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  • Writer's pictureDavid Gaudet

Finding Creative Abrasion in Polarity

polarity; noun

the state of having two opposite or contradictory tendencies, opinions, or aspects.

creative abrasion; noun

the state of having two or more differing opinions grate against one another with the objective of positive outcome

The municipal election in Calgary, and the rest of Alberta, began months before the ill-fated and futile federal election came and went in September. I feel I’ve unconsciously memorized the physical location of mayoral candidate signs on the boulevard approaching my home, as they have been there for so long. This is not a blogpost endorsing one those candidates. I’m embarrassed to say that I have not spent enough time researching their platforms, values and beliefs to do so, yet. But I will.

However, as I have listened to well-informed and trusted sources on this election, I’m hearing more “right” and “left” categorizations than I ever recall hearing for a municipal election. As with just about every other aspect of human life in the 2020’s we go to quick defaults to make sense of complex matters, from which we can then make sometimes very important choices or decisions. Everything else, besides these important markers is cast aside as trivial.

Where do candidates sit on vaxxing; on masking; and if we can pretend for a moment, that we do not live in the endless fog of COVID 19, what’s their position on property taxes, rescuing our downtown, police budgeting, and economic diversification? We choose the questions most important to us, punch them into Google, scroll until we find someone who holds the same position as ourselves, and base our voting decision accordingly.

But is this really how these things should work? Is this a process which promotes any amount of critical thinking, curiosity, creativity or collaboration?

One of the things our City of Calgary Council has become negatively noteworthy for is its in-fighting, which borders on toxicity. I’m not sure if there is a sitting structure of government at a local or national level, anywhere in the world, which can truly model anything else, as it does seem our elected officials are sent to office with the expectation to “fight” for us. But why is there this predisposition for combat? Why this expectation of them to “dig in their heels”? And why can’t governments behave more like forward-thinking and enlightened organizations?

Now, there are more than enough dysfunctional organizations out there as well, both in the for and not for profit sectors. But there are also glimmering and unique examples of how disagreement among people can and should be used as a strength rather than a weakness. The concept is called creative abrasion, a term I recently learned of while doing research for a new course I’m developing. It’s not an entirely new concept, strategically pairing people with distinctive differences in personality, philosophy, and values together in teams. This strategy requires a great deal of trust that colleagues put in this Petrie dish will not feel threatened, thus heading straight for their polar positions, and in turn draw their weapons. Instead, there are clear objectives established, and recognition that it is their differences, rather than similarities, that will contribute to the creation of something different. A third choice. Not my way, or your way, but our way.

But setting something like this up in an organization takes effort, especially if the org is helplessly grounded in old culture. It takes intentional organizational design in the infancy of an organization, or seismic shift in one that’s well established. It takes time. And again, due to our naturally recurring need to save time, most organizations are not interested in any such concept.

So what are we left with? In some cases, leaders are in such perfect harmony with one another, they thus find themselves stuck on a treadmill, wondering why they continue getting their asses kicked by competitors, or worse, dropped by their customers. On the other hand we have businesses, like governments, which divide amongst themselves, employees eventually being drawn to one side or another of this polarity.

I don’t know Jyoti Gondek, nor Jeromy Farkas, who according to polls are the front-runners in Calgary’s mayoral race, which takes place today. What I do know is that they are both sitting councillors, along with the apparent third place candidate, Jeff Davison, and they appear to have allowed their council in-fighting to spill out into the street. Which, is par for the course in modern politics, right? I’m also not entirely sure that I will not vote for one of them, but my area of interest in the closing hours of this story is trying to identify a candidate who possesses all the requisite criteria for leading the transformation of the city of Calgary, but who will do so as a connector, not a divider. But moreover, a connector who will foster a culture of creative abrasion.

We neither need “yes” people, nor gladiators. We need critical thinkers, creators, and collaborators. Are any of the aforementioned candidates capable of hitting a delete button on the attacks given and received toward one another? Or are we at a place where the proverbial “new blood” is required. Perhaps a Calgary raised entrepreneur like Brad Field is the right fit. Maybe economist and corporate executive Jan Daymer? Sadly, the candidate best suited for the job could be lost in the abyss of 27 candidates…or perhaps more likely, chose not to enter the race.

As individuals we can only control one vote in any democratic process. But in our lives we have influence over much, much more. This responsibility should give us pause. What are we doing in our own sphere of influence as collaborators, one of the 8 pillar competencies I evangelize in my book. Are we harmonizers, merrily following the default and quaking at the thought of conflict? Are we dividers, with a mandate to win as much support come hell or high water, via manipulation, deception or coercion? Or, are we creative abrasives, seeking unlike minded viewpoints, in search of truly the best outcome? That choice is ours, and ours alone.

I’m attaching a couple links from Harvard Business Review from which I’ve gained some of my insights. And as usual, I humbly leave you with an excerpt from “The Daily Undoing: Being Better at Being Human”. It is a book about what I feel is our shared responsibility. To improve. My work stems from the field of competency based education, and competency based learning. But I prefer to widen the lens to include "living" in general. The goal doesn't have to be gargantuan. It simply needs to be better. Have a good week ahead, and best wishes at being better.


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