Quick word association: friction.  What’s your one-word response?   I imagine responses ranging from expressions of stress and impatience to gratitude and relief, with few neutral responses.  Depending on your response, you may be bewildered at the opposite point view.  The truth is, unless you have escaped the earth’s atmosphere, you are never free from friction.  Understanding different types of friction will help you decide if friction in business is a friend or foe. 

Friction is resistance that one object encounters when moving over another.   Friction presupposes movement or intended movement.  If you desire for your business to stay exactly where it is and never move to a new level of performance, friction is a moot point.  Unless of course you wonder how it feels to get rolled over by more ambitious firms.   If you ARE interested in moving on to something bigger or better, here are the four types of friction you need to consider.   

Static Friction 

Static friction means an object is immovable.  I do not believe you want that for yourself.  The idea of momentum is to be moving with such force that all other objects in your path are blown out of the way.  But if you are starting something new, finding anchors to push against is a great way to get started.  In fact, if you cannot find static friction you may have a hard time getting started at all.   

Anyone who has ever watched the Summer Olympics has seen static friction at work in track and field sprint events.  When the distance to be covered is only 100 meters, the first few meters of the race can make all the difference.  Unlike long distance events in which competitors start from a standing position, sprinters line up in starting blocks to get the maximum push.  

Yes, you! 

I know you’re thinking, “Hey, I’m not a start-up!”  I am still talking directly to you I know that you have had many ideas to grow your business that you have never acted upon.  I am talking to anybody that has ever wanted to start anything new in business.   

Find what is permanent, lean on it, and push off!  My thoughts dart to loyal customers, referral sources, or even joint venture partners.  And, I would never get a new start on anything unless I were completely satisfied that it was congruent with my mission and values. 

Sliding Friction 

You can almost feel the heat once you get started – pushing, pulling, dragging your project to fruition.  It is hard to separate the multiple gravitational forces at work to work on them independently – economic forces, competitive forces, or undercapitalization.   

The most tangible sliding friction element you may experience is overhead costs – those fixed expenses that can only be alleviated by the margin in your product sales.  Sell, sell, sell!  And don’t give it away.  The market may be initially resistant to a new product offering.  Be relentless in helping customers understand you value proposition.  You may learn some valuable “tweaks” to your offering from them in the process.  

Warning:  beware of volatile people and substances.  Everyone knows sliding friction can start fires. 

Rolling Friction  

Okay, you are rolling now.  No more pushing, pulling, and dragging.  You are building momentum.  Suddenly you have the opposite problem……how do I keep this thing on the road while building speed?  You have a nice course laid out and everyone seems to be working together, but if your tires are not gripping the pavement, you will end up in a ditch, upside down with tires spinning. 

It was hard fighting through sliding friction.  You may want a break, but you must sponsor healthy friction to keep moving where you want to go.  Push your clients to tell you what’s NOT working, even if you are getting five stars on Google.  Your clients’ honesty will give you that grip on reality that will keep you hugging the road and working hard for them, even as you navigate twists and turns in your business model based on their feedback.   

Internally, wage a disciplined campaign against “Yes people”.  Skip a layer when asking questions internally.  You will quickly find out what’s really happening.  Then, challenge supervisors and managers.  Whether clients or employees, it takes courage to hear the truth, but that healthy tension is necessary to act upon issues before it is too late.  

Fluid Friction 

Fluids are often used as lubricants.  Lubricants can be helpful in overcoming sliding friction, but dangerous when trying to maintain rolling friction – a paradox.  Many automobile accidents occur during rainstorms, or on oil slicks.  Fluid friction is a little different from lubrication. It usually involves an object so large that the only possible way to move it forward is to float it.   

When I think of objects that fit with fluid friction, I think about ocean liners, cruise ships, and aircraft carriers.   When tugboat pulls a large vessel out of a harbor, the benefits of fluid friction are obvious.  It seems incongruous to see something so small commanding the movement of a hulking object.  

Looks easy!

But it still takes tremendous power to move these objects forward.  Aircraft carriers are propelled by nuclear power.  No disrespect intended, but if you thought you were working hard to get your business through the sliding friction of year one, imagine the cumulative energy required to keep a Fortune 100 company moving forward.  Something close to splitting atoms!  Leave nuclear science out of it.  Would you rather swim a mile or walk a mile? 

You may be thinking, “That doesn’t sound like me!  I am just a small business.”  As a small business owner, you will understand fluid friction cash is running low.  Business liquidity masks a wide variety of operational issues.  If you have cash, you can keep fighting.  Cash allows you to keep moving forward as you tinker, adjust to profitability swings, or even find yourself beached by unexpected crises like COVID.  

Friction: friend or foe?  It depends on the situation.  Just take the time to understand what it is that you really need to move forward.