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Friction And Tension In The Business

A few years ago, I was working hard to identify a path forward to innovate away from my business’ services that had become commoditized. I established a board of advisors that essentially compartmentalized time every week and month to focus on innovation and not get lost in the day-to-day grind in trying to deliver a product and make money. One of those advisors used a great metaphor to help illustrate what it would be like to run the day-to-day operations of my traditional business while also creating a new perspective and future for me and my life. Essentially this Advisor said, that if you put your hands out in front of you about six inches apart, and picture a rubber band around them, one hand to represent operations and the other innovation. He continued by saying that a healthy business or perspective moving forward must have the right amount of tension on that rubber band. If your hands are too close together (innovation staying very close to operations), there’s not enough tension and the focus will remain on the here and now of business. Not looking forward and creating the future products and services. If your hands grow too far apart (innovation takes you in a totally different direction), the rubber band snaps. In both cases, the business becomes dysfunctional over the long term. But if tension stays on that rubber band, and both innovation and operations challenge one another, its healthy. On one hand, you are able to continue to deliver your products and services, on the other hand you are devoting the right amount of time, money and effort looking at the future.

Friction in the business is an entirely different matter. Because friction doesn’t support a better outcome. Friction is a complete suck of peoples’ time, effort and money. Friction causes unnecessary and unwanted frustration. Friction in the business is when communicating and collaborating with your co-workers is frustrating to set up and follow-through on. All because different parts of the business aren’t in sync. Friction kills the spirit in both operations and innovation.

Friction is that stupid sh*t that exists around you every single day. It’s the sum total of all of those little workarounds you’ve developed to deal with all the little bits and pieces that don’t quite work right. Tools and processes intended to make us more efficient have become neglected and fragmented. And now they show themselves in all of these friction points when trying to share knowledge, find information, connect with a colleague or collaborate with your team.

So, while the tension exists for the good of the business allowing it to mind today and keep an eye on the future, friction works against us all. It makes the operations less efficient and productive. And it takes the excitement and energy out of the innovation. Imagine a team excited to work on the future of your organization but continually beset by small little detours and roadblocks. It makes the journey that much less enjoyable and thus less successful.

So, go on a mission to rid friction from your business. It’s in some ways a never-ending hunt. But don’t think about it as a waste of time and effort. Don’t think about it as something that should start and finish. Don’t apply a change management program that ends with taking the training wheels off. No, think of it as constant enablement of your people and process so that friction is gone or probably more realistically, greatly reduced. When you remove friction, you’re positioning your business to focus on the tension that allows you to deliver today and iterate on what tomorrow needs to be. So important for today’s modern business.

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