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.