Friction by Roger Dooley

The Big Idea: always try to make things easier for customers.


Eliminating or reducing friction can have long-lasting and even disruptive effects.

Stamp out ridiculous rules, pointless procedures, and meaningless meetings.

Become a relentless advocate for the customer and minimize customer effort.

PROLOGUE: Engine of Disruption

The roads the Romans built were amazing feats of engineering and construction technology.

The level of logistical superiority demonstrated by the Romans gave them an enormous advantage in conquering and holding territory.

Sometimes, making things easy requires hard work.

CHAPTER 1 The Friction Evangelist

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

This focus on reducing friction is a key reason for Amazon’s emergence as the world’s biggest, fastest-growing retailer.

1-Click works because Amazon has implemented a host of friction reducing tactics, many of which have to do with security.

A key element of Amazon’s success is observing customer behavior and making changes to reduce effort and annoyance.

Amazon introduced “frustration-free packaging.”

The monetary value of abandoned shopping carts is not only more than double the amount of commerce sales, it’s bigger than the US budget deficit.

How does one get easier than a single click?

Amazon has offered subscriptions for products you buy on a regular basis.

Alexa eliminates most device friction by responding to and acting on voice commands.

Alibaba is reducing friction by combining every way the customer might want to both shop and obtain or consume their product in a single store / app concept.

CHAPTER 2 Retail Disruption — Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Montgomery Ward showed that making shopping easy could create explosive growth.

By the turn of the century, Sears’s revenue edged ahead of Montgomery Wards.

The remarkable efficiency achieved by Sears was attained without computers, robots, or, in the earlier years, even telephones.

In 1962, Sam Walton opened his first store in rural Arkansas.

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.

Walmart itself is subject to disruption by e-commerce giants Amazon and Alibaba.

CHAPTER 3 Transportation Disruption

The development and proliferation of railroads was the first major reduction in transport friction of the century.

Then the automobile changed everything.

In 2010, after a short test in New York, UberCab launched its service in San Francisco.

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.

One of the best parts about driving for Uber and Lyft is how frictionless onboarding can be.

Uber and its ride-sharing peers wisely focused on customer experience first.

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.

CarMax, meanwhile, continues to emphasize their low-friction experience. The headline describing their shopping experience reads “We Make It Easy.”

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.

Kaizen = continuous improvement.

Muda is the Japanese term for waste that encompasses wasted materials, effort, and time.

A key element in the Japanese approach to lean manufacturing is to make the work as easy as possible.

Waste, they were told, would lead to higher car prices and lower sales.

Just about every organization has its share of muda that, if eliminated, will make the work easier and let people get more done.

CHAPTER 4 Digital Disruption

Google’s dominance in search is unchallenged.

They are very good at producing the result.

They make it very, very easy to get that result.

Even in those early days, Google’s home page was nothing more than a search box surrounded by white space.

The combination of simplicity and accuracy drove Google’s dramatic growth.

Google’s relentless pursuit of minimum user effort to get the desired information has enabled it to retain its dominant position.

Can you anticipate your user’s or customer’s needs and offer time-saving choices?

Both Instagram and WhatsApp grew to a size where the network effect kicked in.

In Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, Nir 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.

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.

Unless users are highly motivated, even a little friction in the onboarding process can stop them in their tracks.

Dan Ariely says “free” is very appealing to our brains.

The freemium strategy has paid off for Evernote.

For some users, a credit card requirement is simply friction.

Across all social media platforms, Hootsuite emerged as the tool of choice for power users like social media managers.

Hootsuite avoids initial credit card friction and eliminates any risk for users in evaluating the product. Hootsuite’s early goal was to convert 5 percent of their users into paying customers.

One simplifying strategy used is to begin with smart defaults.

One firm sends out many handwritten notes to customers, often eliciting a surprised and pleased reaction from customers used to impersonal e-mails.

Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of Influence and Pre-Suasion, found that complimenting someone was one way to invoke liking, one of his seven (originally six) principles of influence.

In a software space where technology can often be intimidating, this kind of reassurance can keep users engaged.

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.

While competitors focus on delivering “more for less, 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.

Henry Ford’s early cost advantage in the auto industry could be explained not just by its innovative assembly methods but also because the company made its own parts and even steel.

Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler showed people were more irrational.

Endowment effect predicts that you will value an item that you own more than the same item owned by someone else.

While scale and integration can indeed increase efficiency and reduce costs, it can also add complexity to an enterprise.

There are many frictions in the labor market.

As in other areas, the Internet has helped reduce friction in the employment market.

Beyond employment ads, Craigslist killed most newspaper revenue from other categories of classified ads as well.

Daniel Kahneman in 2002 and Richard Thaler in 2017.

Behavioral economists have shown that people don’t always behave in the rational, logical way that traditional economists and their models predict.

Friction is the mortal enemy of motivation.

High motivation can overcome friction.

Or, if you are selling a product, you can make your price lower than competitors’. But these alternatives are rarely better than making the action easier 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.

The minimum friction option is usually to ask for one piece of information only — an e-mail address.

Adding friction in the form of a couple of qualifying questions will reduce the number of leads. But, the leads collected would be of higher quality and the action taken by the company could be more targeted and effective.

CHAPTER 6 Decision Friction

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

Too many choices can create friction.

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.”

If you are going to offer customers many choices or options, reduce decision friction by guiding them to the best choices.

In the countries with extremely high donation rates, enrolling as an organ donor is friction-free.

The easiest way to avoid decision fatigue is to eliminate the decision completely.

Assuming a decision is necessary, whenever possible make your desired choice the default.

Making decisions requires mental effort and consumes scarce resources.

Any decision point, large or small, is friction. If you are hoping for the other person to take some action, eliminate any decisions that aren’t absolutely necessary. Where choices must be made, present a default if one option is the most commonly chosen.

CHAPTER 7 Customer Experience and Friction

Many marketing experts emphasize the importance of customer delight.

But, there are three problems with that advice: your story isn’t going to break the Internet, it doesn’t scale, delight doesn’t drive loyalty.

Reducing Friction tops delight.

It turns out that customer effort has a huge effect on what people say.

Is there anything more infuriating than being transferred from person to person in an organization and having to repeat your personal information or describe the problem each time ?

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.

People often say they want more choice, but more choices make deciding difficult and increase post-purchase anxiety. 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.

Don’t overwhelm the customer with information.

Disney management realized that waiting in lines wasn’t a great customer experience, so they tried to mitigate the damage.

The key to a better Disney World experience wasn’t more “what.” Rather, Disney World needed to work on the “how” of the park experience. “If we changed how guests experienced the ’what,’ they could consume many more experiences, leave with higher guest satisfaction, higher intent to return, and ultimately have a higher perceived value for their overall vacation.”

The objective, Padgett says, was to eliminate friction at every touch point.

To achieve its goal of simplifying and enhancing guest experience, the MagicBand had to work everywhere in the park.

And, by shipping the bands to guests well in advance of their vacation, Disney adds still more value to the vacation. First, there’s the “unboxing” process that builds excitement.

Disney also worked to take the friction out of things like luggage transfers, hotel check-in, park entry, standing in long lines, and so on, can’t help but have a positive effect on post-trip happiness.

As pointed out by John Maeda in The Laws of Simplicity, there are two conditions: quantitatively fast (wait time is shorter) and qualitatively fast (wait time is more tolerable).

Finally, like Amazon’s 1-Click buy button, the MagicBand technology makes spending faster and easier.

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.

Removing friction will keep your customers loyal and your competitors off balance.

Many of the top reasons people cite for cruising involve friction reduction.

For those travelers who prefer to simplify both the planning and logistics of a vacation, cruises are an ideal choice.

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.

To greatly reduce not only transaction effort but to serve passengers better and anticipate their needs, Carnival is going all-in on technology.

Padgett and his team are introducing the OceanMedallion, a wearable (or pocketable) device.

Cruise ship guests do not crave great technology, he says; they desire great experiences.

“Guests don’t care about technology. Guests care about experiences.”

Can you use past behavior or what the visitor told you about themselves to deliver a lower friction and / or more personalized experience?

Despite Maeda’s complex set of interests, he is also an advocate of simplicity. His TED Talk on the topic has garnered more than a million views, and his book, The Laws of Simplicity, has become a classic.

Apple’s iPod — Minimum Friction, Maximum Simplicity.

The Shuffle’s simple interface, small form factor, and time-saving effect turned it into yet another hit for Apple.

Today, music streaming services like Spotify and Pandora let you access a vast selection of music without having to buy it or manage your collection.

Now, without lifting a finger, you can tell Alexa (or Siri or Google Assistant) what to play and it will happen.

CHAPTER 8 Technology Friction

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

A frictionless experience may be optimal from the user’s viewpoint but might not provide the best level of safety.

Whenever you change your website or launch a redesign, do a quick user test to see how people really behave.

One key factor for Whatsapp was how free of friction their process for onboarding new users was.

Sam Hulick, author of The Elements of User Onboarding,

Can you onboard a user or subscriber in two minutes?

CHAPTER 9 Friction Within Your Business

Internal friction — red tape, wasted effort, pointless meetings, and so much else — all combine to raise costs, reduce productivity, and slow progress to a crawl.

Issues like regulatory compliance, privacy protection, and data security have resulted in a proliferation of processes.

It’s clear that bureaucratic processes and out-of-control collaboration are behind the slow pace at many companies.

This resource is often squandered in attending pointless meetings, handling irrelevant e-mail, and following bureaucratic procedures.

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

Parkinson argued the opposite: as more people are added, the work expands to fill their time.

  1. An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals.
  2. Officials make work for each other.

The Law of Triviality states that the time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum of money involved.

In “In Search of Excellence,” Peters’s frustration with most corporations is palpable.

The importance of culture as a driver of growth and success is painfully obvious to Peters.

Have a passion for excellence, hate bureaucracy and all the nonsense that comes with it.

Jack Welch rejected the conventional wisdom of layered, hierarchical management. Welch wanted a more nimble, agile organization where accountability was clear. He wanted information to flow freely.

Small companies move faster. They know the penalties. Small companies waste less. They spend less time in endless reviews and approvals and politics and paper drills.

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.

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.

It’s not uncommon for executives to spend half their time in meetings.

High-performing organizations use meetings sparingly.

Ease of scheduling is a mixed blessing — one person organizing a meeting can, with a few clicks, commit a larger much larger number of people to wasting an hour of their time.

Productivity experts recommend that individuals schedule blocks of “focus” time to prevent others from committing that time to meetings.

When scheduling meetings is easy, people schedule more meetings.

Some businesses are ensuring at least one day of uninterrupted deep work.

If meetings are the biggest waste of time in many organizations, e – mail is a close second.

This ease of creating and distributing e-mail resulted in an explosion in the total amount of communication.

E-mail is an indispensable tool in today’s organizations, but it has also become a burden on individual productivity.

Managers should model good e-mail etiquette.

Internal Revenue Service guidelines generally don’t require receipts for business travel expenses like meals unless they exceed $75. But, my new employer said every expense needed a receipt.

All too often, this is how organizations deal with time-consuming activities. Instead of questioning whether the activity could be eliminated completely, they look for ways to save time in performing the activity.

If your people are spending time on processes that aren’t absolutely necessary, don’t try to automate the processes, just eliminate them.

In her book Why Simple Wins, author and consultant Lisa Bodell does a deep dive into organizational complexity and why simplicity is better. She offers many techniques to reduce complexity, and one of my favorites is an exercise she calls “Kill a Stupid Rule.”

CHAPTER 10 A World of Friction

Regions and entire nations can trace success or failure to elements of friction.

Around the globe millions of individuals are confounded daily by bureaucratic rules and regulations that make no sense. Laws remain on the books for decades, even as new and conflicting laws are layered on top of them.

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.

When friction is institutionalized within a nation, the effects can be devastating and long-lasting.

The more laws and restrictions there are, the poorer people become. The more rules and regulations, the more thieves and robbers.

There are many reasons for India’s slower pace of economic growth compared to China, but bureaucratic stifling of business activity is one.

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.

Yinchuan is a textbook example of how eliminating pointless paperwork, collapsing layers of approvals, and streamlining processes can save money and, at the same time, unleash creativity and increase desirable outcomes.

In 1925, US laws fit into a single, albeit far from skinny, book. Today, it seems, nobody really knows how many laws there are nor how much space they take up. The tax code alone has been said to run 70,000 pages.

Businesses in New York City don’t love the bureaucrats they have to deal with.

Zuurmond and de Jong published a case study comparing the time to open a restaurant in the two countries. In Belgium, obtaining the necessary approvals took just three days. In Holland, it was an amazing two years.

The World Bank considers the ease of starting a business to be a key indicator of the health of a nation’s economy.

CHAPTER 12 Taxes and Beyond

Any tax is a discouragement.

Fees and taxes are a perfect friction tool.

The other way legislators employ tax policy as a tool to change behavior is to reduce taxes on activities they want to encourage.

Distrust inevitably leads to more friction. If you don’t trust somebody, you will create more detailed contracts.

A higher trust environment changed the entire ecosystem in Silicon Valley.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with a vertically integrated business, historically they have proven to be less flexible and slower to adapt to changes.

CHAPTER 13 Habits and Productivity

Don’t focus your motivation on doing Behavior X. Instead, focus on making Behavior X easier to do.

Fogg’s Behavior Model has been the basis for any number of high-growth programs and services.

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

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

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.

One of the practical outcomes from Fogg’s extensive study of behavior change is his “Tiny Habits” method.

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.

Markman has written more than 125 scholarly articles and is the author of multiple books, including Smart Thinking and Smart Change.

Markman calls this the “Netflix effect.”

They were making future decisions based on “should” but in-the-moment decisions based on “want.”

Make it easy for people to take desired actions.

Adding difficulty reduces undesirable behaviors.

He’s also the author of the excellent book Atomic Habits.

James 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.

CHAPTER 14 Friction Design

The effect of distance on food consumption is so well documented that it has its own name — “the proximity effect.”

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.

Digital designers are usually far more interested in reducing friction than increasing it.

Friction is well known to conversion experts like Massey. Testing almost always shows that reducing friction increases the conversion rate.

As illogical as it seems, the version with the difficult form produced the most phone leads of any variation. Massey has since employed this with other clients who find telephone leads more valuable.

Friction contrast – 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.

CHAPTER 15 Nonprofit Friction

The high-friction aspect of the University of Chicago’s application may have caused it to have far fewer applicants, but it offered benefits, too.

Know your customer and their pain points to take the friction out of your own processes.

CHAPTER 16 Friction Everywhere

Tom Tullis encountered one of these installations and was inspired to deliver a presentation titled “You shouldn’t have to read a user manual to ride an elevator!”

To avoid confusing people and slowing them down, don’t tinker with the way they are accustomed to doing things.

I never thought about writing as a source of friction until I read Josh Bernoff’s excellent book Writing Without Bullshit.

Bernoff’s cardinal rule is that writers should treat the reader’s time as more valuable than their own.

Press releases are great examples of high-friction writing.

Write short.

Put the important stuff first.

Don’t use the passive voice.

Don’t use jargon.

Don’t use weasel words.

Bernoff’s book Writing Without Bullshit has many more ways to eliminate communication friction.

Make your copy so easy to read and so compelling that the reader can’t stop. This means using fewer words and simple phrasing.

Zak is the world’s leading expert on oxytocin, a hormone and neurotransmitter colloquially known as the “hug drug.”

People in the high-performing firms trusted each other more.

In his book Trust Factor, Zak identifies eight practices that high-performing companies engage in to create trust.

Nothing says “we don’t trust you” like rules and procedures that assume people aren’t honest.

Amazon often reduces friction by refunding customers as soon as they drop off a product return at UPS or an Amazon Locker.

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.

CONCLUSION Go Forth and Find Friction

Everyone may know about friction, but in too many cases they aren’t doing anything about it.

Bill Gates included a chapter in his 1995 book The Road Ahead, titled “Friction-Free Capitalism.”

Eventually, low-friction solutions will win. But, in the meantime, we can expect incumbent players to resist progress rather than adapting their business model to minimize customer friction.

When you see friction, fight it. If you can fix it yourself, do it. If someone else can, ask that person to do it. Don’t organize large meetings, send out mass e-mails, or be a jerk.

Nobody likes wasted time and effort. Nobody enjoys pointless meetings. Everybody hates burdensome red tape. The more you point out friction to the people around you, the more they will see themselves.

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