What Sexual Tension Can Teach Us About Project Growth
10 years ago

One of the things that we like to believe as entrepreneurs is that we have the Midas touch. There are probably some things that we’re really good at, like sales or marketing or developing product. And the more attention and focus that we place in the area of our own genius, the more fantastic results unfold around us.

We tend to be so thrilled by those results and that unfolding that we project this same expectation onto all of the other areas of our business. Any time there’s an issue or things are moving more slowly than we’d like, the baseline assumption of most entrepreneurs is that more attention from them is what’s needed to solve the problem.

But this is not the case. In fact, it’s typically counter-productive. And I’ll explain why…

Getting Too Close

Another way of saying this is that there’s an instinct to get closer to the problems in your business the worse they get.  If we have a team and there’s a problem, we tend to dive into the details with the team until we are the only ones actually dealing with the problem. Sometimes the team will just stand by and watch.

Now this blog post is not about micromanagement or inspiring others or delegating responsibility in order to assign the things you’re not good at.  This blog post is about a very subtle, energetic exchange that you have with every project you’re working on.

That energetic exchange is the interest or belief or excitement that gets transmitted around the project, that fuels it, and makes it happen. It can be a subtle force.

What I’m describing here is similar to the dynamic that happens with sexual tension.

What Sustains Sexual Tension?

Let’s say you have sexual tension with someone.  You’ll notice that there’s an optimal distance from that person for creating or heightening the tension.  This distance is expressed physically, but also metaphorically.

How soon do you call them back or how often do you text them or Facebook them? How much of your attention are you really giving them?

If you don’t give enough, then there’s not enough gravitational pull to keep the both of you in orbit.  If there’s too much, then the tension collapses and it’s no longer present.

A typical male response to sexual tension is to collapse the tension either by nervous energy and laughing it off or by just trying to make out with their partner and maul them—mash them, as it’s called in some circles.

Don’t Mash Your Projects

Mashing is the idea of collapsing sexual tension by trying to be as close as you can, but what you lose is all of the energy, the arc, the spark between the two connection points that’s only possible when there’s a certain distance.

Esther Perel’s work on this subject is enlightening.  She talks about different ways that you can sense and optimize that tension, because it’s actually the tension which is most pleasurable about the dynamic.

People who are skilled at keeping that tension at a high level have very rich sexual relationships.

Know When to Keep Your Distance

The same thing is true with you and your project, with you and your business.  There’s an optimal distance between you and the project that keeps the tension at its height.  The tension translates into motivation, both for you and the people around you, to work effectively and efficiently.

One thing I noticed for me is that, if I had a project I was working on every day, it was too often for me to be giving my kinds of gifts. And I started to mash my projects until the tension decreased and I would end up messing things up.

I started to frame my involvement in almost every project on a once a week basis instead of a once a day basis.  So when it was time to figure out how I would get something done, I would ask myself, “How can I get this done in a way where my interaction with it is on a once a week basis?”

That once a week basis keeps the tension at its height for me.  It keeps me in the optimal performance zone, so when I am spending time on it or moving the ball forward, I’m doing so using my full faculties and resources.

Solving Through Leadership Vs. Execution

Also, as leaders, we tend to fix problems through leadership instead of execution.  In other words, if something is not going well or there’s something that needs to be changed, we tend to want to fix it by thinking of the future and the long-term implications of both the problem and the solution.

And we try to devise something that will change the future and fix the long-term implications, which means on a day to day basis we’re always changing directions.

If you work by yourself you may not notice the cost of these directional changes. But if you work with other people it’s definitely noticeable. Say you have a team of four, five, or six people or even a company of hundreds of people, I guarantee that if you sit those people down and ask them, “Do I change directions too often?  Do I change my vision too often?” you’re primarily going to hear, “Yes, you do.”

Then they’ll follow that up by describing the various things they have to do to compensate for a perceived consistent change in direction.  Again, this change in direction comes from us fixing problems through leadership instead of fixing problems through execution.

Establish the Optimal Distance

So as a leader and entrepreneur, you have to create that optimal distance both to keep the tension high and keep you in your optimal form.  That way, every time you do interact with a project, you’re giving it your best.

And also so that the day to day problems that occur more frequently than just once a week are fixed with an execution mindset, with a following directions mindset, with a following procedures mindset. Those immediate fixes are achieved through adherence and compliance. And then, on a weekly basis, you can allow yourself that longer view and can fix things through leadership.

If you have a project that has been getting a lot of your attention and it’s not going well, experiment with allowing it to have some breathing room.  Instead of mashing your girlfriend, give her a little space and see if she doesn’t come towards you.


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