Getting to Yes, And

The Friction Project


Bob Sutton

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Kelly welcomes the great Bob Sutton back to the podcast. Professor Emeritus at Stanford, Bob has a new book out called "The Friction Project" which he co-wrote with Huggy Rao.

We all have this problem in our work where a ball gets dropped – but it’s not necessarily a person’s fault – the system fails us.

“It's more about coordination neglect, we call it, which is when the people involved in running or designing the system don't get the handoffs between different people in different silos. Correct? And that's a huge problem. If you're in the United States, one place you experience this is in healthcare, where it's just a story of friction and fragmentation.”

I expected a book loaded with terrible friction stories, but you have a lot of examples where friction is absolutely a helping agent.

"My absolute favorite story in the book is when Jerry Seinfeld is interviewed by the Harvard Business Review, which sounds like the most bizarre thing on earth. And so HBR asks, ‘Can Mckinsey, the famous consulting firm, sometimes infamous, make the process more efficient? And Jerry Seinfeld says, ‘Who's Mckinsey?’ They explained that it's a consulting firm, and he says, ‘Are they funny?’ And they say, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘I don't need them. The hard way is the right way.’ And if you look at the academic research on creativity, there's lots of times when friction is necessary for creativity.”

You tell another story at one of the world’s most successful companies, Google, where there wasn’t enough friction.

“Google X has this largely unsuccessful R&D operation called Google X or X. And at one point, a team came up with these glasses: Google Glass, that were sort of like a computer in your glasses. You'd look up in the corner and you'd see like a little screen. And you could adjust the thing sort of like a watch but on your head: you know, like an Apple watch on your head. And the people in the lab were not ready to release it. But Sergey Brin, the co-founder, and a guy worth bazillions, grabbed it out of the lab, and threw it into the marketplace. He made 5,000 of them and gave them to some of the most famous people in the world. They had events in Paris and everything, and it turned out it was just an absolutely terrible product and he pulled it off the market. He stopped using it. That was a case where there wasn't enough friction.”

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