The Friction Project: How Smart Leaders Make the Right Things Easier and the Wrong Things Harder
Robert I. Sutton and Huggy Rao
St. Martin’s Press (January 2024)
“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”
Peter Drucker’s widely quoted assertion could also apply to leaders who cannot set appropriate priorities and then make appropriate decisions in terms of their relative importance. When answering especially difficult questions or solving especially serious problems, his admonition is invaluable.
In this book, Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao focus their attention on “forces that make it harder, slower, more complicated, or downright impossible to get anything done in organizations. It’s about why and when such friction is destructive, useful, or a mixed bag. Above all, it’s about how to think and live like a friction fixer who makes the right things easier and the wrong things harder. So that work doesn’t gr0und people down and drive them crazy.”
As I worked my way through their lively and eloquent narrative, I was again reminded of the fact that steam has no power without pressure but that excessive pressure can become stress. Friction can indeed be — or become — either positive (creative) or negative (destructive).
They call a friction project “because we have, for the last seven years, made it our project to learn everything we can about the causes and cures for friction problems. Our goal is to help leaders craft homegrown projects that are tailored to fix the friction troubles in their organizations.” They provide building blocks to help their reader become a friction fixer. “The key to your success is learning to think and act like a friction fixer AND motivating others to join you in building an organization where, day after day, people imagine, debate, and implement changes to make the right things easier and the wrong things harder. For example, to improve communication, cooperation, and collaboration while making it much more difficult to undermine the core values of the given workplace culture.
It is no coincidence that companies annually ranked among those most highly admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable, with the greatest cap value in their industry segment. However different they may be in most other respects, all of them have a workplace culture within which positive and productive fiction management is most likely to thrive. All of them develop friction fixers at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise.
Whatever their size and nature may be, all organizations need effective leaders at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. More specifically, as Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao explain, leaders who are “friction fixers” who “make the right things easier and the wrong things harder so that work doesn’t ground people down and drive them crazy.” A worthy objective indeed.
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Here are two other suggestions to keep in mind while reading The Friction Project: Highlight key passages, and, record your comments, questions, action steps (preferably with deadlines), page references, and lessons you have learned as well as your responses to key points posed within the narrative. Pay special attention to the end-of-chapter insights and calls-to-action.
These two simple tactics — highlighting and documenting — will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent reviews of key material later.