Productive Intimacy

Life emerges from the integration of differentiation.  Consider the acorn and the soil.  As the shell cracks, the soil and the protoplasm begin to interact.  They become one in a creative exchange.  The oak tree, a new and more complex system, springs from the interpenetration of differentiated systems.

The same is true in human biology.  The male sperm and the female egg are distinct entities, differentiated systems.  Yet they, like the acorn and the soil, can become joined in a new interacting and evolving system.  The new system is a new life form.  A single cell begins to divide and eventually there is the birth of a new, highly complex organism.  The baby was not designed by the parents.  The baby is an emergent life form that came from the interaction of the parents.

In the social world there is interpenetration.  It is often born in the moment of “productive intimacy.”  A conversation begins with respectful exploration.  The respect turns to trust and trust turns to inclusion.  We enter a relationship of higher quality, we become generatively entangled with another.  In productive intimacy, boundaries open, and emotional and cognitive interpenetration occurs.  Both parties share feelings and ideas that are normally private.  The conversation becomes a cauldron of interpenetration and enlightenment.  New ideas are born.  Each participant gains a new perspective.  Each feels empowered and ready to engage the world in a new way.  Such a conversation is an example of deep learning and social excellence.

A leader’s challenge is to create a network in which such conversation regularly occurs.  A leader is one who understands and nurtures the emergence of productive intimacy.


  • What value do you see in the notion of productive intimacy?
  • Why is the notion of intimacy often feared?
  • What does it take for a person to learn to nurture productive intimacy?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



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