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Process Improvement: Friction Versus Frustration

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Kristian Andersen of the Indianapolis-based experience design firm Kristian Andersen + Associates is ruminating on the latest business buzzwords. He thinks the notion that processes should be “frictionless” is “flat wrong.”

To quote from the blog post:

There are certainly many examples of processes where reducing friction is a critical component of success. But I can’t think of any examples of efficient and effective processes where friction is absent altogether. Imagine trying to strike a match, steer an oil tanker, kiss your significant other, or even walk down the street, without the dynamics of a bit of friction at work.


© Flickr user free-stock

Andersen’s comments might sound like mere semantics. He uses a literal, scientific definition of friction, as a force which enables motion. Clearly, the Inc. Magazine article that inspired this discussion considers friction to mean conflict and resistance to progress.

But this conversation is more than just being picky about word choice, it is about describing key interactions in business with useful and effective terms. As Mark Twain once wrote, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Choosing the best word, the best image, the best user interface controls and building the best overall brand experience is the focus of groups like Kristian Andersen + Associates. This dissent, therefore, should be seriously considered.

At AccelaWork, we find that the words used to describe business processes provide insight into the organizational workflow, productivity and culture. The methodologies utilized at a workplace should include enough friction to enable meaningful contact and conversation, but not bog everyone down in bureaucracy. If we are looking for anything to eliminate, it should not be friction but frustration. We’d love to help you find better, smarter, and smoother ways to work.

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