I visited Vienna’s superlative Jewish Museum on my recent trip to the city. Their exhibitions and programmes are always sharp, relevant, and thoughtfully curated.
Currently, they’re hosting an exhibition on Kabbalah, the esoteric branch of Judaism which has been popularised by various celebrities from David Bowie to Madonna.
I wandered round, learned a little, and made some unexpected connections as well.
The exhibition introduced me to the Kabbalistic notion of tzimtzum: a contraction or withdrawal to allow for creation.
The Kabbalistic rabbi Isaac Luria questioned how God could have created the world from nothing, if God is omnipresent and fills all of space. In the words of the Vienna exhibition, “The Creation must have been preceded by an act of contraction or withdrawal so as to make space for it.” This is tzimtum.
It reminded me of an issue faced in the innovation workshops I’ve been running for institutions this year. Once participants have settled on a goal and a plan for how to get there, I ask them:
“What will you start doing, stop doing, and continue doing in order to achieve this goal?”
People always struggle most of all with that middle one – what should we stop doing?
It’s easy to see when we should start doing something new. Easy, too, to continue with the successful parts of business as usual. But the toughest choice for a leader is deciding what to stop.
That might mean cutting a product, programme, or service in order to make room for another one which is already here.
But it can also mean an act of creative contraction: making the time, space, and resources for the organisation to thoughtfully and successfully enact change.
Innovation, like many transitions, demands effort, energy, and commitment. It is not without cost, and this must be born in mind during times of change.
When you prepare for the new, remember to think about what you’ll stop doing in order to create room to manoeuvre. Think of the time, space, and resources you need to successfully bring about change.
Remember that innovation may require contraction or withdrawal to be successful. That sometimes you need to stop, in order to start something new. To make space for creation.