From Friction to Flow

Written by:

Paul D. Roberts


Engineering a culture where courageous change can flourish

I think of courageous change the same way I think about chemical reactions (once a scientist, always a scientist). 

In a chemical reaction, a certain amount of energy is needed to get from reactants (starting state) to products (end state). Adding a catalyst lowers the amount of energy required for the reaction.

Similarly, people trying to make the courageous change that moves your organization forward requires energy.  Are you making it easy to get the most significant impact? 

Or are you requiring people to spend their energy in the wrong places, leaving them burnt out from significant friction points before change happens? 

The amount of energy needed for courageous change

Change-makers leave companies when they can’t get work through. They find new workplaces where they can make an impact. That could be one of your competitors. 

Courageous change takes mental energy. The bigger and bolder the transformation is, the more courage it takes. You and your teams have a fixed amount of energy, and if it takes too much energy to get something done, the criteria for selecting the next direction is based on who has the most energy and not the best idea. Not a good selection process.

Make processes as efficient as possible to get the best ideas to move forward. You want energy to be put into thinking, planning, collaborating, and doing to make the most significant progress possible.  

So, how can you add catalysts to lower the energy required and increase the impact your people can have?

Lowering friction and the energy required for change

Even though some resistance to change is to be expected, you don’t want your team’s “courage energy” to be expended running an exhausting gauntlet: Fighting you, other team members, obstructionists, skeptical-for-skepticisms-sakes, the overly cautious, the been-there-tried-thats, the organization hierarchy, or outdated legacy processes is a waste of a person’s drive and will stop people from even mentioning a bold idea because they dread the effort it would require to see it through.

Be Courageous Lowering the Courage Threshold - Gauntlet

Imagine the impact you could make, if energy was put in in the right place!

Imagine the brilliant progress you could make if friction were lower and it were easier to get bold ideas listened to and acted on in your company. Impacts like elevating customer experience,  doing right by the planet, and making superior, innovative products that add value to humanity and are so needed right now. Start here.

1) Take stock of obstacles. Identify where your business/teams/systems make it more difficult than it needs to be. Where are you overly spending your energy, and why? This is not just limited to stage gates but also the incentives, structures, and cultures you ask people to operate in.  

2) Incorporate catalysts such as:

  • Create a nurturing climate that makes people feel safe to share their bold vision, knowing others will be supportive and not only find ways it won’t work. 
  • Value speaking up. If people only speak up when agreeing, that is not speaking up; it is cow-towing.

  • Build psychological safety. Ideas don’t have to be perfect right out of the gate. It takes time and iteration to get there if it is an innovation. Find a way to allow failing safely so lessons can be learned quickly at the lowest risk to the innovators and the organization.

  • Create a culture and a set of rules of engagement that enable all ideas to be evaluated equally on their merits. Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots at Alphabet’s X, The Moonshot Factory, calls this “cultural engineering,” creating the path of least emotional resistance. You may think you should thrash ideas early to check for validity or have a highly competitive environment so that only the best ideas get through. But what is forgotten is there is a person with feelings and limited energy behind any idea. Under a thrashing and competing environment, a person’s energy level to fight for their concept becomes the critical measure of the idea’s merit. It should be the idea itself that is evaluated, not the energy of its proponent.

  • Remove legacy obstructions designed for another time and incongruous with the realities of today’s pace of change.   

  • Clarify and communicate your company’s visions for the future, so people can invent towards it, rather than playing the “guess what is in leadership’s head” game. 

  • Streamline idea pitches and approvals. Not everyone has to see the value of an innovation for the innovation to have value. What matters is that the inventor, decision-makers, and ultimately customers see the value. Limit the number of meetings and who needs to be there to get the team on the same page faster.

  • Seek value in new ways of thinking. Explore an idea you disagree with to get practice with challenging your bias’ and usual mental models.

  • Make it in your employee’s best interest to experiment and innovate. Align your company’s future with their future. 

  • Look how you’re incentivizing people and where the risk lies in innovating. Who bears the cost of innovation not working? If it’s the innovators, they’ll only innovate safely and at a low risk of failure. Put the burden on benefactors and let the innovators innovate. Look at your incentive structures and how they do or do not align with the change you want to see in your organization.  

  • Ask your team for feedback. If there’s friction, fear and resistance to trying an idea outside of a comfort zone, ask, Why are people afraid? What are they afraid of? And fix it. 

Innovation is a marathon. The courage to make change is a long road, and getting to the end is the point, so don’t burn critical courage calories in the wrong places. 

Friction to Flow Worksheet

Take your team from friction to flow to increase courage energy levels for innovation and impact with this tool!

Engineer a courage-friendly climate

Create a courage-friendly environment in your company to allow your employees to use their energy to enable the amount of change you ask them to embrace and invent for. Lowering friction and increasing flow is needed to harness the incredible opportunities and challenges we face today. 

Be Courageous can help you engineer these environments, so your most extraordinary future can happen. We’d love to help!


Corporate Fragility


Most of us agree that we are really only at the tip of a massive amount of change. The 2020s will be the decade of challenge for the globe.

Corporate Fragility


Most of us agree that we are really only at the tip of a massive amount of change. The 2020s will be the decade of challenge for the globe.

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