Book Notes: Friction by Roger Dooley

Author: Roger Dooley
Year Read: 2019
Overall Satisfaction (1-5): 4

🚀 Summary

Friction is everywhere; the most successful people and organizations identify and optimize friction to their competitive advantage.

🙋 Who Should Read It?

Entrepreneurs and business leaders, although it can easily be related to how individuals would improve environmental effects to achieve a desired result.

The downside, Dooley admits near the end to being required to submit a 75k word book and it felt like it at times.

☘️ How the Book Changed Me

After reading this book, I look at everything from the lens of “where is the friction?” It’s made me increasingly more aware of what is happening around me whether it’s how I structure my office or the operations of a local food joint. Friction improvements are possible everywhere.

✍️ My Top 3 Takeaways

  • The Law of Least Effort, sometimes called the Principle of Least Effort, says that given a choice, people will choose the option that requires the smallest amount of work.
  • Instead of attempting to boost motivation, reducing friction is almost always less expensive and often faster to accomplish.
  • Our daily lives are driven by environmental friction that we can identify and modify.

📒 Summary and Highlights

  • Friction is defined as “the unnecessary expenditure of time time, effort, or money in performing a task”
  • Science of Friction
    • Decreasing friction increases action.
    • Instead of trying to push people in a new direction, we can steer them by selectively reducing friction in their path.
    • By making desirable outcomes the default choice, behavioral scientists exploit what some call “passive decision making” or, more colloquially, “the path of least resistance.”**
    • Instead of costly attempts to boost motivation, friction reduction is almost always less expensive and sometimes faster to accomplish.
    • The Law of Least Effort, sometimes called the Principle of Least Effort, says that given a choice, people will choose the option that requires the smallest amount of work.
    • Too many choices can create friction.
      • Every decision in a process can reduce the probability that the person will make the final, big decision to complete the process
      • If you want someone to do something, consider offering a much more difficult alternative. It will make the action you want seem easier.
  • Friction in business:
    • When you reduce friction, make something easy, people do more of it. —Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO, Amazon
    • Amazon created a competitive advantages through anything that would make the customer experience easier
      • 1 click/zero-click ordering, permanent login, stored credit card, no password changes
    • If you can find a part of your market that has difficulty doing business with your competitors, attack there first before meeting them head-on.
    • Historical reduction of friction in business:
      • Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward reduced friction — mail order for rural customers
      • Sears created retail stores in suburbs with plentiful parking
      • Wal-Mart created stores in locations close to rural towns/small cities with easy access and plenty of parking; competitors couldn’t match prices
      • New competition is e-commerce; quick delivered products
    • Everyday experiences we take for granted may contain plenty of friction.
      • Uber created due to problem of hiring a limo in Paris; founders reduced all friction points with finding a cab, streamlining payment process, communicating final destination
    • Postwar Japan focused on principle of “kaizen” — continuous improvement
      • Practitioners of kaizen tend not to look for sweeping changes or totally new ways of doing things. Rather, they constantly measure the results of the current process and test changes that may further improve those results. Simplification is a key concept.
    • Can you anticipate your user’s or customer’s needs and offer time-saving choices?
      • Google: produce result user is looking for, make the process easy, predictive auto-complete, no-click searches, correcting for spelling errors
    • Customer service interactions are nearly four times more likely to lead to disloyalty than loyalty
      • Nine percent of customers who had low-effort experiences reported being disloyal. 
      • Ninety-six percent of customers who had high-effort experiences reported being disloyal.
        • high effort: multiple contacts, having to change channels, impersonal treatment, transfers/repeat information, perception of additional effort
    • “prescriptive” selling.
      • salesperson reduces customer effort, a.k.a. friction, by guiding the customer through a specific solution that has been shown to work in similar situations. The buyer isn’t forced to work through alternatives and decide (perhaps with limited expertise) which product or approach will be best.
      • Customers will frequently pay more for an all-inclusive option than what they would spend in an a la carte price scheme
  • Organizations/Bureaucracy
    • Parkinson’s law. His eponymous law states simply that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
    • bureaucracies grew at an average rate of 5.75 percent per year
    • If your organization is having difficulty getting things done, the problem may not be too few managers, but too many
    • Rules and procedures are often put in place because of lack of trust.
      • But often, the savings from these onerous processes are far smaller than the cost of wasted time and effort they engender. Look for places where a small increase in trust will result in a big decrease in friction.
    • While a discussion of how to make meetings productive is beyond our scope here, one small step would be to add some friction to the meeting scheduling process
    • Downside of Lowering Friction This ease of creating and distributing e-mail resulted in an explosion in the total amount of communication.
    • Any tax is a discouragement and therefore a regulation so far as it goes. —Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., American jurist
  • Habits/Productivity
    • Don’t focus your motivation on doing Behavior X. Instead, focus on making Behavior X easier to do. —BJ Fogg, Stanford University researcher
      • need three things to get someone (or yourself) to do something: motivation, ability, and a prompt.
      • it is almost always easier (and less expensive) to increase ability than motivation.
    • If you are trying to change the behavior of others, take advantage of laziness. Make it easy for people to take desired actions. Add difficulty to decrease.
  • Writing
    • Bernoff’s cardinal rule is that writers should treat the reader’s time as more valuable than their own.


friction, which I define as “the unnecessary expenditure of time, effort, or money in performing a task,” in all kinds of places.

If I have one overriding objective in this book, it’s to help you identify friction everywhere—in your work, personal life, and community.

And, when we eliminate friction, we make our lives and the lives of those around us better.

If you are in a leadership position, declare war on friction. Stamp out ridiculous rules, pointless procedures, and meaningless meetings. Become a relentless advocate for the customer and minimizing customer effort.

PROLOGUE Engine of Disruption

Fortune can bring about great changes in a situation through very slight forces. —Julius Caesar,

The roads the Romans built were amazing feats of engineering and construction technology. Roman engineers understood that the shortest distance between two points was a straight line, and they designed their roads that way. If a valley was in the way, they built a bridge. At times, they tunneled through mountains. The Romans built the roads so that water drained away, and used a mix of stone and gravel to make roads durable and smooth even for wheeled carts and chariots. The network of roads became the glue that held the empire together.

Roman roads were meant to endure and rarely yielded to the vagaries of topography. Unless prevented by impassable mountains or impregnable swamps, the Romans built their roads straight as an arrow across the landscape. They were in fact a sermon in stone to the world—Romans do not yield. —from Julius Caesar by Philip Freeman

The Roman roads took much of the friction out of land travel.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Sometimes, making things easy requires hard work. Building stone bridges across valleys and tunneling through rock were extremely difficult in the Roman era, and very costly in materials and labor. But, the Romans knew this extra work would save far more wasted effort in the years to come.

CHAPTER 1 The Friction Evangelist

When you reduce friction, make something easy, people do more of it. —Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO, Amazon

Amazon prospers when people do more things: watch video, listen to music, and, of course, buy more products. While many companies focus on motivating their customers to take desired actions with ads, bribes, and other nudges, Amazon is uniquely focused on making things easier to do.

Brahmbhatt says his first experience with friction came as a child. He was thrilled to open a birthday present to find a long-wished-for remote-control toy car. His excitement turned to dismay, though, when he found that the toy manufacturer had not included the necessary batteries.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Sometimes, friction isn’t obvious. Amazon observed how people watched video content to understand what they did and how they did it. Once they saw that looking up cast members was common, they were able to find a way to make that easier. That created a small but immediate competitive advantage and, perhaps, a future revenue opportunity. Look for tiny changes in any process that will make it a little easier.

THE 1-CLICK ENVIRONMENT While 1-Click gets much of the credit for Amazon’s low-friction shopping experience, it’s about more than just a button. 1-Click works because Amazon has implemented a host of friction reducing tactics, many of which have to do with security.

Permanent Login Amazon keeps you logged in to their site under most circumstances.

Credit Cards Like most e-commerce sites, Amazon will store your credit card information and remember multiple cards.


Amazon, surprisingly, scored second best in security strength in addition to doing well in the ease rating. A low-friction user experience doesn’t necessarily mean loose security. Instead of implementing annoying practices like complicated passwords that expire, implement security measures based on user behavior and the potential for a transaction to be damaging.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Saying that you are easy to do business with is one thing, delivering on that promise is another. If you really want to make it easy for your customers, don’t compare your processes to your direct competitors. They may be even worse. Instead compare yourself to companies like Amazon—your customers shop there, and that’s the friction-free experience they expect from you, too.

In 2016, e-commerce sales hit nearly $2 trillion. That’s a huge number for a channel that barely existed two decades earlier. But, that number pales in comparison with the estimated $4.6 trillion of merchandise left in e-commerce shopping carts.

PEOPLE HATE ENTERING DATA Business Insider reported four of the top five reasons for abandoning a shopping cart involve difficulty in entering checkout data via desktop or mobile device—pure friction.

Amazon has none of these issues when customers use the 1-Click button. Indeed, customers who buy that way never abandon their shopping carts because they have no carts to abandon!

Dash Buttons
Voice Ordering

On the retail front, Amazon Go stores, still under development, will allow you to simply walk out with your merchandise.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY The high rate of mobile adoption in China enabled Alibaba to create a store environment that depends on the app to make buying and paying a low-effort process. If you think your customers wouldn’t be comfortable living inside their smartphones, you might be partially right. But, the world is changing. Younger customers are digital natives and are ripe for innovations that will make life fun and easy. Plan for a world when almost everyone is smartphone savvy.

CHAPTER 2 Retail Disruption—Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries


Both giant mail order firms prospered because they offered easy access to a wide range of products previously unavailable to the rural customer. Filling in an order form took a lot more effort than today’s method of clicking “Buy Now,” but it took much less effort than traveling to a distant physical store. Sears proved to be Amazon-like in another way: it focused on eliminating friction in its own operations.

  • Note: Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward

Both Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck began opening retail stores in the 1920s. The firms diverged in their strategies. Montgomery Ward stuck to its rural roots, while Sears turned in a more urban direction. But Sears didn’t emulate department store competitors by locating downtown. Once again, it focused on what was easiest for consumers. To best service a new class of customer, car owners, Sears located stores outside the central city where it could offer plentiful free parking.


In 1962, Sam Walton opened his first store in rural Arkansas. He had owned and operated a “five-and-dime” store in Bentonville, Arkansas, for a dozen years, and decided to try a more ambitious concept with a larger merchandise store in Rogers, Arkansas. He opened a second store shortly after, and the Wal-Mart (later simplified to “Walmart”) concept was born. As the chain expanded in the years that followed, it put stores in locations close to rural towns and small cities, but which offered easy access and plenty of parking. The chain also emphasized low prices, which its small-town competitors couldn’t easily match.

Taking a page from the mail order giants that preceded it, Walmart built an impregnable base of rural stores first. Then, it used the high-volume cost advantage gained from these stores to begin moving closer to big cities.

Despite its size and seeming invincibility in the face of retail competitors, Walmart itself is subject to disruption by e-commerce giants Amazon and Alibaba. Shopping at a nearby Walmart is easy, but not as easy as having your goods appear on your doorstep with just a few clicks. Walmart eventually saw this as a serious threat and launched its own aggressive programs to drive mobile and e-commerce sales, as well as develop advanced retail technologies.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Sam Walton saw that Sears and Montgomery Ward had become complacent. Their mail order approach to serving rural customers had been the foundation of their business, but they were now focused on bigger markets. Walton found an economical way for these customers to buy what they wanted without the delays and shipping expense of mail order. Once again, “easy” proved to be a winning strategy. Only after Walmart was a major force did the company enter busier cities. If you can find a part of your market that has difficulty doing business with your competitors, attack there first before meeting them head-on.

CHAPTER 3 Transportation Disruption

The nineteenth century saw the development and proliferation of railroads, the first major reduction in transport friction. Even today, the comparatively low physical friction of steel wheels on steel track makes traditional rail transport a cost-effective freight alternative. But, the automobile changed everything.

In Paris, he and fellow entrepreneur Travis Kalanick had been unable to hail a cab, and they thought an app that could dial up a “black car” on demand would be useful. By 2009, Camp was working on a company named UberCab as a side project. Camp persuaded Kalanick to join him in the project with the unlikely title of “Chief Incubator.” The service was still focused on an upscale consumer who would pay for a black car if one was readily available.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Camp and Kalanick started Uber to address a point of friction they personally experienced when they couldn’t hire a limo in Paris. That’s a good starting point for a business idea—if something is annoying, slow, or effortful for you, it is probably the same for others. But the real success came from looking beyond limos and seeing how much friction could be eliminated for the much larger population of taxi users. Uber became the biggest of unicorns and threatened an industry that dated back to the horse-and-buggy days.

The time-honored way of obtaining a taxi is to walk to a busy street, watch for an unoccupied taxi, and wave frantically to get the driver’s attention. This is a high-friction process for both the driver and passenger.

Another element of friction is finding a cab that accepts credit cards.

We’ve all had difficulty explaining to a driver (who may not speak the same language as us) exactly where we are going.

Exiting the taxi is the final burst of friction. Paying with cash is usually quickest, unless the driver can’t make change. Even with today’s technology, paying by credit card often takes a few minutes of fumbling, printing a signature form, awkwardly signing it, and waiting for a receipt. Tipping can be highly problematic.

Uber and its ride-sharing peers opened our eyes. Suddenly, when most of the taxi friction was removed, we could see it for what it was.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Everyday experiences we take for granted may contain plenty of friction. Uber, Lyft, and others didn’t just try to fix one part of the taxi experience, they optimized every part of it to minimize customer effort. Could smartphones or some other transformative technology provide ways to reduce customer effort in your business?

One of the best parts about driving for Uber and Lyft is how frictionless onboarding can be. —Harry Campbell, author of The Rideshare Guide

Uber doesn’t require a commercial driver’s license and only performs a fairly simple background check that normally takes less than a week. Generally, vehicles must be less than 10 years old (15 in some locations) and have four doors.

And, with Uber’s Instant Pay option, drivers can be paid the same day they earn the money.

Ride-sharing apps facilitate the matching process.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Uber and its ride-sharing peers wisely focused on customer experience first. But, they knew that making their drivers more productive would be essential to attract and retain drivers as well as maximize value for both rider and driver. Wasted time means either lower earnings for the driver or higher prices for the rider. Reducing wasted time is a win for everyone. As on the rider side, Uber and Lyft have tried to take friction out of every part of the driver experience, including easy onboarding of new drivers and nearly instant payment. Reducing friction for your employees or contractors will help them and your customers.

I prefer to look at the same information in a more positive way: customers are willing to pay a little more at CarMax because buying a car there is easier and less stressful than the alternatives.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Circuit City executives translated their experience in one industry to a very different one. They and competitors like Best Buy had taken much of the friction out of buying televisions and electronics gear. The even larger used car industry suffered from many of the same issues. By changing assumptions and improving customer experience, CarMax became huge and profitable even as its parent failed.

With much of their manufacturing infrastructure destroyed, Japan had no choice but to rebuild from scratch. This enabled them to leapfrog established rivals by using newer technology as they built more modern facilities. They also enthusiastically adopted the statistical quality control practices championed by American engineer, professor, and management consultant William Edwards Deming.

Beyond technology, postwar Japan found a new way to operate their businesses. They used what came to be known as lean manufacturing strategies and adopted the principle of “kaizen”—continuous improvement.

Practitioners of kaizen tend not to look for sweeping changes or totally new ways of doing things. Rather, they constantly measure the results of the current process and test changes that may further improve those results. Simplification is a key concept.

For example, if the parts needed for assembly were at the same level as the place where they would be attached, no lifting would be required. Not only is lifting time consuming, it can lead to injury (and lost production) even if the parts aren’t heavy. Placing the parts in a way that the worker did not have to turn to get them would further reduce wasted motion. Similarly, tools should be close at hand.

Armed with stopwatches and clipboards, US manufacturing engineers timed workers performing tasks and graded their effort. If they thought the workers could go faster, the engineers would increase the target output. Quite naturally, the workers saw this as a ploy to get them to work harder for the same pay. Their union might demand that any new expectations for output be negotiated. Often, workers deliberately slowed their work pace if they knew they were being timed. Sometimes, American workers found ingenious ways to fool the engineers.

As we’ll see later in the book, just about every organization has its share of muda that, if eliminated, will make the work easier and let people get more done. Instead of trying to get people to work harder, make their job easier.

CHAPTER 4 Digital Disruption

Two factors have led to Google’s lead in this space:
 • They are very good at producing the result the user is looking for.
 • They make it very, very easy to get that result.

“Did You Mean . . . ?” Even as their algorithm became more sophisticated, Google developers also focused on ways to reduce user effort to accomplish their objective. One way Google found it could reduce friction for users was fixing spelling errors.

We Know What You Want

But, the big friction-reducer highlighted throughout the Parisian Love ad is Google’s predictive autocomplete feature. We take this capability for granted today, but when Google began offering this it seemed almost magical.

Google’s Chrome browser does something similar in the address bar. As you begin to type, it will offer a mix of web addresses and search terms based on your own history as well as popularity.

One metric that illustrates how successfully Google is minimizing user effort is the number of “no-click” searches. In most cases today, a no-click search means that the user got the information he or she needed without having to click on a result.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Can you anticipate your user’s or customer’s needs and offer time-saving choices? If customers are searching your website, are you offering them suggestions as they type? If they type something that either gets no results or seems like an error, do you offer some results that seem to be related to the query? Google saves its users significant time by guessing at their intent early and often. Google suggests searches that may not match what the user typed but seem to match the intent of the search. Be sure you are gathering data on both unsuccessful and successful searches to improve both your search function and your site itself.


So, what set these firms apart and gave them valuations in the billions? The answer is simple—they attracted a huge number of users. None of their countless competitors came close. Both Instagram and WhatsApp grew to a size where the network effect kicked in.

The Hooked Model 

What made Hooked so popular is the relative simplicity of its core concept. Eyal explained how products became habits by using the Hooked model, a circular series of four steps:

  1. Trigger
  2. Action
  3. Reward
  4. Investment

A trigger (say, an e-mail promoting the product) gets the user to try it. The action phase involves doing something, like opening the app. The reward phase is where the user gets relief for what he or she came for, like scrolling a feed to feel connected to friends. The investment phase is the effort that makes it better with use, for example, posting a photo or liking someone else’s post.

The model works in a circular loop, with the user’s brain continuing to seek the rewards offered by the app. The more cycles the user goes through, the more using the app becomes a habit.

  • Note: Twitter. Definitely.

The most successful apps, Eyal says, no longer need external triggers like e-mails to initiate a user session. Rather, internal triggers take over. Bored while you are standing in line at Starbucks? Fire up Instagram. Lonely? See what your friends are doing on Facebook. Once an app becomes a habit driven by a user’s emotions or feelings, it’s very difficult for competing apps (or even other activities) to dislodge or replace it.

Friction hinders Eyal’s “action” phase. If something is difficult or confusing, people won’t do it. Have you ever downloaded an app or program that sounded interesting, opened it up, struggled to figure out what to do next, and decided to wait for a better time to try it out? We all have, but that “better time” often never comes.

Research by Duke professor Dan Ariely and others has shown that “free” is very appealing to our brains. We are drawn to free things in a way that is out of proportion to the value. For most of us, the monetary difference between a free item and the same item for one cent is nonexistent—the value of that penny is so low many people won’t bother to pick one up from the sidewalk. But, experiments show, free things are far more compelling.

If an app offers users compelling benefits, it’s often better to let users start without demanding a payment method. Businesses like Evernote and Dropbox achieved enormous success by delivering serious value to their unpaid users. After these tools became habits and an essential part of their lives, users were willing to pay to access more features, get more storage, and so on. These free-to-use versions were highly functional so that users were encouraged to go through the Hooked cycle and form a habit. And, over time, the “investment” phase of the model becomes a barrier to change.

How and when payment information is collected can make a big difference in app adoption. A common point of friction is asking new users for a payment method, even if no immediate payment is required.

After all, I’m already risking my time by testing a product I’m not certain about. Adding a bit more friction with a credit card requirement can be enough to discourage me.

Across all social media platforms, Hootsuite emerged as the tool of choice for power users like social media managers. First conceived as a Twitter post scheduler in 2008,14 it grew into a powerful tool that consolidated monitoring and posting across multiple channels, including Facebook and LinkedIn. Since its early days, Hootsuite has used a freemium model. They let people use the product for free, but with a limited feature set. As you added capabilities, like multiple users or larger numbers of accounts, you had to pay.

What enabled Buffer to get traction when Hootsuite had a two-year lead in both development and marketing, not to mention a huge base of users? Quite simply, it was Buffer’s nearly frictionless onboarding process for new users.

With its different look and shunning of complexity, Buffer changed the game for social media posting tools. Its user interface was incredibly simple and intuitive. The user simply connected a social media account and was ready to schedule posts.

One simplifying strategy Buffer used was to begin with a default schedule. The user didn’t need to enter a scheduling menu and decide which times of day were best. Buffer had these preset. The times were editable, of course, but a new user didn’t need to learn how to do that to get started. Behavioral science shows us that doing nothing is always easier than doing something, so Buffer built in default times.

The choice of language Buffer uses to communicate with customers is no accident. Buffer support staffer Carolyn Kopprasch wrote that one “happiness hack” she employed was to eliminate the word “actually” from customer communications. She contrasts these two sentences:
 • Actually, you can do this under “Settings.”
 • Sure thing, you can do this under “Settings!” 🙂

DISRUPTION DECODED Amazon appeals to our hunter-gatherer instinct to collect more stuff with minimum effort. . . . Easy stuff is the best stuff, because it consumes less energy and gives you time to do other important things. —from The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google by Scott Galloway

While competitors focus on delivering “more for less,” he says, much of the success of Apple, Amazon, and the others is based on “removing obstacles and time killers from our daily lives.”

CHAPTER 5 The Science of Friction

Decreasing friction increases action. A slightly more formal way of stating this would be: The level of action is inversely proportional to the level of friction.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Humans can be a lot like curling stones. They are heading in a direction and changing their course without physical contact looks impossible. But, instead of trying to push them in a new direction, we can steer them by selectively reducing friction in their path.

Since the dawn of economics, as in the simplest version of Newtonian physics, economists ignored friction. In The Org, Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan discuss Adam Smith, the eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher and father of modern economics. They write: But what Smith’s account is missing, among other things, is the real cost of doing business in an open market. These factors—what Coase labeled “transaction costs”—find no place in the mathematical models that the followers of Adam Smith developed to explain the superiority of the market’s invisible hand to the controlling hand of bosses. . . . Coase’s conception of the market involved a lot more friction and discord than Adam Smith’s original vision.2

Perhaps Coase didn’t quite go far enough. Two later Nobel Prize winners, Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler, authored (along with Jack Knetsch) a paper that showed people were more irrational than even Coase predicted. The paper discussed the endowment effect, which predicts that you will value an item that you own more than the same item owned by someone else.

Financial Times columnist Tim Harford notes that supply and demand curves don’t work very well in the labor market. When unemployment is high, that is, the supply of labor is higher than demand, the traditional model suggests that wages will fall, demand for labor will increase, and in short order everyone who wants a job will have one. That simply doesn’t happen in the real world. In an interview for a UBS “Nobel Perspective” piece focused on Pissarides’s contributions to economic theory, Harford notes, “The truth is getting a job or hiring a worker isn’t a transaction like buying or selling apples, it’s more like finding a boyfriend or girlfriend, neither the employer nor the job seeker are willing to settle for just anyone, they both want someone who fits their needs.”

There are many frictions in the labor market. Jobs may be in the wrong place geographically. Worker skills may not match up to employer needs. Fixed pay structures, union contracts, and other factors can prevent employers from raising (or lowering) wages to achieve supply/demand equilibrium. Availability of alternate support systems like government unemployment benefits can affect a worker’s willingness to take a particular job. Countless human factors mean that not every person will take an available job or get hired for it.

Internet has helped reduce friction in the employment market.

Nevertheless, eliminating much of the matching friction created billions of dollars of revenue for Internet-enabled search firms.

Behavioral economists have shown that people don’t always behave in the rational, logical way that traditional economists and their models predict. Real people make irrational decisions. Presenting a choice framed as a loss will get different results than the identical choice framed as a gain. My coffee mug is worth more to me than your identical coffee mug.

Behavioral economics and thinking about friction go hand in hand. One of the insights that has done the most to change the world has been that simple “nudges” can change behavior. For example, Thaler showed that one way to increase retirement plan enrollment was to opt new employees into the plan automatically—this costs nothing, but it achieves substantially higher enrollment rates.
Note: Using that with medical vouchers. Reduce friction to increase adherence.

Thaler and his colleague, Shlomo Benartzi, proposed a second technique to get people to save more. Automatically scheduling small annual increases in savings, called “automatic escalation,” increased savings in US retirement plans by $7 billion in one year.

By making desirable outcomes the default choice, behavioral scientists exploit what some call “passive decision making” or, more colloquially, “the path of least resistance.” In most cases, research shows, people will do whatever requires the least amount of current effort. Since it takes less effort to do nothing than to fill out a form, the desirable option, like saving for retirement, should be the one that requires no form.

friction is the mortal enemy of motivation. Motivation, represented by gravity, propels the child down the slide. Friction resists that motion, slowing the descent. Occasionally, too much friction can stop the child midslide.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Instead of costly attempts to boost motivation, friction reduction is almost always less expensive and sometimes faster to accomplish. Making things easier often costs little or nothing. If you offer less friction than your competition, you may even be able to charge slightly higher prices.

The Law of Least Effort, sometimes called the Principle of Least Effort, says that given a choice, people will choose the option that requires the smallest amount of work.

Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman wrote: A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course of action. . . . Laziness is built deep into our nature.

When you want to steer the behavior of others, the Law of Least Effort should be the first tool you reach for.

When changing behavior is difficult, the short-term effect of a tax may be minimal. For example, if the gasoline tax is tripled, people will still keep driving. Over time, though, that behavior will change. In response to the higher prices, people may buy more fuel-efficient vehicles, use mass transit, carpool, or choose to drive less.

So, minimum user effort will maximize the number of leads. But, what is the optimum level of user effort? It depends on the cost of servicing those leads. If there is no cost, as in the case where the response is an automatic e-mail, then it makes sense to minimize friction and gather the maximum number of leads.

CHAPTER 6 Decision Friction

Thinking is to humans as swimming is to cats; they can do it but they’d prefer not to. —Daniel Kahneman


The fact that some choice is good doesn’t necessarily mean that more choice is better. —from The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz

Too many choices can create friction. A customer who was moving briskly to complete an order now slows down to ponder options. Many customers may make a choice and regain their momentum. Some won’t. They’ll decide to choose later or do something else while they think about it. This loss of momentum may be irreversible.

Amazon uses a variety of techniques to combat paralysis of choice. First and foremost, its review system provides a powerful way for consumers to distinguish between apparently similar items.

Amazon guides customers by flagging products as “Amazon’s Choice” or “Bestseller.”

Psychologists have demonstrated using a variety of experiments that making a decision depletes a finite (in the short run) resource in our brain. To put it simply, when we make decisions, resist temptation, solve problems, and perform other executive tasks, we are drawing on a resource in our brain that eventually needs to be recharged.

Another test in the same study showed that decision making reduced self-control in a way likely to increase procrastination.

Every decision in a process can reduce the probability that the person will make the final, big decision to complete the process—submit the form, place the order, buy the car, and so on. Eliminate decisions and anything else that requires conscious deliberation if you want someone else to take action.

The easiest way to avoid decision fatigue is to eliminate the decision completely. Sometimes processes are based on legacy practices rather than current requirements. Whenever possible, eliminate these.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Assuming a decision is necessary, whenever possible make your desired choice the default. The choice, of course, should be both legal and desirable for the other party. Don’t opt people into your mailing list if that doesn’t comply with the relevant law. Don’t opt people into your highly profitable expedited shipping if 98 percent usually choose a slower but free method. Default choices are a powerful nudge because they eliminate friction, but they should be used wisely and ethically.

One of the most striking illustrations in how decisions create fatigue emerged in a study of Israeli parole judges. At the beginning of the day, they granted parole requests about two-thirds of the time. By just before their meal break, they were granting almost none, despite a similar mix of cases. After the break, the parolee success rate was back to the early morning level. But, once again, the rate dropped as the afternoon progressed until, at the end of the day, it was near zero.

CHAPTER 7 Customer Experience and Friction

Ritz Carlton Hotels. The chain is very focused on customer satisfaction and exceeding customer expectations. Each employee can spend up to $2,000 to resolve a customer problem—no managerial approval needed. Ponder that for a moment—how many businesses would empower each of their employees to spend that much money simply because they thought it would make a customer happy?

Delight doesn’t drive loyalty. This is the surprising clincher. Even when so many businesses are trying to delight their customers, the data shows that delight isn’t a big factor in keeping customers loyal.

While “satisfactory” may seem like a low bar, CEB’s data shows:
 • Ninety-six percent of customers who put forth high effort to resolve their issues are more disloyal.
 • Fifty-nine percent of customers report moderate-to-high additional effort in a service interaction.
 • Customer service interactions are nearly four times more likely to lead to disloyalty than loyalty.

CEB developed a metric that they call the Customer Effort Score. It’s meant to be an alternative to (or perhaps augment) more established metrics like Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Score (NPS). The score is determined by asking customers a simple question—they ask to what extent the customer agrees or disagrees with the statement, “The company made it easy for me to handle my issue.” Customers can choose one of seven values ranging from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree.”

One study of 75,000 executives showed that “exceeding customer expectations” added 10–20 percent to the cost of servicing those customers. The metric may be more qualitative than quantitative, but one can’t disagree with the concept that it costs more to exceed expectations than to meet them. Meanwhile, a survey of 97,000 customers shows the remarkable effect of customer effort on loyalty:
Nine percent of customers who had low-effort experiences reported being disloyal. 
Ninety-six percent of customers who had high-effort experiences reported being disloyal.

In addition, CEB found that customers whose expectations were exceeded were no more likely to be loyal than those whose expectations were merely met.

Older CEB data shows that
 • Ninety-four percent of low-effort customers repurchase.
 • Four percent of high-effort customers repurchase.
 • Eighty-eight percent of low-effort customers increase their spend.
 • Four percent of high-effort customers increase their spend.
One percent of low-effort customers say negative things about the company. 
Eighty-eight percent of high-effort customers say negative things about the company.

high effort:
• Multiple contacts to solve a problem
• Having to change channels, e.g., web to phone
• Impersonal treatment and generic advice
• Transfers, and having to repeat information
• Perception of additional effort10

Delighting your customers occasionally is fine, but it shouldn’t be your primary strategy if you want to build loyalty. Instead, increase sales and loyalty by reducing customer effort. Resolve issues in a single contact, preferably with one person. If changing people or departments is necessary, be sure your systems transfer the customer information, too, so that the customer doesn’t have to re-authenticate himself or herself, or repeat a long explanation.

Most salespeople try to provide customers with the information they need to make a wise purchase, but CEB has found that there’s a right way and wrong way to do that. The wrong way is what CEB calls “responsive.” When a customer has a question, the salesperson provides information in response. A responsive salesperson is careful to outline the possible options to the customer and stays flexible in response to customer needs and opinions. Responding to customer questions with ample information and describing the full range of options sound a lot like “best practices.” But, this information-oriented approach has some major downsides. CEB data shows it can make the purchasing process more difficult and increase the likelihood of buyer regret by 50 percent.11

The better approach is “prescriptive” selling. The salesperson reduces customer effort, a.k.a. friction, by guiding the customer through a specific solution that has been shown to work in similar situations. The buyer isn’t forced to work through alternatives and decide (perhaps with limited expertise) which product or approach will be best. CEB’s data shows that a prescriptive selling approach increases the “likeliness of purchasing ease” by 82 percent and drops the probability of buyer remorse by 37 percent. Not only is the low-friction process easier for the customer, it’s more satisfying.

The objective, Padgett says, was to eliminate friction at every touch point. That included transportation, entry to the park, the attractions, the resort room, food and beverage . . . everything from start to finish. The initial focus wasn’t on technology, but rather what that frictionless experience would look like. Only when they had sketched out the “how” did they start to think about the technology that would be able to provide this seamless guest experience.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY By rethinking every element of every guest interaction, Disney reduced points of friction that were thought to be unimportant, inevitable, or someone else’s problem. The changes Disney made let guests ride more rides, visit more attractions, and have a more enjoyable experience overall. And, Disney’s revenue and traffic metrics improved as well. Just because you offer an experience that is already better than your competition doesn’t mean that you should stop improving. Removing friction will keep your customers loyal and your competitors off balance.

NO-EFFORT VACATIONS The cruise industry has been one of the fastest growing segments of the leisure travel industry.

“pain of paying.” Researchers at Carnegie Mellon and Stanford showed that making a purchase lit up areas of the brain associated with pain, particularly if the price seemed too high. According to Carnegie Mellon’s George Loewenstein, “sushi-style” pricing is the worst—when each small element of consumption is priced separately, it’s a more painful experience.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY What’s better than making transactions faster and easier? Eliminating the transaction entirely. Do you have extra charges that could be built into the purchase price without a negative effect on total revenue? Do you offer a single-price, all-inclusive option? Customers will frequently pay more for an all-inclusive option than what they would spend in an a la carte price scheme—it’s convenient, and avoids what’s called the “pain of paying.”

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Carnival expects that its OceanMedallion will not only take the friction out of transactions and let guests do more but also allow its service to be highly personalized. Today, we are all usually identifiable when we visit a website or open an app, at least if we have an existing relationship. If you know who a visitor is, can you make things easier for him or her? Can you use past behavior or what the visitor told you about themselves to deliver a lower friction and/or more personalized experience?

CHAPTER 8 Technology Friction

Complexity is your enemy. Any fool can make something complicated. It is hard to keep things simple. —Richard Branson

Just as Uber threw out the playbook and used the smartphone to create a better customer experience than traditional taxis, Securifi got rid of the blinking lights and built in a user-friendly touchscreen. Any one of the big makers of network gear could have built a device like the Almond, but it took an outsider to actually do it. If you deal with an experience that is annoying or difficult but seems unavoidable, do what Malasani did—think outside the box!

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Whenever you change your website or launch a redesign, do a quick user test to see how people really behave. These don’t require fancy lab setups—there are firms that can record panels of subjects using your site or app quickly and cheaply. And, even if the tests don’t expose problems, instrument the site to track granular user behavior. If a few users get an error when they first submit a form, they are probably careless. If half your visitors get an error, they aren’t the problem. Instead, the form or its instructions are confusing them.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Can you onboard a user or subscriber in two minutes? Have you designed every element of the process for minimum user effort by prefilling fields where possible and placing the cursor where the user is supposed to start typing? (And, not only for mobile. Remember, on most desktop forms, you will have to take your hand off the keyboard and use the mouse to place the cursor in the first form field.) The odds that you’ll add users as quickly as WhatsApp are pretty slim, but a small reduction in user effort can lead to higher conversion rates.

CHAPTER 9 Friction Within Your Business

In this high-tech era where business conversation is dominated by talk of failing fast and the rise of billion-dollar unicorns, it would be easy to assume that businesses are moving faster. There’s evidence to the contrary: the pace of business is slowing down. One survey of 400 recruiters showed that in 2015 it took an average of 63 days to hire a new employee, up from 45 days just five years earlier.

Tom Monahan, CEO of CEB, the consulting firm that conducted those surveys, attributes much of the slowdown to an increase in corporate control and concern for risk management. Issues like regulatory compliance, privacy protection, and data security have resulted in a proliferation of processes. Most startling was the firm’s discovery that in 10 years there was a nine-fold increase in enterprise risk management functions.

The concept of organizational drag was popularized by Michael Mankins and Eric Garton, Bain & Company partners and key players in the consulting firm’s organization practice.5 Their thesis is that companies have established procedures to allocate financial capital, but nothing similar for human capital. They believe that an organization’s most valuable resource is its people, specifically their time, talent, and energy. This resource is often squandered in attending pointless meetings, handling irrelevant e-mail, and following bureaucratic procedures.

Bureaucracy expands to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy. —Oscar Wilde

Parkinson’s law. His eponymous law states simply that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Parkinson felt that bureaucratic organizations grew in the number of people employed, regardless of the actual work that needed to be done. He saw two primary driving forces: 1. An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals. 2. Officials make work for each other.

Parkinson coined the name “injelititis” for what he termed “palsied paralysis” in organizations. He traces the signs of the disease from the first signs to the final coma. He also created a set of equations that showed why, left unchecked, bureaucracies grew at an average rate of 5.75 percent per year.

Parkinson was an early critic of meetings, too. He introduced the Law of Triviality, which states that the time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum (of money) involved. While committee members would feel unqualified to criticize an expenditure of tens of millions of dollars, an amount they can’t personally comprehend, everyone will debate at length the construction of a small shed or how much should be spent on refreshments.

The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is its inefficiency. —Eugene McCarthy, US Senator

Peters said everyone should “continuously nominate forms and irritating regulations that they want eliminated.” These nominations would be reviewed by a “high court” of mostly line and junior people who would be required to accept at least 50 percent of the recommendations.

Welch’s initial strategy to reduce bureaucratic friction was “delayering.” When he took over, nine levels of management separated the CEO from front-line managers. He eliminated positions (and often the people who occupied them) to reduce the layer count to as few as four and never more than six.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY As organizations grow, the number of managers increases. Inevitably, the number of layers of management grow, too. If Parkinson’s theories have any merit, this growth will lead to inefficiencies when managers add subordinates. Organizational drag will increase, too, as more time will be spent communicating both horizontally and vertically. If your organization is having difficulty getting things done, the problem may not be too few managers, but too many.

A key element of Work-Out was getting groups of workers and managers together for a few days to discuss problems and solutions. On the closing day, the group offered proposals. To avoid the usual “we’ll look into that” response, top managers had to either accept or reject proposals on the spot or ask for more information. Remarkably, four out of five proposals received an immediate answer.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Abrashoff effected dramatic changes in the way things were done on his ship despite the Navy’s bureaucracy and rulebook. His actions motivated and engaged his entire crew and led to exceptional performance compared to the rest of the fleet. In your organization, there are probably rules, defined procedures, and customary ways of doing things. If these are hindering the performance of your people, or making them feel untrusted, don’t be afraid to deviate from them if it will make things better. Sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness later than permission in advance.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Rules and procedures are often put in place because of lack of trust. Sometimes, these are necessary—you probably don’t want your bank to open its vault and operate on the honor system. But often, the savings from these onerous processes are far smaller than the cost of wasted time and effort they engender. Look for places where a small increase in trust will result in a big decrease in friction.

Another poll found that 69 percent of workers said they were distracted, citing meetings, e-mail, messaging, and other factors. Another analysis found that one weekly meeting consumed an astonishing 300,000 hours per year. The 11 business unit heads who participated in this executive committee meeting spent 7,000 hours directly. The numbers rippled out from there—meeting with their own senior people to prepare for the meeting consumed a total of 20,000 hours. These spawned 21 team meetings that consumed 63,000 hours per year. Supporting these team meetings required a staggering 210,000 hours of effort by individuals.

One small study found that just scheduling meetings—not actually attending them, just the process of coordinating people, times, and places—took more than five hours per week.

A study by Bain & Company concluded that despite working an average of 47 hours per week, a typical front-line supervisor or midlevel manager had a mere 6½ hours per week of uninterrupted time.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Meetings have gone from being infrequent sessions to exchange information and make decisions to being a massive waste of time in many, if not most, organizations. While a discussion of how to make meetings productive is beyond our scope here, one small step would be to add some friction to the meeting scheduling process. Make it easy to set up a one-on-one meeting but more difficult to schedule groups. Perhaps the software could display the calculated cost of a meeting as people are added to it**. Or, meetings with more than a specified number of participants would require approval by a higher-level manager.

The Downside of Lowering Friction. This ease of creating and distributing e-mail resulted in an explosion in the total amount of communication. If you had a question, why not e-mail 10 people simultaneously instead of just phoning only the one most likely to have the answer?

Bain estimates that midlevel managers spend 11 hours per week processing e-mail—that’s more than two and a half hours per workday!

FRICTION TAKEAWAY E-mail is an indispensable tool in today’s organizations, but it has also become a burden on individual productivity. Use technology to your advantage by identifying users who send too many e-mails or distribute messages too broadly. Use both cultural and technical means to limit e-mail distribution. Managers should model good e-mail etiquette by limiting the number of both e-mails they send and recipients they include. If a severe limit like Ferrari’s isn’t practical, at least limit access to team and department distribution lists. When it’s easier to copy everyone than choosing recipients in a thoughtful way, that’s exactly what people will do.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY This is another example of time-consuming processes established because of a lack of trust. It’s also an example of automating a process in a way that seemed efficient but simply shifted the effort from one group to another. If your people are spending time on processes that aren’t absolutely necessary, don’t try to automate the processes, just eliminate them. If your procedures are driven by lack of trust and the amounts at risk are small, change or eliminate the wasteful steps. You’ll save time and you’ll let your people know that you trust them.

“Kill a Stupid Rule.” The concept is simple enough. People spend 15 minutes identifying rules they think are frustrating or slow down productivity. Then, the rules are quickly evaluated to be sure they aren’t mandated by government regulations or aren’t otherwise illegal to change. The remaining rules can be discussed, and, if possible, eliminated. If a rule can’t be discarded completely, then it should be modified to reduce its complexity.

In her book, Bodell’s suggestions for killing stupid rules include:

  • Get input from everyone, not just managers.
  • Set a numeric goal, like killing 10 rules in a defined time.
  • Create a shared document for questionable rules to allow people to add new suggestions.

CHAPTER 10 A World of Friction

Bureaucracy is the art of making the possible impossible. —Javier Pascual Salcedo

You will never understand bureaucracies until you understand that for bureaucrats procedure is everything and outcomes are nothing. —Thomas Sowell

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Sometimes, friction wins. If you are faced with an implacable bureaucracy that you can neither avoid nor co-opt in some way, cut your losses and move to a more hospitable climate. In a land controlled by bureaucrats, every corner you turn will reveal new obstacles. Your progress will be hindered as long as you remain in that environment.

Sabharwal says much of India’s sclerotic bureaucracy can be traced back to the British Raj. The attitude, he explains, is that things that aren’t expressly allowed by regulation are forbidden.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY When you are confronted with a sea of red tape, sometimes the only way you can reduce friction is by getting help from a person or company who knows the system and the people who run it. Be aware, though, that while doing that may solve your individual friction problem, you are not improving the system. You may even be making it worse.

The more laws and restrictions there are, the poorer people become. . . . The more rules and regulations, the more thieves and robbers. —Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher

CHAPTER 11 Bureaucrats and Red Tape Warriors

The worst attributes of bureaucracy should much more often be treated like the cancers they so much resemble. —Charlie Munger, Investor and business philosopher

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Friction created by government regulations and procedures can seem impervious to change. But, as Yinchuan shows, motivated leaders can transform a red tape culture into one that is far more responsive to citizens and businesses. Not only does eliminating bureaucratic friction stimulate economic growth and create a happier population, it can even reduce government expenses.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY The sheer volume of laws and regulations that exist in an environment can dramatically increase friction in the form of effort and expense devoted to compliance. This complexity can also lead to unintentional noncompliance, resulting in still more effort and expense to rectify the problem. The onus is on regulators to make their rules as simple and easy to understand as possible, eliminate obsolete or unnecessary requirements, and streamline processes.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Identifying conflicting requirements, redundancies, and unnecessarily slow processes is a good and necessary start to reducing government-caused friction. But, big committees with no authority won’t finish the job. Unless leaders and decision-makers are themselves strongly committed to cutting red tape, progress will be slow.

Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy. —Franz Kafka

Zuurmond instead proposed that information and communication technology would break down bureaucratic hierarchies by enabling horizontal power structures. He called the new structure an “infocracy.”

FRICTION TAKEAWAY If you want to cut red tape and reduce waste in your organization, create your own version of a Kafka button. It could be a telephone hotline, an e-mail address, a form on a company’s intranet, and more. The technology, if any, is less important than the message that anyone can report a rule or procedure that wastes time and effort. Also important is that the communication is reviewed by someone who has been trained to investigate these issues and propose (or impose) solutions. All reports should be reviewed and acted on in a timely manner—this can’t be a suggestion box where ideas go to die.

The Kafka Brigade had no political power or leverage, but the pointing out of the absurdity of rules and processes has helped individuals and sometimes has achieved structural change. Sunshine, they say, is the best disinfectant. Zuurmond found that officials would scramble to fix problems to avoid appearing in a public city council meeting. Whether you have political leverage or not, challenge and expose bad procedures when you encounter them. You won’t always succeed, but you’ll at least draw attention to the problem.

CHAPTER 12 Taxes and Beyond

Any tax is a discouragement and therefore a regulation so far as it goes. —Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., American jurist

Ever sticklers for detail, the CBO researchers noted that while the tax would generate revenue for the federal government and that there would be indirect savings from lower health care expenditures. Those savings, though, would be offset by higher levels of Social Security spending for longer-lived citizens.

Florida has five times more professional athletes than the average US state. In fact, “professional athlete” is the unique occupation that stands out for the Sunshine State when compared with the other 49.14 While the warm climate may be one factor in the state’s popularity with sports pros, it is likely the lack of a state income tax that drives many to claim the state as their residence.

I love America, but I can’t spend the whole year here. I can’t afford the taxes. —Mick Jagger

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Taxes are an essential part of every economy. Governments need to provide essential services, and this is possible only because of tax revenue. But, friction must be a key consideration in developing tax policy. Tax decisions can ease or increase friction to steer the behavior of individuals and companies. Compliance friction can cost all parties—government and taxpayer alike—enormous amounts of time and money. To minimize unintended friction, rules should be simple and collection automatic whenever possible. The level of taxation should be high enough to meet the needs of the taxing entity but not so high as to discourage desirable behavior and promote avoidance.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY While there are multiple lessons here, including prioritizing smooth customer experience over corporate advantage, the big one is that ecosystems built on trust can be giant killers. In Silicon Valley, smaller, more nimble firms trusted each other enough to work together freely, share ideas, and move technology forward quickly. Because companies treated departing employees as graduates rather than as traitors, a web of personal connections strengthened the trust. The Silicon Valley ecosystem trumped the monolithic market leaders on Boston’s Route 128 that didn’t trust outside suppliers, their customers, or even their own employees.

CHAPTER 13 Habits and Productivity

Don’t focus your motivation on doing Behavior X. Instead, focus on making Behavior X easier to do. —BJ Fogg, Stanford University researcher

As a doctoral student in 1993, Fogg ran the first series of scientific experiments to learn about computers as persuasive technologies. Over time his experiments consistently showed that computers could indeed influence people’s attitudes and behaviors.

Critics of behavior design find it potentially manipulative if used primarily to achieve commercial goals. Some worry that game and app developers create products that are too distracting and even so engaging as to be considered addictive.


The model says you need three things to get someone (or yourself) to do something: motivation, ability, and a prompt.

Motivation is how much you want to do something or want the result of doing something. You may be motivated to alter your diet by a desire to look better and live longer. Unless you are independently wealthy, I could increase your motivation to stick to your diet by offering you, say, $10,000 to lose 10 pounds.

Ability is the level of difficulty, or, more precisely, the absence of difficulty. Walking five steps is easy. Running a marathon is hard. In the context of this book, ability is more or less a synonym for lack of friction.

If motivation and ability are present in the right combination, Fogg says, a prompt will cause the desired behavior. The prompt could be anything: an e-mail, an advertisement, a call to action in an app, or anything else that gets the individual’s attention. For habits, the prompt can be an association with an existing behavior.

Motivation and ability have a distinct relationship. Easy behaviors can be prompted with modest motivation. Hard behaviors require high levels of motivation. You might walk 10 steps simply because I asked you to. If I wanted you to walk for a mile, I might have to increase your motivation with a reward of some kind, like buying you dinner.

When he teaches his Behavior Model, Fogg emphasizes a key point: it is almost always easier (and less expensive) to increase ability than motivation.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Fogg’s years of behavior design research show that you can change behavior or cause an action by increasing motivation and/or reducing friction. In business and other contexts, it’s usually easier and less expensive to start by reducing friction. A one-time process change costs less than ongoing discounts or incentives.

Fogg’s extensive study of behavior change is his “Tiny Habits” method.

Fogg’s solution for this common experience is the Tiny Habits method. To use it, you take any behavior you want to do (flossing, exercising, eating more fruits and vegetables, etc.) and you reduce it to its simplest, quickest variation. This hack makes the behavior easy. Instead of vowing to floss your teeth daily, he suggests flossing a single tooth. Incorporating this trivially simple action into your bedtime routine can form a new habit quickly and easily.

Fogg Behavior Model, here’s what’s happening. Flossing is low “ability” (or high-friction) behavior, meaning it takes time and effort, and, for most of us, isn’t inherently pleasant. Our motivation to floss is high immediately after or just before a dental visit but is too low in between to overcome our preference for the far easier choice of doing nothing. Remember the Law of Least Effort. . . . Although flossing one tooth seems pointless, Fogg’s Tiny Habit method lays the groundwork for a habit. He’s defining a high-ability, low-friction behavior that takes just a few seconds. This behavior requires less motivation because of its ease of execution.

Fogg is also tying the flossing action to an existing habit, brushing your teeth before bed—he calls the prompting behavior an “anchor.”

People fall into the routine and maintain it without thinking. Over time, the habit can be expanded . . . say, flossing two teeth, which only takes a second or two more. The more established the habit becomes, the more it can be extended to the desired behavior—flossing all your teeth.

Fogg chose the push-up as the exercise of choice for a self-experiment in habit formation. Rather than vowing to spend, say, 20 or 30 minutes doing calisthenics every day, he decided to go tiny—just two push-ups. And, for the trigger, he chose an activity he knew he would engage in multiple times per day—using the bathroom. “After I pee in my home toilet, I will do two push-ups” was his initial commitment.12 It wasn’t a big commitment, and soon he found it easy to increase to three. Over a period of weeks, Fogg increased his commitment to 7 push-ups each time, and often did 10 or 12.13 He increased the number of push-ups only when it became easy to do—pushing to barely squeeze out a few more difficult repetitions might work for a drill sergeant but would defeat the Tiny Habits concept.

  • “After I pour my morning coffee, I will open my journal.”
    – “After I sit down on the train, I will take three deep breaths.”
    – “After I put my head on the pillow, I will think of one good thing from my day.”

different approach, one derived from BJ Fogg, that some call “habit stacking.” Habit stacking suggests combining multiple habits in a chain builds a stronger overall habit and is a great way to introduce a new habit on top of existing habits.

Habit stacking got me through the initial phase of habit formation but failed when the amount of time and effort conflicted with other priorities.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY To adopt a new habit, combine it with existing ones. Make it as low friction as possible at the beginning so that it can be integrated into your routine without seeming onerous or conflicting with other priorities. Keep the behaviors locked together—as soon as you say, “I’ll do it right after I return that phone call,” you are on the road to abandoning the habit.

One other piece of Markman advice: if you are trying to change the behavior of others, take advantage of laziness. Make it easy for people to take desired actions. To cut down on dog waste from owners walking their dogs, he notes, the City of Austin installed “dog hygiene stations” along common walking routes. The stations have receptacles, liners, and disposable plastic mitts that make it much easier and more convenient to dispose of their dog’s waste. This didn’t entirely eliminate the elimination problem, but the amount of visible waste was reduced.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Adding difficulty reduces undesirable behaviors. So, if you eat too many potato chips and want to quit, the best time to act is when you are shopping. If you don’t bring them home, to satisfy a craving later the only option will be a trip to the store. If the chips are already in the house, putting them on a hard-to-reach shelf won’t prevent you from eating them but might help resist the temptation. Even making them harder to see can help.

Clear, like other experts on habit change, recommends starting small. He recommends a “small win” strategy, noting that incremental improvements ultimately lead to major change.

Making the small steps part of your “identity” reinforces the behavior. For example, Fogg suggests flossing just one tooth to begin with. Clear would also make flossing part of your identity. Instead of thinking of yourself as someone who is bad at keeping up with flossing, think of yourself as someone who values dental hygiene and overall health. Use that tiny flossing habit to underscore that identity. If you internalize the belief, you will find it easier to floss more teeth over time and to maintain the habit in the long term.

Clear identifies Four Laws of Behavior Change. To create a habit, he says, one must:

Cue—The 1st Law: Make it obvious.
Craving—The 2nd Law: Make it attractive.
Response—The 3rd Law: Make it easy.
Reward—The 4th Law: Make it satisfying.

To reduce a behavior, he alters the list:
Cue—The 1st Law: Make it invisible.
Craving—The 2nd Law: Make it unattractive.
Response—The 3rd Law: Make it difficult.
Reward—The 4th Law: Make it unsatisfying.

Repetition is an essential ingredient for habit formation, Clear says. He cites Hebb’s law: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”24 That long-established principle says that when you perform an activity repeatedly, your brain undergoes changes that make it easier to do.

Clear recommends reducing even small elements of friction. If your gym isn’t on the route of your daily commute, even by a few blocks, it will seem like you are going out of your way. The smaller a new habit makes you deviate from your existing habits, the more likely it is you’ll make it permanent. So, go to a gym that is either on or close to your daily commute.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Your environment can change your behavior and help you develop or rid yourself of habits. Change your environment to make desirable habits and behaviors easy and to make bad ones more difficult.

CHAPTER 14 Friction Design

Notably, when tongs were provided, consumption was 8 to 16 percent lower than when a spoon was offered.

Google consistently ranks as one of the best places to work, and part of its appeal to employees is the constant availability of free food and drinks. Beyond being a means of attracting and retaining good employees, this practice is itself a friction strategy aimed at its employees.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Increases in friction that are small or not even noticed by people can change their behaviors in significant ways. Making tasty chocolate candies a little harder to see and/or reach reduced consumption in every case. Whether you are trying to change your own behavior or that of a larger group, make undesirable behaviors a little harder to perform.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Nextdoor could have tried to reduce racist posts by asking its users to avoid such behavior. Or, they could have eliminated the crime reporting feature completely. Instead, they preserved the feature but reduced problem posts by adding friction. If your website or app users are doing too much of something, try a little friction engineering.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY If you want someone to do something, consider offering a much more difficult alternative. It will make the action you want seem easier.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY We all want to do the best job possible for our users. But, if you employ a freemium model and the free product is so good that nobody would need to upgrade to a paid version, adding friction is one way to help convert users from free to paid. It’s annoying, but perhaps not as annoying as making the free product so feature-poor as to be worthless.

CHAPTER 15 Nonprofit Friction

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Getting rid of Chicago’s Uncommon App was not an easy step, as many stakeholders felt it reflected the university’s core values and differentiated Chicago from other elite schools. I won’t attempt to make a value judgment on whether the change was a good one. I found the older application admirable for its uniqueness and intellectual challenge. But, there is no way that applicant counts would have hit their current levels with the old system. Eliminating friction in the application process achieved the quantitative results administrators were seeking. Sometimes, “sacred cows” must be sacrificed to achieve important goals.

A key step in making the application process as easy as possible is to avoid the typical “account setup” step. Foley thinks setting up passwords can be complicated and confusing to applicants. Instead, they can resume a session automatically when they return to the site via a saved “cookie” on their device or when prompted by an e-mail reminder. Many applications, Foley notes, can be completed in a single sitting—the ultimate in “ease of action.”

FRICTION TAKEAWAY The first step in optimizing the IU application was to study the applicants and their challenges. The finding that they were distracted and completing the application in bits of time between other priorities led to a focus on making it very fast and very easy. Eliminating the fee was justified by the numbers. Know your customer and their pain points to take the friction out of your own processes.

CHAPTER 16 Friction Everywhere

FRICTION TAKEAWAY To avoid confusing people and slowing them down, don’t tinker with the way they are accustomed to doing things. On a website, for example, put features like the business name and navigation elements where users expect to see them. If you must create a new way of doing things, be sure the interface is intuitive enough that even a first-time user isn’t befuddled.

Bernoff’s cardinal rule is that writers should treat the reader’s time as more valuable than their own. Unfortunately, few writers take that advice to heart. Their prose is too long, too vague, and too slow to get to the point. When readers have to fight their way through dense and confusing text, that’s friction.

Editing Out Written Friction

  • Write short.
  • Put the important stuff first.
  • Don’t use the passive voice.
  • Don’t use jargon.
  • Don’t use weasel words. When we don’t have a good source for a fact, the quick solution is to add qualifiers that muddy the waters. Bernoff identifies words like “most,” “often,” “deeply,” and many others that seem to make a point but lack precision.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Writing can be high friction or low friction. The latter gets read, is easily understood, and spurs action. Strive for the shortest, clearest, most direct wording. Your readers will appreciate your clarity and brevity. (Caution: You are reading this advice in a book where the author was contractually obligated to provide 75,000 words of text!)

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Are your systems designed assuming that your employees and customers might be less than truthful, or, even worse, outright liars and criminals? Sometimes, companies create rules after an incident of theft or fraud. Other times, an executive assumes that if employees or customers can steal from the company, they will. If your procedures are rooted in distrust of employees and/or customers, you may be imposing needless burdens on them. Weigh the cost and inconvenience of rules and processes that are based on distrust and compare them to the actual cost of bad behavior. When you eliminate distrust-based friction, you’ll not only save time and money, you’ll be one step closer to a high-trust, high-performance environment.

The scientists concluded that difficulty in reading translated into difficulty in doing. The less fluent font made the exercises seem more difficult and time-consuming.

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Hundreds of experiments show that the friction from disfluency has a very real effect on people’s perceptions and behavior. When things are hard for our brains to process—fine print, fancy fonts, hard-to-say names—they seem more difficult or more dangerous. People will be less likely to follow instructions or make decisions. So, unless your objective is to slow down others’ thinking, avoid this “imaginary” friction. Keep it simple: easy to read, easy to say. Text should be short and with simple language.

CONCLUSION Go Forth and Find Friction

FRICTION TAKEAWAY Finding a better, lower friction way to serve your customers isn’t easy, particularly if it requires major changes in your business model. But, if you don’t do it, someone else will. What if instead of fighting Napster and its users, the music industry had created a digital music store before Apple did? All that the industry’s resistance to change accomplished was to encourage a formidable competitor to create a service and claim a big share of the profit pie.