Get Fired Up! —When Friction is a Good Thing

“A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.”


In life, we generally want to reduce friction. Car bodies, bike helmets, airplane skins and anything requiring oil are designed to minimize friction. But when you want to stop a car, light a match or shape a piece of wood, you need a lot of friction.

Although at first it might seem desirable to create a business environment without friction, it’s a big mistake. Without friction, issues go unresolved because feathers might get ruffled, people avoid hard decisions because someone might lose, folks don’t give honest feedback, and the block of wood never becomes a piece of art.

The most effective companies I’ve consulted with, the most efficient boards of directors I’ve served on and the most successful organizations I’ve led all had lots of friction. The most productive executives whom I coach know how to optimize friction, not minimize it.

A negative term to describe people who avoid tough issues and sidestep criticism is “Teflon,” as in a low-friction coefficient. Think of someone you know who’s deserving of this adjective. What characteristics do they have? At the least, they’re undesirable; at the extreme, they’re a greased pig!

Executives should spend less time being nice and more time being kind. You’re hired to get results and lead, not just preside.

Friction creates damage when it becomes personal rather than issue-related. Debate and healthy conflict over concerns are the best ways to make great decisions and garner commitment and accountability. Ad hominem arguments create barriers.

Healthy amounts of friction cause things to change their shape. Inertia fights friction. Your mother’s admonition to be nice combats friction. However, if you want to drive change, help shape your organization, and develop your people and yourself, friction is required.