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Generative Containers: Holding Ourselves Together in Times of Change

Life can be dicey while we are evolving.

When the winds of change blow into our lives, we might feel like we are holding on by our fingernails.  Even if we have consciously invited a change, such as landing a new job, getting married or moving to a new place, change is stressful.

Evolutionary Biologist Elisabet Sathouris says stress is the only thing that creates evolution. “Evolution happens when DNA reorganizes in response to stress. Every crisis is thus an opportunity for new evolution.”

How can we hold ourselves together in times of change? How do we respond to stress as both a challenge and an opportunity?  How can we remain open to change while finding a source of stability?

What type of environment supports healthy growth? What might help us to remain grounded when the sands are shifting beneath our feet?

Let’s dive into some answers for those questions below.

Transformational Spaces

Transformational spaces that provide a sense of authenticity and continuity are called by different names.

Psychologists call these environments “holding spaces” or “transitional spaces”.  Change agents often call these environments “containers”.

These nurturing environments are hard to name because they are largely invisible.  They are made up of intentions, agreements and practices that become reliable over time.  They are energetic structures that both free up and channel energy.

We will call these generative containers.

Generative containers are spaces of transformation and change. Click To Tweet

Generative Containers

A generative container holds the stress, the creative tension between the old and the new. 

It generates experimentation, reflection, playfulness, tenderness and joy while holding grief, confusion, anxiety and conflict.

We know we are being held in a generative container when we find ourselves feeling secure enough to stretch out of our comfort zone so that we can transform – literally go beyond our current form.

Like caterpillars, we are held until we are ready to fly.

Common Containers

We came into this world through the container our mother provided while we were evolving in her womb.

In a healthy situation, the larger container of family holds us while we develop.   Eventually, even larger containers such as school, church and organized youth activities create environments for learning and belonging.  As we mature, our closest circle of friends, our workplaces and our communities can become generative containers for us.

We can’t create containers alone.  There is a communal aspect, infused with the energy and collective intention of those who share the container, which weaves the individual energies into a collective holding space.

A basket is a container, constructed from fibers, some of which are softened to make them pliable.

© Harris Shiffman | Dreamstime.com
© Harris Shiffman | Dreamstime.com

Like baskets, generative containers are woven from both sturdy and flexible ingredients. Shared values, for example, must be sturdy enough to hold creative tensions. Shared practices are generative when they are flexible enough to respond to what’s emerging within the system.

We can transform existing containers into generative ones or we can co-create new containers to serve a particular purpose.

These energetic structures might be created for fun and support or they might serve a business or community purpose.

What are some possible generative containers that you may be in right now?

  • Book clubs,
  • sports teams,
  • scout troops,
  • support groups,
  • quilting circles,
  • dance troupes,
  • choirs,
  • project teams,
  • communities of practice,
  • entire organizations,
  • communities and
  • collective impact initiatives

are all candidates to become generative containers.

You can even take a look at naturally occurring generative containers. One such example is a how a group of penguins will huddle around its members to create a generative container that allows them the safety to grow.

Qualities of Generative Containers

When two or more people come together with a shared purpose, there is an opportunity to intentionally develop a generative container to hold relationships, experimentation, learning, growth and fun.

When 2+ people come together with a shared purpose, they can develop a generative container. Click To Tweet

There is no magic formula for co-creating generative containers. Each group will customize and embellish the container to serve their shared purpose and the highest good for each and all.

Long-lasting containers are reliable and flexible, intentional and playful, challenging and comforting.  They remind us that we are not alone – that we are in this together.

Generative containers help us hold ourselves, together, in times of change.

Photo credit: © Frederique Olivier/©JDP | Nature

Christine Whitney Sanchez

Christine Whitney Sanchez

Christine Whitney Sanchez, MC has worked across six continents to build the capacity for mindful organizations, strategic collaboration and thriving
cultures. Integrating her experience as a psychotherapist into leadership development, organizational transformation and collaborative impact, she has guided tens of thousands of stakeholders to resolve thorny issues and generate new opportunities. She has trained thousands of consultants and change leaders around the globe in strength-based approaches for self-organizing in their own communities. She has facilitated some of the largest intergenerational conversations in the world. And that is what brings her joy.

Claremont Core

Claremont Lincoln University

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Christine Whitney Sanchez

Christine Whitney Sanchez

Christine Whitney Sanchez, MC has worked across six continents to build the capacity for mindful organizations, strategic collaboration and thriving
cultures. Integrating her experience as a psychotherapist into leadership development, organizational transformation and collaborative impact, she has guided tens of thousands of stakeholders to resolve thorny issues and generate new opportunities. She has trained thousands of consultants and change leaders around the globe in strength-based approaches for self-organizing in their own communities. She has facilitated some of the largest intergenerational conversations in the world. And that is what brings her joy.

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