Appropriate friction

In a conversation, a colleague mentioned using social tools to minimize friction, and the thought struck me wrong. In thinking further, I realized that there were different notions of friction that needed to be teased out.  So here’s where my thinking went.

I argue that what organizations need is creative friction.  I have previously suggested that conversations are the engine of business.  These are the discussions where ideas are sparked, and decisions are made.  These are also the tools used to negotiate a new and shared understanding that is richer and better than it was before.

There are also unproductive conversations, e.g. meetings where we have status updates that are more effectively done offline, and jockeying for various sorts of recognition.  These are reflections of bad processes and worse culture.  There’s a mistaken view that brainstorming doesn’t work; it works well if you know the important elements that make it work, but if you follow misunderstood processes, it can not produce the optimal outcome. Similarly, if the culture is misaligned, it might be unsafe to share, or folks might be too busy competing.

However, it is when people are constructively interacting – not just pointing to useful resources or answering questions, but working together on a joint project – is when you are getting the important creative friction.  Not that it’s bad when people point to useful resources or answer questions, that makes things more efficient.  When folks come with different ideas, though, and jointly create a new insight, a new idea, a new product or process, that is when you’re providing the sparks necessary to help organizations succeed. Not all of them will be good, but if they’re new, some subset will likely be good.

If people aren’t sharing what they learn and discover, you might miss the new, or it might not really be new but have been previously discovered and not leveraged. That’s why you should work, and learn, out loud.

The issue then in friction is removing unproductive friction. If people have to be co-located to have these conversations, or don’t have tools to express their understandings and share their thoughts around each other’s work is when you unproductive barriers.  I’m a fan of collaborative documents that support annotation and track contributions. Here we can share our ideas, and quickly converge on the elements of disagreement and resolve them.  It may need to have periods of synchronous conversation as well as asynchronous work (we did this when creating the Manifesto).

So it seems to me that having the right culture, tools, and skills is the key to optimizing the innovative outcomes that will drive sustainability for organizations.  Now how about some creative inputs to refine and improve this?

(And, at a meta-level, it was a conversation that triggered this deeper thought, just the type of outcome we want to facilitate!)

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