As a child, did you ever send balsa wood airplanes zooming—or spend hours searching out that perfect Y-shaped branch, and finding a scrap of leather and some rubber to fire projectiles at a target?
If so, you knew something at age eight that you may need to be reminded of today: tension = stored energy.
The further back an elastic is pulled, the more energy is stored. When that elastic is released, the stored energy is instantly transferred to the projectile, launching it forward as if spring-loaded. Using the stored energy in an elastic, the user is able to reach targets at greater distances and with far less effort than attempting to rely on arm strength alone.
In the previous two blogs, we explored the concept of renewable energy - things like passion, pride and connection. Although they are finite, they are renewable - you may fall asleep exhausted after a big day at work, but get yourself a good night’s sleep and your passion will be regenerated and ready for you when you wake up in the morning.
In this blog I want to introduce a related, but interestingly different concept: free energy.
Marathon runners are not particularly muscular, yet they can run a blistering five-minute mile: 26 times in a row!
How is that possible?
Runners recruit the free energy that comes from their tendons—the body’s powerful elastics. As the marathon runner’s body weight loads on the landing foot, the Achilles tendon stretches out. Milliseconds later the stored energy recoils, and the body drives forward like a pogo stick.
Accessing this free energy allows athletes to run faster and longer with relatively low demand on their muscles.
Children harness the free energy in elastics, and runners harness the free energy in their tendons. Could you harness free energy from the tensions found in your workplace?
Free energy at work
Inside every employee, there is a gap between what they want/need and what they are currently experiencing. You might think of it as the gap between their preferred vision and their current reality.
What is represented by the difference between the preferred future and the current reality? Tension. And what is right inside that tension? Energy.
As a business leader, you can help the employee tap into this source of free energy.
And let me be very straightforward here. When I’m talking about “free energy,” I’m not talking about you asking your employees to come in early, stay late, work weekends or pull all-nighters. Those are the very energy-depleting activities I’m intent on eradicating (and what my latest book, Beyond Engagement, is all about).
Here is a real-life story of how a manager helped an employee tap into the tension between his needs and his current reality. They both discovered a rich source of free energy residing within that tension.
A bank manager wanted one of her employees to up his game and do more selling in the credit card part of the business. At first she thought he just lacked product knowledge—and so, she began educating him about the product. But she instantly discovered that was not the issue.
She then thought, “He must lack confidence”, and began helping him with his self-talk and lack of confidence. Wrong again.
“He probably just lacks motivation” she concluded. “I’ll help him see how good he’ll feel when his name is at the top of the weekly productivity report.” Strike three.
Then she did something that all great managers do. She asked him “What matters most to you in your job?” The answer was immediate: “Connection with my colleagues—feeling a sense of belonging and inclusion with the team.”
This piece of intel changed the bank manager’s entire approach. She asked the employee if he would be the team captain of credit card sales: sharing his knowledge with the rest of the team, tracking credit cards sales and reporting successes in the weekly team meetings.
And what happened to his credit card sales? They grew significantly. Not only that: his excitement for credit card sales (happily) infected the entire branch.
Tension existed between the belonging & connection the employee wanted, and what he was currently experiencing. Inside that tension was free energy.
The ultimate solution had nothing to do with asking the employee to come in early, stay late or work through lunch break. All that was required was to tap into tension to unlock free energy. This fuelled the performance of the entire team. But that’s not surprising—because energized employees always get better results.
Go find some tension!
Free energy lies latent in surprising sources all around you. Go discover it. All you need to do is find situations where tension exists between what people are currently experiencing, and what they want.
And watch for an upcoming blog from me: it’s an exciting story of how a CEO harnessed the free energy inside what looked like an irreconcilable tension.