Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Why We Should Declare War On Friction

At the 99U, we talk a lot about the big obstacles and burdens that impede the realization our creative potential. Most ideas never happen, thanks to the ever-powerful status quo and our built-in psychological artillery, which supplies us endless excuses to cease our efforts. But the day is getting brighter!

Modern technology and shifting mindsets in many industries are giving us a new and exciting upper hand. The notion of a free-range workforce has become a reality. The terms “entrepreneur” and “freelancer” are no longer subpar to a “regular job.” The creative pursuit is more celebrated now than ever before.The accessibility of DIY (do-it-yourself) business tools paired with a crappy economy has created fertile ground for risk-taking. We no longer need the rich resources of large companies to do remarkable things. Our team has seen thousands of creative professionals (within the Behance Network and beyond) embark on their own journeys – either alone or in small teams – to build incredible careers and, in some cases, change industries.

Now, as we embrace our newfound autonomy, we face a different enemy. With the traditional obstacles aside, we are now up against a barrage of small, daily hindrances that, collectively, pose a great threat.

I call this stuff “friction” – it’s the tax filings, paperwork, waiting time, protocols, forgotten passwords, spam clearing, bureaucratic nonsense, big egos, and the ever-increasing information overload that we try to digest every day. It kills us with a thousand tiny paper cuts.

Sure, this stuff has always existed, but when we worked for large companies, we could rely on other departments to handle it, or simply “pass the buck.” Not anymore. With our newfound freedom and independence, we must learn to fight friction on our own.

It’s time to start thinking about friction as an endemic problem rather than a series of one-off annoyances. Friction can’t be tolerated. Left untreated, it will build on itself and ultimately wear us down.

The Pursuit of Frictionless Work

Imagine a world where you glide forward in your pursuits. Yes, you would still need to generate great ideas, work hard, and take risk, but you could do so with the wind at your back. Less bureaucracy, lower start-up costs, and fewer obstacles in the operations of work and life.

So how do we win the war on friction? Here are a few thoughts toward an effective battle plan.

1. Draft, Don’t Be The Rabbit.

In most marathons, there are always a few runners that jump to the front of the race at the start and quickly tire. These folks are known as the “rabbits,” and nobody ever takes them seriously even though they appear to be winning the race for a short period of time. The rabbit runs fast but quickly tires.

A truly great marathon runner or cyclist understands the benefits of pacing over the course of a race. Rather than lead, they carefully manage their energy, and even use the other runners in front of them to block the wind and sustain themselves during the race. This practice is called “drafting,” and it involves running a few feet behind a runner to minimize the wind resistance and pace the race.

In our creative pursuits, we often reinvent the wheel and assume that we must create everything ourselves. By doing so we fall victim to the rabbit syndrome as we expend our energy quickly and unnecessarily. When we fail to leverage existing resources like open-source technology, we get stuck doing redundant stuff.

Instead, we should draft off of competitors and public creations. Before creating anything, look for another version of it that already exists. Also, consider the benefits of launching second rather than first. Learn from others’ mistakes and leverage public opinion instead of preempting it.

2. Question Anything You Do “Just Because.”

All too often, you’ll find yourself going through the motions. Perhaps something ambiguous was proposed, but nobody in the room wants to point out the flaws. Maybe there is a meandering discussion, and nobody is jumping in and asking “what’s the point?” or “why is this relevant?” Sometimes there’s a process you’re supposed to follow even though it seems redundant or pointless.

Great creative leaders consider the contrarian view whenever something is being done “just because that’s the way it’s always been done.” If you think about it: One interjection could increase your productivity by a substantial percentage. You just need the guts to make the point and advocate for the change.

3. Keep Optimizing.

Don’t be satisfied with the way you do everyday things like run meetings, manage email, or schedule your time. Oftentimes, we fail to optimize our everyday processes because we assume that we shouldn’t fix something unless it’s broken. When something is working, it’s hard to see the simple, little tweaks that we can make to remove the friction and be even more productive. Consider conducting small A/Me tests to find ways to incrementally improve the way you manage your time on a daily basis.


It’s time to declare war on friction. More great ideas will see the light of day when we find ways to reduce the everyday obstacles that suck our energy dry. After all, it’s hard enough to push a bold idea to completion. In these exciting times, we need to eliminate the friction that consistently gets in the way. Stay tuned as we explore more ways to optimize in our day-to-day.

Will You Join Us in the War On Friction?

What are your greatest sources of friction? How do you overcome them?

More insights on: Iteration, Perseverance, Risk-Taking

Scott Belsky

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Scott Belsky is Adobe's Vice President of Community and Co-Founder & Head of Behance, the leading online platform for creatives to showcase and discover creative work. Scott has been called one of the "100 Most Creative People in Business" by Fast Company, and is the author of the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.
load comments (17)
  • Derrick

    Great article, Scott. At 25 years of age, in this wonderful and exciting new world, I rely on insight of great leaders and thinkers such as yourself to keep me focused on possibilities. I am an improvising musician in Baltimore, and in these tough economic times, fewer and fewer establishments are hiring live musicians…money is getting MORE scarce. I’ve decided to get very serious about educating musicians to pursue greatness not just for income’s sake, but to take advantage of our unique place in history; with the influx of social networking and self-publishing/advertising/misc DIY opportunities, we as creatives are able to take complete control over the product we are selling.

    What gets scary is realizing that with all of that freedom comes the responsibility of struggling with internal Resistance (a la Steven Pressfield “The War of Art”) as well as FRICTION. I think it’s time we all embrace these factors as reminders that we are fighting to do great work. I appreciate your reminder not to “be the rabbit,” which is a behavior pattern that in my youth, I have to constantly avoid getting sucked into, out of habit.

    It seems we all must learn how to toe the line between honest innovation and unnecessary reinvention of the wheel. I will absolutely take to heart your advice about drafting-learning, for better or worse, from those who are already making strides in the field of creative music education. Thank you for the work you are doing for all of us.


    Derrick, regarding resources for music education, have you considered using Kickstarter to launch a worthwhile project?

    “Get shipping”

  • Matthew

    Wonderful illustration and article guys. Much appreciated.

  • Scott Belsky

    Thanks Derrick; great points. The freedom certainly means more responsibility.

  • Erik Battle

    What is this? “Consider conducting small A/Me tests to find ways to incrementally improve the way you manage your time on a daily basis.” I could not find anything on Google that discussed and the link just points right back to the same article.

  • 99U

    Erik- The “A/Me” link was broken. Just fixed it. Scott was referring to another article on 99% called Why You Should Be Optimizing:

  • John Bass

    Great article as it is Marathon Monday in Boston. I think it is essential to point out that drafting is a team or partner effort that running partners share to lighten the load. To draft but never take the lead is like taking credit for others work.

    As a struggling freelancer, it is at least rewarding to learn this work/life style is getting a better profile. Thanks to all @ 99%.

  • Veronika

    Great article. I learned about the rabbit the hard way, when I realized what I was doing I likened it to the pioneers of Canadian history. The first wave all died of scurvy, it was the second and third that build the colonies.

  • Veronika

    Built not build, typo!

  • Ash Mashhadi (@inspirationguy)

    I really enjoyed reading this, particularly the third point: Keep Optimizing. This is a bit of a daily mantra for me; if we can improve what we do a tiny bit each day, excellence becomes more and more possible each day.

    My latest blog post: “3 Ways to Make Change Easy”….

  • 紫少
  • Asko Kauppi

    A little slow starting – the picture of the engine kept me reading! ;)

    I’d say Processes are the answer. This is exactly what startups lack, and why established companies are better oiled against this friction. You do need Processes.


    Keep them to the minimum. But the ones you have, document them (for your own good!) and follow them. Maintain and update them.

    The same goes with applications and site services you use. Select them painstakingly – they will be the shoes you walk on. Then learn them inside-out. Have few of them but master what you use.

    I saw the Apple Pages tutorial videos the other day. Some 15 minutes altogether. And I learned many small nuances I’d otherwise have banged my head to. Worth it. Less friction.

    That’s it. This way – having tools you master – you can even have fun doing the work.

    In many ways, we are better off than big corporations fighting friction.

    Take Wunderlist (, a tool a friend of mine mentioned to me yesterday. After a short trial, I’ve already began to like it and I’ll probably continue to use it.

    Now – should I make Wunderlist into a Process?

    Should I force everyone (in the future) working for me to use it as well?

    Big companies would do this. I believe, instead, I’ll let everyone choose a task app that suits them best. Same with email clients. Twitter clients. This goes with the “choose bare minimum” approach – a company should not need to standardize on such personal things, since it gives little added benefit.

    What I’m trying to say is, choice of tools matters. Good tools = more delightful work = less friction.

    Friction is the part of our work that we don’t like.

  • Maria Surducan

    Don’t be afraid to ask fellow artists/designers: How did you do that (fill a form, solve a problem, negotiate a contract)? People won’t know you need help unless you ask.

  • tannerc

    These are all true (and remarkably powerful) points for entrepreneurs to consider. The drafting note, especially, struck a chord with me.

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned here is prioritizing. Sometimes we find ourselves facing problems that aren’t really problems we need to focus on at all (e.g. I need to get a stapler so I can mail these documents in order) or problems that can wait (e.g. if I don’t send this email right now the world will collapse).

    Merlin Mann, I’m sure, would have a thing or two to say about the topic if you’re interested. His most recent podcast of “Back to Work” with Dan Benjamin, specifically, talks on this issue.


     I love the term of ‘friction’ … definitely need to minimise friction :)

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  • Creative Couples

    Great read. The rabbit analogy really resonates. There is such pressure to churn it out to try and keep up, but it’s not sustainable or conducive to quality. Slow and steady wins the race, but it’s a fine line to tread lest you get left behind.

  • Fiona Friesen

    My greatest source of friction is boredom. Repetitive work is an idea killer.

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