The future belongs to the friction fixers — innovators and problem solvers that put people first and improve their lives.

There’s lots to fix, so if you’re ready to get to work, this blog’s for you.

Don’t confuse friction with process.

Here’s a loaded question:

If a country has nuclear weapons, should the act of launching those nukes to be a low-friction experience, or a high-friction experience?

Your immediate gut reaction is likely “high-friction” because, with so many lives on the line, it’s important to slow things down and get it right.

However, I argue the correct answer is low-friction — and that’s because there’s a difference between friction and process.

Process is the series of steps it takes to complete an action.

Some processes are short and sweet. Others (like launching nukes) inherently take longer and might feel more burdensome because they have more steps. But that’s not friction, it’s structure — and it’s there for a damn good reason.

Friction, on the other hand, is when a process is influenced or altered in an unwanted or unnecessary way, making it more confusing, difficult, or even dangerous to complete.

In our nukes example, the process is the system of steps we’ve all seen portrayed in movies: There’s a very particular chain of command and communication process, and at the end of the line, there are critical procedural safeguards (like two matching keys or launch codes). 

Friction is what would happen if the people executing the launch process were given insufficient or confusing training, thus causing them to accidently skip a step. Or if the communications network went down. Or if keys and codes somehow become mismatched during the development process.

See the difference?

Process is the map that gets us to our desired destination. 

Friction is an unwanted, negative influence that knocks us off course and can lead to disaster.

And let’s face it: Most of the time, people are the negative influence. Yes, we’re awesome — but we’re also biased, impatient, and prone to mistakes.

Does that mean process is always perfect? No way. After all, processes are created by people, so human error can be baked in from the start. When this happens, processes absolutely must be redesigned, or else they’ll yield friction 100% of the time.

But it’s important you can see the difference. Otherwise, you might be trying to fix the wrong problem, or fretting over something that isn’t a problem at all.

For example, it takes a lot more time to drive from San Diego to New York than it does from San Diego to LA. Does that mean the journey to New York is flawed and needs to be fixed or eliminated? Of course not. It’s simply a longer journey and process — but the destination is just as sought after and meaningful nonetheless.

Bottom line: I believe the key to mastering process and fixing friction is to prioritize quality over quantity.

In other words, stop trying to judge your journeys and processes as being “short” or “long.” Instead, ask yourself whether they’re correct. That means they are the exact number of steps they need to be — no more, no less.

Then, channel most of your energy into improving the quality of the steps in the process. Four steps on a straight line with clear instructions are obviously superior to four steps in a zig-zag maze with no instructions.

So, if a certain task on your website takes five clicks, that’s OK! People are fine with whatever number of clicks it takes, as long as each click is obvious and helpful. What will drive them crazy is if they can’t figure out what to click next because of bad content strategy and poorly-written user interface elements.

Or, in a restaurant, if it takes 30 minutes to perfectly cook a certain meat, then do that! Your customers will be happy to wait for quality food — but what will anger them is the friction caused by burned meat cooked too long, or undercooked meat that leads to food poisoning.

Likewise, if you’re writing an educational blog post, it doesn’t matter whether it takes 500 words or 5,000 words to explain the concept. Use the exact amount of words necessary — no more, no less.

Which is why this post ends… now.

Want your business to succeed in today’s world? You must follow these four rules.

I’m a business owner, but I’ll be honest: I’m not happy with the business world as a whole. In fact, I’m livid at the amount of friction some businesses have caused in our society and in the lives of people.

Yes, there are some amazing, innovative, human-centered businesses, both big and small. They have my deepest respect.

But at the other end of the spectrum, there are some really bad actors. I refuse to say their names because they don’t deserve the publicity, but we all know who they are and what they’ve done:

They’ve hurt the environment. They’ve discriminated against people. They’ve caused cancer. They’ve lied and misled. They’re responsible for massive economic inequality. They’ve disrespected privacy and personal data and contributed to polarization and disinformation.

Are they the majority? No way, but their impact is severe. My gut tells me they’re yet another example of the Pareto principle — probably 20% of companies are responsible for 80% of the negative effects.

But here’s the good news: People are tired of the bad actors (and the merely average ones, for that matter). They expect and demand better.

Plus, we’re living in an age of disruption and democratization. Customers have more choices than ever, entrepreneurs have more tools at their disposal than ever, and it truly is possible for a David to beat a Goliath. In fact, we’ve seen it happen a number of times over the last two decades.

Yes, this is a moment of opportunity for the rest of us in the business world. We can take a stand and beat the bad actors — not through naming and shaming, but through competition and innovation. In fact, I believe it’s our obligation to do so, but we need a playbook to guide us.

That’s why I’ve created these four rules of modern business:

  1. Treat your employees like gold.
  2. Treat your customers like gold.
  3. Continually strive to build the best products, services, and experiences in your class.
  4. Other than your competitors losing, there should be little or no collateral damage as a result of your success.

Pretty simple, isn’t it? Simple, yet powerful.

Whether you’re already a human-centered market leader, a small upstart, or an established mid-market player looking to do better and leap forward, consider these rules your rallying cry.

In the modern business climate, I believe they are your best chance of fixing friction, achieving success, building a beloved brand, and making the world a better place.

While these rules are fairly self-explanatory, I want to dive a little deeper into two important aspects:

There’s a reason why Rules 1 and 2 are structured the way they are.

I could have simplified things by combining #1 and 2 into a single rule that says “Treat your people like gold.” But, I separated them and listed employees first for a reason:

Happy employees are the foundation on which successful companies are built. Without them, everything else will fail.

After all, your employees are the ones who serve your customers. Do you really think your customers will ever be truly happy if your employees are miserable?

Of course not. It’s impossible.

Sadly though, it feels like a significant portion of the business world doesn’t understand this. Over the last 10 to 20 years, as Customer and User Experience (CX and UX) have gotten more attention and made meaningful gains, Employee Experience (EX) has clearly stagnated or declined.

We must reverse this trend because your employees are your most precious and irreplaceable asset. They deserve the utmost dignity and respect.

Plain and simple, it’s time to put the “human” back in human resources. From the moment someone applies for a job at your company, throughout their entire tenure, every experience should be as good as possible.

That means:

  1. Great pay, benefits, and advancement opportunities.
  2. Flexible schedules and remote work options (not just during a pandemic).
  3. Creating intuitive systems and processes that work for, not against, your people. In far too many organizations, the “corporate bureaucracy” frustrates the hell out of employees and makes them feel like nothing more than a number or a cog in the machine.
  4. Forging a culture where all of your people feel valued, included, and empowered — and I do mean all. Your diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives need to be actual, sincere efforts that benefit everyone, and not just a pandering hashtag that gets tweeted out occasionally when current events warrant it.

Do right by your employees, and you’ll find that Rules 2 through 4 come much easier.

Rule 4 requires the most explanation.

I’ll admit, this one may seem cryptic at first, so here’s a hypothetical example:

Let’s say you’ve got this amazing company. Your employees are happy, loyal, and high performing. Your customers are thrilled with your products. Your competitors simply can’t keep up, and both market share and revenues are rising.

But there’s a problem…

Your products are manufactured using methods and materials that are not environmentally friendly. Years from now, other people may suffer or even die because you didn’t put enough effort into sustainable and environmentally-friendly manufacturing techniques.

The environment and health are just two applications of Rule 4, so don’t get too hung up on this specific example. The point here is that it’s totally possible to ace Rules 1 through 3 and call it a day — but that’s not good enough in today’s world.

Why? Because as I mentioned in my Friction Fixer launch article, everything is interconnected, and when one thing suffers, everything suffers. Ultimately, if your business introduces any kind of negative or destabilizing element into the world, it will eventually come back to haunt your business in a number of ways.

Collectively, we in the business community need to do better — much better. Whether you call this “corporate responsibility” or “social good,” the key is to do everything with intention and empathy. I find that most companies go wrong when they either:

  1. lose sight of big-picture strategy, think short term, and do things “just because” with a lack of intention; or,
  2. lose any sense of human-centered empathy and prioritize profits over people.

Bottom line: Between companies, there will always be winner and losers in business. If your competitors suffer, so be it — they should have done a better job — but innocent bystanders should never suffer as a result of your success.

I’ll have plenty more to say about these rules in future posts. After all, Friction Fixer is just getting started — stay tuned…

Premiere article: The future belongs to the friction fixers.

I hate friction, and I’m sure you do, too.

We all deal with it, every single day. It comes in many shapes and forms, and it often feels like this:

An angry person glares at a long, convoluted maze that causes friction, frustration, and confusion.

Some types of friction are minor, in the grand scheme of things. You might even consider some of them to be “first-world problems” — but they can still wreak havoc.

I’m talking about confusing websites and apps. Navigating bureaucracy at the DMV (yuck). Calling the phone or cable company (double yuck). Marketing content full of hard-sell tactics, PR spin, or corporate speak. Spending hours applying for a job, but HR never sends a confirmation of receipt nor a status update. (I could go on and on, but you get the idea.)

Other forms of friction are far more extreme — and sadly, billions of people suffer the consequences every day.

I’m talking about homelessness and hunger. Polarization and disinformation. Inaccessibility for people with disabilities. Social and economic inequality. Discrimination, in all its vile and unacceptable forms. (And that’s just a partial list.)

These things aren’t just friction — they’re injustices. And now, many of them have intensified dramatically due to COVID-19.

But here’s the good news:

Friction, big or small, can be fixed.

Pains can be soothed. Problems can be solved. Experiences can be transformed to feel like this:

A happy person smiles at the sight of straight, direct, easy-to-use pathway.

As a result, organizations become more successful. Trust is earned. Communities and relationships become stronger. Best of all, peoples’ lives are improved in meaningful and significant ways.

In other words, everybody wins — and that’s what Friction Fixer is all about. This isn’t your typical “business blog” because business as usual doesn’t cut it anymore.

Instead, this is a new kind of blog centered around two goals:

Goal 1: To help organizations thrive by becoming more human-centered.

Ever notice how most talk about businesses and organizations is very bottom-line oriented, fixated on how the organization can win?

With Friction Fixer, I’m taking a different approach.

I want to talk primarily about how people can win — in particular, the people who are the lifeblood of any organization: customers and employees.

Yes, of course, results are important — but people are more important.

In fact, when organizations put people first, above all else, they outperform their self-centered, bottom-line-obsessed competitors in every way:

  • Their customers and employees are more loyal (and they’re often fanatical word-of-mouth advocates).
  • Their brands are stronger and more beloved.
  • They enjoy superior growth, revenue, and longevity.

Forward-thinking organizations understand this. They also know that, when given a choice, people will always choose the lower-friction, higher-reward alternative that makes their lives measurably easier and better.

That’s why these organizations have shifted to a human-centered mindset obsessed with delivering superior Customer (CX), User (UX), and Employee (EX) Experiences.

Their innovative experiences have propelled them to new heights and turned their old-school competitors into dinosaurs (something video and music stores, legacy big-name retailers, and keyboard phones could tell you all about — if they were still around).

Which begs the question: Do you want your business, non-profit, government, or school to become a dinosaur? I didn’t think so.

That’s why Friction Fixer is going to be a place full of insights, ideas, and inspiration to help your organization and its people move forward and thrive.

Here, you can expect a mix of articles, interviews, reviews, and videos on a range of interconnected topics: CX, UX, and EX. Design. Research and empathy. Strategy. Technology. Privacy. Products and services (both physical and digital). Brand. Marketing. Storytelling. HR and culture. Diversity and inclusion. Accessibility. Social good.

And speaking of social good…

Goal 2: To inspire a movement of friction fixers dedicated to making the world a better place.

Remember the examples of societal friction I mentioned in the intro?

Imagine the progress we could make on these issues if solutions-oriented people from different backgrounds and sectors joined forces in innovative new ways.

Imagine leaders from business, non-profit, and government working together more often. Or designers, architects, and other professionals from human-centered fields collaborating closely with people and causes in their communities.

I think it’s time to stop imagining and start making this a reality.

That’s why Friction Fixer is more than a blog. I see it as a movement that sits at the intersection of commerce, community, and compassion — a movement I hope you’ll join.

The reality is, everything is interconnected — people, communities, politics, government, and business. When one suffers, they all suffer, so we can’t afford to ignore difficult topics or truths just because they’re outside our respective industries, silos, or comfort zones.

One example: If you’re in the business world, how is your innovative new product or service going to “change the world” if economic inequality means the people who need it most — perhaps including your own employees who made it — can’t afford to buy it?

As I said in the intro, business as usual doesn’t cut it anymore.

Everyone must win. If we can break down silos, embrace our interconnectedness, and work together to fix all types of friction, we just might make that happen.

It all starts locally, so get involved in your community! Listen to people. Empathize with them. Identify their friction and pain. Volunteer. Start or join a human-centered new business or non-profit that creates jobs and fills an urgent need. Speak up. Collaborate and bridge the gaps between people, for-profits, non-profits, and government.

The future belongs to the friction fixers. Are you in?

If so, I want to hear from you. Let’s get to work.

Dave Woods