What’s the friction holding you back? - Michelle Gibbings

What's the friction holding you back?

Is friction holding you back from making the progress you seek and from making a change happen?

Craig and I have recently taken up bike riding. Not having ridden a bike since my teenage years, getting back on, I was a little nervous (perhaps an understatement, because I did have thoughts of scrapes, bruises and a few broken bones).

I set myself the goal that I would go a little farther and harder each time we went for a bike ride. Last weekend, we started, and it was a beautiful sunny day, but windy.

And so, the pedalling was more challenging as we cycled into the wind. As any cyclist or runner knows, going against the wind doesn’t do you any favours.

It’s the fundamental law of physics. I love that a cycling enthusiast and physics teacher from Florida, Bob Howlandhas worked out the equation:

Force of drag = 1/2 x D x V^2 x Cd x A

D = The density of air
V = The relative velocity of air hitting the object (^2 means squared)
Cd = The drag coefficient
A = The area exposed to the wind.

Science proves that headwind slows you down. And why? Because there is friction when the wind hits you (the cyclist) and the bike.

Friction makes it more challenging. Harder to progress. Harder to keep going. There is friction all around us in a world awash with change – thoughts of change, discussions about change and actual change.

Indeed there are plenty of futurists who share ideas on how the world will change. This article is just one perspective. I agree with April Rinne’s view that “The time to prepare for change is not when it hits. It’s before it hits, and during times of relative calm”.

As part of that preparation, it’s helpful to identify the friction that can stop you from progressing at the pace you want and in the direction you seek.

Professors from Northwestern University – Loran Nordgren and David Schonthal – outline four potential sources of friction: inertia, effort, reactance and emotions.

Each of the four sources gives rise to different considerations. For example:

  • Inertia: How significant is the change? The more significant the change, often the higher the level of inertia present in the system and so the more impediments you will confront? If that’s the case, people will need to see the imperative for change and be shown why it’s necessary; otherwise, status quo bias will take hold.
  • Effort: What’s the level of effort, energy and resources required to make the change happen? The more that’s needed, once again, the more friction you will encounter. Be clear on the level of effort you are prepared to invest and be ready to maintain your focus and determination to push through.
  • Reactance: In physics, reactance is defined as the imaginary resistance of an electrical circuit, so in the context of change, reactance is all about the forces that make the change easier or harder. Are there underlying forces that will make the transition harder? Do impacted stakeholders feel pressured to change?  It’s critical to understand the forces that will work with you and those that will work against you.
  • Emotions: What emotions will the idea or change give rise to? How will people be emotionally triggered when the change is announced, or the new idea is debated? Will they be largely pessimistic or more optimistic? Emotions impact how we feel, think and behave so you will want to understand how you can manage and mitigate negative emotional triggers.

Identifying and understanding each of these elements helps you determine the best strategies to use to overcome the friction you are likely to face.

As you do this work, remember the frictions you identify will come from people around you (be they external stakeholders, colleagues, team members or leaders) and the organisational culture and system in which you are working. Don’t forget – they can also come from you.

So before you are quick to identify the roadblocks external to you, remember to look internally because sometimes the biggest impediments to progress come from within.

American politican and orator (from the turn of the twentieth century), William Jennings Bryan, said: “Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice.  It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved”.  So what are you waiting to progress?

Making a change takes focus and dedication and as I’ve written about before you need to stay the course when the going gets tough.

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®

Michelle Gibbings is bringing back the happy to workplace culture. The author of three books, and a global keynote speaker, she’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated. 


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