Excerpts from “The path of Least Resistance for Managers”, Robert Fritz

Feb 13, 05

One of the books on creativity that made a profound impact on me was Robert Fritz’s book, ?The path of Least Resistance?. This is what Peter Senge of The Fifth Discipline fame says of Robert Fritz ?? is without a doubt one of the most original thinkers today on the creative process in business, the arts, science, and life in general.?

I am excited to be attending his workshop later this month.

Excerpts from “The path of Least Resistance for Managers”

Water in a riverbed must follow the path of least resistance, as must electrons through a circuit, as must wind blowing through a canyon, as must weather patterns crossing the planet. As we do, ourselves, as we pass through our lives.

The phrase the path of least resistance has two distinct meanings, one colloquial, and one scientific. The colloquial means the easy way out. “Al took the path of least resistance,” may mean that Al was a lazy, slip-shod creep, who avoided the necessary hard work, and, consequently, produced a lousy outcome. This is not the meaning of the phrase in this book.

We will use the scientific insight, which is that energy moves along the path of least resistance. In other words, energy moves where it is easiest to go.This is true for organizations within the multinational corporate world as it is for water flowing through a riverbed, and blood surging through the bloodstream.

We all understand this principle, but we forget it when we think about our organizations or about our own lives. And yet, the principle is always in operation. It never sleeps. It never goes on vacation. It never takes a day off. We may seem to move from situation to situation, or event to event, or financial quarter to financial quarter or from year to year. But through it all, we are moving along the path of least resistance.

Sometimes the path leads us to great difficulty, sometimes to easy success. Sometimes the path will lead us to be able to accomplish great deeds, and other times lead us to banging our heads against the wall.

Here are Three Insights that are the fundamental principles of the path of least resistance.

1) Energy moves along the path of least resistance.

Our organizations move along this path, as do our personal and professional lives. Any changes we attempt to make that do not take the path of least resistance into account, and inadvertently violate the path of least resistance will not work. And this is the major reason that change effort after change effort often doesn?t work over time. The changes might be excellent in and of themselves. But they can be imposed on an organization against the path of least resistance, and, consequently, they fail again and again. In those cases, the path of least resistance is to resist the change.

2)The underlying structure of anything will determine its path of least resistance.

The topography in the old West determined the route the bison chose. Had the topography been different, they would have walked along a different path. The path of least resistance does not come into being arbitrarily. Instead, it is forged by an underlying structure.

Structure determines the path of least resistance, and organizations are subject to inescapable structural laws that govern their behaviour. Much of this book takes into account the laws and principles of structure so we can understand why an organization can move from this business strategy to that, from this management approach to that, from this marketing approach to that. Through our study of structure, we can understand why some organizations perform like high performance race cars, and some perform like low-tech rocking chairs.

3)We can determine the path of least resistance by creating new structures.

Just as the Army Corps of Engineers can change a riverbed, and thereby change the flow of water, we can change the underlying structures of our organizations, and even of our lives. A change of structure leads to a change of the path of least resistance.

We can redesign our organizations so that path of least resistance begins to flow in the direction in which we want it to go. But it takes work to learn how to do this. Like many things in life, often the principles are easier to talk about than they are to implement. Redesigning the organization is at least a two-step process, understanding first, application second. The application requires us to be diligent, rigorous, thoughtful, honest, disciplined, and creative. It?s not an easy path, but it is the best one for the organization and the men and women within the organization. But without the first step ? understanding ? the second step is impossible. Learn these lessons well, and you will stack the cards in your favour.

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