The spirit of structure, can’t be forseen,
For somewhere between
The architecture and the dream
More than the sum of its parts
Somehow, somewhere, the heart.
I saw this poem on the London Underground this week, amongst the adverts for various pills and property deals. It is by British poet Lemn Sissay. Something about this short and simple verse resonated with me instantly and has stayed with me all week.
I don’t know Lemn Sissay’s intent of course but it says something to me about the false distinction between spirit and structure. Sissay talks about the spirit of structure where we tend to think of things as either tangible, mundane, ‘structured’, or intangible, ethereal, ‘spirited’. But, of course, there is ‘spirit’ or at least some kind of energy inside of every structure, at least at the molecular level. At the same time, structures, at least the kind that we work with (or against) inside organisations also direct effort and, thereby, energy and ‘spirit’. We talk about the ‘spirit’ of a place, but very often that spirit comes from the way that it is structured: the teams within a business, the processes and systems that they operate within.
Sissay then talks about the way that ‘the heart starts’ between the ‘architecture and the dream’. It is the combination of those things that gives life and energy to something. Without the solid ‘architecture’ there is no purposeful action, there is nothing to see, no impact. Without the raw ambition, the felt sense of energy, the faint imaginings of what is possible, there are just things that stagnate or die off or indeed never get created in the first place.
It is a caution against the arbitrary division of things (or, in our world, people) into ‘spirit and structure’ in organisations: to see people as ‘structured’ or ‘creative’, ‘practical’ or ‘conceptual’, ‘stagnated’ or ‘dynamic’. Every organisation, team, person, has both structure and spirit. Structure brings the spirit to life. Spirit gives the structure meaning.