The Death of Friction: Where We’re Headed and How to Get There

As two tech-heavy showcases at ASAE's 2013 Annual Meeting & Expo showed, the tools at our disposal to ease our lives are constantly improving. Without the right organizational mindset, though, any effort will end in futility.

Whether at the organizational or the personal level, ultimately, we’re all trying to cut the friction in our daily lives with technology.

That’s the message I took from two great sessions at ASAE’s 2013 Annual Meeting & Expo this week in Atlanta. That trip to Atlanta, by the way, is totally relevant to this topic.

Why can’t membership work like that? Or the way we handle technology with staff? Or even the way we work?

See, when I took my flight to Atlanta from Washington, DC, the lack of friction in actually getting on the plane struck me. While there were still waits in line, I was able to type in a code, check in for my flight, and get my e-ticket all from the comfort of my phone. To make things even more  effective, the TSA screening checkpoint  had a scanner ready to check my bar code, so I didn’t have to print anything.

Why can’t membership work like that? Or the way we handle technology with staff? Or even the way we work?

This was the topic of discussion during Kylee Coffman and David DeLorenzo’s session on applying the lessons of the future of technology to the current state of organizations. It’s a smart topic, and a proper one. Associations struggle at times with being even a single step ahead, when technology is running twice as fast as that. (Don’t believe me? Think about the number of times you’ve seen Associations Now use the phrase “responsive design” since our launch. Then click on this article, which introduced the concept to the public. It’s just over three years old.)

Not all of the examples Coffman, a senior technology consultant for Delcor, and DeLorenzo,  the CIO of the National League of Cities, mentioned have panned out (raise your hand if you own a Segway) and some still might not (Google Glass is cool, but untested). But the thing that did stand out is the way that this philosophy applies to associations.

Starbucks, as an example, didn’t perfect its approach to hawking coffee right away—far from it. But it’s always looking a step ahead, and its recent success with mobile payments proves it. Now it’s your turn to translate the lesson to your own staff.

Greased Lightning Workflow

Similarly, the presentation by Sandra Giarde, CAE, and Renato Sogueco [PDF], which focused on personal technologies and tools that facilitate workflow, was full of ideas you need to keep in mind—from both a price and productivity perspective.

The two association executives—Giarde, of the California Association for the Education of Young Children and the Association Resource Center, and Sogueco, the CIO of the Society of American Florists—focused on the technology needs of the individual user and exec, while keeping in mind the needs of the association.

Ultimately, they approached the topic by not going too far out in the wilderness (no Chromebook name-drops; and though they did offer up open-source alternatives to Microsoft Office, they didn’t pitch anything more esoteric like Markdown or Evernote). And that’s exactly the way it should’ve been done.

See, friction goes both ways. Sure, we want innovative new processes, but we also want something approachable that doesn’t involve a huge learning curve. The latest and greatest isn’t necessarily the easiest to use. (That said, sometimes it’s both.) If Coffman and DeLorenzo were looking toward the goalposts, Giarde and Sogueco were eyeing first downs. It’s a case of what works now versus what works later. Cool, forward-thinking ideas are great to keep in mind, but right now, you just need to email your coworkers.

The Dull Side of Friction

That said, all this talk about killing friction is as pointless as using a rubber eraser on a blank page if it’s in the wrong context.

After Coffman and DeLorenzo’s session, the person sitting across from me brought this point into sharp relief. His organization, he told me, was firmly entrenched in an old tech model, and he was hoping to find a way to put it on a newer platform, while allowing the entrenched folks to stick with the older one.

To put it another way, all these efforts to kill friction only go so far when you’re up against a more traditional kind of friction—the friction that comes with the word “no.”

Sometimes saying “no” is necessary, but are you saying no at points where it hurts you? If you can look back and answer “yes” to that question, all those efforts to cut out the friction are for naught.

How are you making efforts at your organization to grease the skids? Tell me all about it in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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