Liminal space is the time between what was and what’s next. The term is derived from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning threshold.
It’s a place of transition, a place of not knowing, a place of uncertainty.
Navigating liminal space can be unnerving and uncomfortable, especially for those of us who may have a strong preference for certainty.
Some will prefer to hustle and thrash around to avoid this discomfort and yet, in doing so, miss many hidden opportunities.
Most are aware of the idea attributed to Viktor Frankl and Stephen Covey that:
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space, there is the freedom to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”
Old news for many. I know.
A second reading suggests that we limit ourselves if space is only considered from the perspective of time. We often assume the gap between what was and what’s next is linear.
And the consensus view would have us believe that it is.
Yet, if we pause with more intention to consider more dimensions, for example, the visual, the somatic, the wider system and its component parts and players, the creative options for taking our next step multiply exponentially.
And there are clues. If we are willing to take the time to tune into them.
Tuning in to these affordances grants teams access to novel individual and collective experiences that would otherwise be inaccessible.
If we are willing to place ourselves in the “eye of the storm,” sufficient internal calm enables us to open ourselves up to what is going on within us and around us from moment to moment.
When nothing is forced, we can individually and collectively select a more creative response than avoiding discomfort would produce.
We can reframe our questions, challenge our assumptions, and listen deeply to each other and to the signals from the outside world.
Coming to presence allows us to move from a reactive to a creative response. We no longer seek control and micro-manage how to traverse liminal space.
We reduce the drag that limits progress.
In teams, the individual and collective processes of relating evolve as the familiarity of what has gone before dissolves.
Indeed, with sufficient trust and psychological safety, the creative and improvised response may yield exactly the counterintuitive breakthrough needed to become unstuck.
For example, the most technically savvy person in the room produces the most creative idea. The most creative person in the room comes up with a simple and surprising answer to the technical conundrum.
In doing so, we become more engaged in what is common to everyone—that which belongs to more than one person—rather than the self-interest of that which is mine alone.
Liminal space is a part of everyday life, and we’re all learning how to get better at navigating it.
So I wonder, what liminal spaces will you notice, and how might you choose to navigate them differently today?