Friction: The Hidden Reality of What Holds People Back
How is it that two people delivering the same value to organizational outcomes, in the same role at the same pay, can have a massively different value to the organization itself?
Here’s a common problem that a lot of people are unaware of: John is a remarkable employee. He delivers day in and day out. Jane is equally remarkable and delivers just as well. They’re identical twins except for one difference. That one difference makes Jane incredibly valuable to the organization and makes John much less valuable.
That difference is friction.
To get John to do what he’s supposed to do, his boss comes in and hits him over the head every day. John can’t keep track of what he’s supposed to do, and he does things only when instructed.
Jane, on the other hand, shows up knowing what she’s supposed to do and doing it. She delivers without any added work from her boss.
John and Jane have the same boss. The amount of effort required to get John to do something is 10 times the amount of effort required to get Jane to do something.
Let’s shift our perspective here.
From John’s point of view, he’s competent and capable, even if he’s not ambitious or highly motivated.
From Jane’s point of view, she’s equally competent and capable and wonders why she’s treated the same as John when she does the same amount of work with way less hassle.
From the boss’s point of view, they’re both valuable employees, but they are not equally valuable. Jane is much more valuable than John. If one of them had to be let go, it’d be John.
Let’s invert the problem a little. Instead of asking what more you can do to add value you can ask what you can remove.
One of the easiest ways to increase your value to an organization is to reduce the friction required to get you to do your job. You don’t need to learn any new skills for this; you just have to shift your perspective to your boss’s point of view and see how hard it is for them to get you to do something. Like nature, which removes mistakes to progress, you can remove things to not only survive but thrive. (This is one of the ways we can apply via negativa, an important mental model.)
Think about it this way. Your boss, like you, has 100 units of energy a day with which to accomplish something. If you both spend 10 units on getting you to do the thing you already know you should be doing, you’re making yourself look bad, despite the amazing quality you deliver. And you’re making your boss look less productive than they really are in the process.
When we think of improving our value to an organization, we often think about the skills we need to develop, the jobs we should take, or the growing responsibility we have. In so doing, we miss the most obvious method of all: reducing friction. Reducing friction means that the same 100 units of energy are going to get you further, which is going to get your boss further, which is going to get the organization further.