Loran Nordgren is a professor at the Kellogg School of Management and best-selling author of Human Element: Overcoming the Resistance That Awaits New Ideas. Loran has always been interested in human behavior, especially innovation and change leadership. In our rapidly changing world of work, knowing how to create change and make new ideas catch on is crucial for all leaders.
But most of us go about creating change the wrong way. Instead, Loran suggests a framework around friction theory to lead to successful innovation.
The Law of Attraction Versus Friction Theory
The most common way people try to make change is through the law of attraction. Often without even realizing it, we elevate the appeal. If people resist change, we just have to boost the attraction even more to get people over the line. Loran calls this a fuel-based mindset. When trying to fly a plane, you can keep adding fuel. But that plane will never fly if you don’t reduce friction.
The real opportunity is in the barriers or frictions that hold things back. Loran says sales and change leadership is like building an airplane and only thinking about the engine instead of weight and aerodynamics. But that plane will never get off the ground. It’s the same concept when trying to bring ideas to life–we have to remove obstacles instead of just adding attraction.
For example, someone trying to drive change in their organization may keep trying to sell their idea and add more value and perks. But friction theory says the best way to create change is to find out what keeps people from accepting the change and then adjust the plan accordingly.
Four Barriers to Change
All friction falls into Loran’s four barriers to change:
Inertia is the idea that the human mind favors the familiar over the unfamiliar. Loren says inertia is always there in varying strengths. The opposition isn’t often due to the facts or benefits of the change but simply the fact that the change is new and unfamiliar.
The bigger the change, the more scared people will likely become. That’s why many successful changes come in stages to allow people to accept the change and adapt before increasing the rate of change.
The barrier of effort comes down to a single question: how much work does it take to adopt the change?
Loran says people are often so concerned about the time and effort something will take that they aren’t willing to innovate. Overcoming this barrier usually means making change as easy as possible. People naturally don’t like changes that require huge amounts of work or effort.
Innovation and change naturally provoke emotions. The goal is to create positive emotions. But Loran says that even good ideas can produce negative emotions like anxiety, fear, and embarrassment. Getting past those negative emotions is a major roadblock to change.
Finally, the fourth barrier is reactance or the relationship between the innovator and the audience. People don’t want to feel like an idea is being pushed on them and resist ideas (no matter how good they are) if they feel pushed towards something. Instead, they want to feel part of the process. Loran calls this the innovator’s paradox: you want to move people towards your new ideas without making them feel pressured. The more they feel pushed down that path, the more they resist.
Identifying and Overcoming Friction
So, how do you implement friction theory to create lasting change and innovation? Loran says it starts by looking at what’s holding back progress. Because so many of us practice the law of attraction, we have blind spots for friction. But just looking for friction sources often reveals roadblocks. Loran recommends simply asking people what’s holding them back to pinpoint the specific friction.
But above all, Loran says the most effective way to create change is to anticipate and remove frictions instead of dealing with them after they arise. Looking for potential slowdowns in inertia, effort, emotion, and reactance can help create a better plan from the beginning to drive real change.
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