Managing tension v. Solving problems

Business writers often talk about the difference between problems and tensions. You solve problems. You manage tensions. We’re wired to look for solutions and to find answer to what we believe are problems. Life in a complex world, however, means that a lot of our most important decisions (and much of our work) revolve around learning to tell the difference between a problem and a tension and acting accordingly.


As a missionary I raise financial support to allow me to do the work God has called me to. As a missionary to the university campus, I live, work, and raise financial support on my “mission field.” It could be easy for me to conceive of raising support as a problem that needs to be solved rather than a polarity to be managed. After all,  if I raise all the support I need to cover my ministry budget I’ll be free to spend 100% of my time meeting with students and faculty, preparing talks, investing continuing education, etc. Won’t I?

This makes sense until you realize that the world is a fluid place. Donors lose jobs or decide that they’d like to give elsewhere. Budgets grow. In reality, fund raising is never “done.” Consequently, the concept of funding as a problem to be solved leas almost inevitably to frustration or depression.
There exists a tension between the ministry of fund development and ministry to students and faculty. Now, it’s important to realize that tensions aren’t necessarily bad or unhealthy. More often than not, a tension is simply the result of living and working in a complex world. It’s not something you’re going to get to go away. Ignore and you’ll favor one pole and stray into error. Concentrate on solving it and you’ll exhaust yourself. Learn to manage it and you may just experience break-out excellence.

Next up – case study in managing tensions: fund raising.


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