When kids engage in make-believe games, it’s interesting how they tend to switch into past subjunctive tense. If you need to brush up your grammar, past subjunctive is reserved for imaginary or hypothetical situations, as in “I wish I were at the beach…” Or as in:

– I were a giraffe, and you were a tiger

– Yes, and we were best friends

Then if you’re still in-game, but something needs to be clarified, the tense is often changed to past indicative. As in:

– My neck was twice as long as all the other giraffes, and you had pink stripes instead of black ones

Then if things get out of hands, you fall back to the present tense. As in:

– Hey you’re cheating, tigers cant fly, I’m not playing this game anymore!


I think of these differing attitudes as stances; ways in which we signal which aspect of “reality” we decide to pay attention to. Shifting stance seem effortless for children, but as we grow up it becomes a skill which needs to be reconquered.

You see the importance of stance clearly in all kinds of sports, but I also think it’s central to innovation and entrepreneurship, in particular at the embryonic stages.

I’m referring here to a stage far upstreams of what’s typically taught in entrepreneurship or Design Thinking classes.

Which in a way is understandable, since it’s by definition a phase where confusion reigns. It’s the place where anything goes; it’s not even ideation, it’s pre-ideation.

In my experience, most people find this a highly uncomfortable place to dwell. That’s only natural, but I also think it can be very rewarding to develop strategies which helps us cope, and here’s where a heightened awareness of stance can come to our rescue.

I guess you could think of developing a repertoire of stances, as the cognitive equivalence of building a studio and furnishing it with appropriate tools. A creation in its own right, but really primarily a platform that will serve to enable further creativity.

Because ideation can only happen within a demarcated design space, and the inherent paradox there of course, is that you won’t know where to draw the lines of that space until you’ve developed a fair idea of what you’ll ideate about, so to speak.

Which is why you need to put a stick in the ground somewhere – anywhere – and go from there. You impose order to temporarily curb complexity, fluidly shifting of stance between what *can* happen, and what *must* as a consequence thereof.

In order to be comfortable with that, you have to trust that this starting point is provisional and subject to change. But at the same time it also won’t work unless you really commit to it long enough to see where it will lead; you can’t break the illusion of the play too soon, or it won’t be fun anymore.