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.
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