Holacracy Community of Practice Archive, 2015-2019 Community Holacracy Web Site

Is "Tension" essential new vocabulary or can we use "Issue" instead?

It's hard to teach people Holacracy. One barrier to understanding is wrapping your head around a bunch of new vocab. If a new word like "tension" adds some nuance not present in a common word, then it's an important thing to keep; if it adds nothing but another word to learn, it's better to stick with a more common word.

I'm wondering if "tension" really adds any nuance, over "issue." I've experimented  in my explanations and in actual use in my organization (Snowdrift.coop) and have not noticed any lack of clarity. What are your opinions?

If people have reasons why using "tension" is important, I'll either agree with you and return to using it, or I'll argue why I don't think that reason is actually that important.

I'll head off two reasons that I expect to see pop up: "tension" has a neutral connotation where "issue" has a negative one. I think that "tension" actually is slightly negative, as in, "you could feel the tension in the air", and "issue" is not very much more negative, since it's also used to mean "topic", or a particular release of a publication. Also, in places like github, "issues" covers both bug reports and enhancements -- both directions of "a gap between how things could be and how they are."

Thoughts?

7 Replies
Brian Robertson
04/21/2016

Stephen, re:

If a new word like "tension" adds some nuance not present in a common word, then it's an important thing to keep; if it adds nothing but another word to learn, it's better to stick with a more common word.

I agree with that completely; and I think tension adds a lot of key nuance.  Most importantly, "tension" points to an experience - a feeling - where "issue" points to a thought - a mental construct.  That's a huge difference when it comes to Holacracy practice and what it's trying to achieve.  I think using "issue" is likely to undermine some of the biggest benefits Holacracy has to offer.  (Although that might only be apparent and relevant if/when you get through the initial practice phase and to a more mature practice.)

As one example (and in disagreement with your last point): for most people, I think tension has a negative connotation - far more so than "issue".  And that's the benefit of it.  When people feel what Holacracy calls "tension", they typically then make meaning of that experience as a negative thing - they associate the feeling of tension meaning something is "wrong".  Holacracy's use of the word tension - with its negative connotations - allows someone to see what happens as a result of tension through Holacracy, and eventually reorient their meaning-making of the experience into something neutral, and break an unconscious and habitual jump from experience to judgment to resistance.  Associating the feeling of "tension" with useful results helps people shift from judging that experience and resisting the reality of it, to accepting it and engaging with it without judgment.  That's a huge opportunity, and you don't get it nearly as powerfully if you start with "issue".

Curious if others have perspectives to add here as well...

Stephen Michel
04/21/2016

I will need to think on this a bit more.

(Although that might only be apparent and relevant if/when you get through the initial practice phase and to a more mature practice.)

Yes, we're certainly in the initial phases.

tension" points to an experience - a feeling - where "issue" points to a thought - a mental construct.

This was very enlightening. I was previously thinking of a tension as "the gap between how things are and how they could be." But really -- if I understand you correctly -- a tension is the *feeling* produced by that gap. How would "a Tension" compare to "a frustration"?

I think my misunderstanding stems from the way we talk about Tensions. For example, emphasis mine, in one of the videos linked on the home page: you define Tension as "the feeling you get when you sense a gap between what is and what could be." The tension is the feeling; the gap is the thing you sense. But then you immediately say, "..Anything I sense, any tension I sense, any gap, anything that could be better.."

Although Tension is correctly defined, it's used as it if is the gap itself. I haven't checked everywhere, but I'm pretty sure that available materials consistently refer to "sensing" tensions, when really, a tension is felt, not sensed.


Some additional context: several people -- a majority of the (given: few) people I have talked to about Holacracy outside of Snowdrift.coop -- have expressed distaste for Holacracy's "overloading terms". So I went looking for places we could potentially cut down on them, and ended up here.

 

Fred Magovern
04/22/2016

Characterizing it as a feeling rather than a construct clicked for me.

Nevertheless, I think colloquially you can "feel a gap", or better yet, "a potential". I'm not sure the word literally referring to a sense-perception is necessary to meaningfully characterize it as a feeling. If so, I think "potential" might have some advantages to Stephen's point.

Our implementation is very new, however, and it's not something I feel clear about at all. Not hard to imagine "tension" proving to be superior over the longer term.

Ruben @ Springest
04/24/2016

I think the problem with words is that they mean something else for everyone, and this gets worse if you are from different backgrounds or languages.

Therefore, I think you should keep with the default vocabulary as much as possible. That way it becomes something you actually don't care about, it's not about those words / names, but about the new way of working.

If you focus on getting the wording "right" you're focussing on the wrong things: mostly, fitting Holacracy into other people's existing ideas about it instead of a shared new thing. 

Hope this makes sense, somewhat paradoxically maybe

Marco
04/26/2016

For me the word tension serves as a fish trap. To quote some ancient Chinese wisdom: 

“The fish trap exists because of the fish. Once you've gotten the fish you can forget the trap. Words exist because of meaning. Once you've gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can talk with him?” 
― Zhuangzi

And isn't the following article also applicable here?

3.4 Interpreting the Constitution & Governance

As a Partner of the Organization, you may use your reasonable judgment to interpret this Constitution and any Governance within the Organization, including how these apply within a specific situation, and then act based on your interpretation. You may also rely on an explicit interpretation given by the Secretary of any Circle that is affected by the Governance. However, in either case, the following additional terms apply:

Sally McCutchion
04/27/2016

I quite agree Marco and thank you for the Chinese wisdom!

 

Andrea Faré
04/30/2016

 We can only rely on other words when defining a word, I blame it directly on Godel's incompleteness theorem 

 In italian  the prominent meaning of the literal translation of the word  (tensione) is  "electric voltage", I guess that explains why governance meetings sometimes have shocking consequences ;-)