The Friction of Innovation

Innovation needs movement. Paradigms shift, viewpoints redirect, and new ideas flow. But anytime there is movement, there is friction.

Friction is the surface or environment resisting the movement. Rub your hands together, they get warm. You have friction to thank for that.

Ok, don’t run from the science. Stick with me.

To create acceleration, you need to push on an object with more force than the force of friction. So if we can figure out what makes the Force of Friction, we can learn to overcome it.

Friction is the Coefficient of Friction (µ) times the Normal Force.

The Coefficient of Friction (µ) is specific for the surfaces interacting and the higher the coefficient, the more friction generated. Carpet = high coefficient, icy driveway = low coefficient.

The Normal Force is the surface pushing back up on the object and can be thought of as the counterpart to gravity. Your laptop doesn’t accelerate down through your desk because your desk pushes back up on the laptop. For the sake of the analogy, the Normal Force is equal to the weight of the idea.

We know have some great components for our analogy. If you’ve stuck with me this far, you’re almost to the payoff.

  • The Coefficient of Friction
    • This is the culture of your organization. How open to change is it? How accepting of new ideas are they? Do they give you resources to make new things happen?
      • If you get told “But this is the way we’ve always done it”, chances are your location has a high Coefficient of Innovation Friction.
  • Weight
    • This is the disruptiveness of your idea. If it is going to keep people up at night, you’ve got a large disruptive weight. If it builds on existing ideas with existing customers, then you’ve got a small disruptive weight.
  • The Force of Innovative Friction
    • This is equal to your Coefficient of Innovative Friction multiplied by the Disruptive Weight of your idea.

It’s important to point out that there isn’t a right or wrong here. I’m not going to tell you to have smaller ideas to reduce friction, or that a culture is bad if it has a high coefficient. This just gives you a model to evaluate how hard you need to push.

“Some people want it to happen, some wish it to happen, others MAKE IT HAPPEN.” – Michael Jordan

You want an innovative idea to pick up speed? You want to make it happen? You’re going to have to push on it MORE than the Innovation Friction around it. And if we know that in innovation you have to be prepared to learn from failures.

Sometimes what you learn is that you should’ve pushed harder.





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