White space

It’s a law of nature. Free space tends to be filled up. And it takes much more energy to keep space free, then to let it fill up. It’s true in the world of atoms with closets, desks, rooms. Children are great at this. It’s amazing how a small number of children, e.g. during a birthday party, use and conquer every inch of a house. It’s also true in the digital world. Mailboxes, disk drives, agendas, they fill up. It’s even worse as they are hardly ever cleaned up.

What’s worse is that also our heads tend to be filled up. Certainly in large companies. There’s such an amount of rules and regulations, goals and assignments, information and communication, that no empty space is left. Most meetings are planned to the minute, stuffed with presentations with preformatted questions or proposals. And text messages and tweets on our blackberries or cell phones now fill up even the most tiny free spaces we have left. Even a lot of ‘steering committees’, where one could expect open debate on important decisions are often depersonalized. Idem for a lot of development actions: long reports of assessments, trainings packed with rich content and intensive exercices.

What’s the consequence of lacking white space? People don’t stand still or reflect anymore. Conversations are superficial. Personal conversations are limited to letting steam go. On honest person-to-person dialogue ‘on the record’, on issues and opportunities: it’s very rare. No reflection means no creativity. No personal contact means no personal commitment. Without commitment or creativity, all innovation or intrapreneurship dries up. I’m convinced that this is one of the core tasks of the future leader: create white space. Breathing space. Not to relax. But to deepen, to dialogue, to focus.

Koen Marichal


About Koen Marichal

Director Future Leadership Initiative at Antwerp Management School
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