even more determined to compel things to happen.

The irony is, when we ease off and let go, progress often moves into flow, like a river finding the best path to the sea.

Creativity erupts.

Solutions emerge.

The pause which occurs by taking a step back from constant pressure allows us to see a different and fresh perspective.

We see solutions more clearly than when we were enforcing our original, sometimes flawed plan.

Some examples of “forcing” in action:

The project which should be shelved (despite already considerable investment).

The brand which should have been left to die, instead of continuing to plough through marketing campaign after marketing campaign, due to the company’s emotional attachment to its once stellar success.

The idea the senior leadership team have been wedded to, but which is no longer suitable due to the changing external market, environmental or economic environment.

The latest cultural drive for OSH, driven by rule making and “thou shalts”.

The manager who is hanging on to a direct report whose performance is not going to lift, but whom he is reluctant to accept is in the wrong role.

So, this week, I encourage you to make like that architect.

Ask yourself –

What am I currently forcing?

Where can I ease off? Let go?

What can I let emerge?


  1. […] Where could you move more into flow? […]

  2. Briggita Baker on July 8, 2014 at 5:28 am

    I pretty much love everything you post Susie as your articles and insights are always so well thought out (and well written). This one particularly resonated today – keep up the good work!

    • The Leader's Digest on July 14, 2014 at 10:49 pm

      Thanks so much Briggita, glad you’re enjoying the posts. Lovely to hear from you. Cheers, Suzi.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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