Get Reworked Podcast: Why Your Workplace Needs Good Friction
The word friction typically carries negative connotations, seen as an abrasive or discordant force. Yet the right kind of friction can also prompt feelings of belonging, engagement and meaning.
In this episode of Get Reworked, we talk to Soon Yu, author and international speaker, about how introducing good friction in your workplace can inspire employees, give them a greater sense of purpose and motivate them to experiment. What it's not about is doing less.
Listen: Get Reworked Full Episode List
"Good friction in the work environment is actually asking more of your employees. And part of what you're asking more of them is to co-create the culture, to have ownership and the ability to influence what happens," said Soon. "And it's not just a top-down situation where the senior leader has a vision and states, you know, the values and everybody just follows that, you're actually asking for this idea of feedback, loop engagement and collaboration at all different levels."
Highlights of the conversation include:
Plus, co-hosts Siobhan Fagan and Mike Prokopeak talk with Soon about boxed cake mixes, the seven virtues of good friction, and why Soon thinks working retail is harder than any white collar job. Listen in for more.
Have a suggestion, comment or topic for a future episode? Drop us a line at [email protected].
Note: This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.
Soon Yu: Like you got the bad friction, and I get rid of that, and then you had all this good friction that actually leads to what I call happy chemicals, things like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins and adrenaline. And so if you can focus in on creating situations and work environments that actually produce greater dopamine and oxytocin and serotonin, then you can get there.
Mike Prokopeak: That was Soon Yu, Soon is a speaker and author and executive and innovation expert. And he's talking to us today on the Get Reworked podcast about the idea of his book, which is called "Friction," and this idea of what is good friction, and how that applies in the workplace.
Siobhan, can you tell us a little bit about Soon Yu?
Siobhan Fagan: Yes. So Soon Yu most recently worked at VF Corporation. I think our audience would know them from some of their brands like The North Face, Vans, Timberland, he also worked at the Clorox company and Chiquita Brands, before starting his career as a speaker and a writer. His book before the current one, "Friction," was "Iconic Advantage," and we are really excited to have him on the podcast today. Are you ready, Mike?
Mike: I'm ready, let's Get Reworked.
Why All Friction Isn't Built the Same
Siobhan: Welcome to the podcast Soon.
Soon: Thank you for having me on. Very excited.
Siobhan: So we brought you here today to discuss the idea of friction, which is the topic of your recent book. And generally speaking, when people think about friction, it's not really in a positive light.
But you are making an argument that it can be a very good thing in both the customer experience and then also within the workplace, which is the context that we're discussing today. So where did the idea come from of friction being a strong motivator?
Soon: Yeah, great question, Siobhan. Well, my previous book was called "Iconic Advantage." And it really looked at how brands reach that iconic status, how they actually had enough longevity, and we're known for something that they became the standard bearer of, in order to become iconic for that point of distinction. And in doing that research, I found that a lot of the great brands had what I call signature elements, things that people would think of automatically, or see automatically, and think of what the great brand represented what the key benefits were, I'll give you a quick example. Every time you see a lime in the neck of a yellow bottle of beer, you know what that is. You know, that's Corona. And you know why that lime is important, because it's the vacation beer, it reminds me of the time that you were in Cancun, or Cabo or wherever it might be. And so that is a signature element.
And as I looked at brands with great signature elements that were actually signature experiences, I was really fascinated by the idea that most of the signature experiences that they created, were full of friction, full of things that actually made you pause, made you consider, made you think, made you actually make a choice on whether you wanted to participate and have a relationship with this brand, or not, and sometimes even made you sweat. And I'm like, isn't the world going frictionless? Isn't that what we've been told by everybody? Isn't that why Amazon became Amazon?
And so that led me down the path of you know what, maybe not all this friction is the same, maybe some of it is actually really bad stuff that creates frustration, anxiety, uncertainty, all that when we're very familiar with that type of friction. But then there might be this whole amount of really good friction, that you need to live a happy and fulfilled life and build a brand that people love and create a work environment that people actually want to work for. So that's kind of how it came about was very roundabout way, but that's how it came about.
Siobhan: When we look at this, I mean, the Amazon example you give is really interesting, and I was enjoying how you pointed out that they make it so easy that you don't have to think, that you have that the thing auto-shipped and you're not even gonna even remember that you have your Tide Pods coming every month on the 14th or whatever.
But when we look at this specifically in a workplace setting, what does good friction look like there? And again, we do know what bad friction looks like in the workplace, but what would what would an example of good friction in the workplace look like?
Soon: OK, so let me just qualify for all your listeners. I'm not an HR or workplace expert and at all, I am a brand nerd, and in the process of satisfying my curiosity about brands, you know, I came to the understanding that great brands are actually built from the inside. Meaning that if you don't have a great brand that resonates with your own employees, one that actually they're excited to represent, excited to tell their friends about and proud to work at your company, and your brand is probably not going to be all that successful in the long run.
And so that's a perspective I'll bring from the so-called workplace environment in that you need great people and great culture to build great brands.
Now, to your question, yeah, how does that work in a work environment to actually add good friction, the idea that you know what, I'm actually going to make your job a little harder, I'm going to ask more time of you, I'm gonna ask more effort of consideration, of you, in the work environment in order to make your job better. I mean, most people look at me and say, are you kidding me? You know, we've just come through the pandemic. And I realized that I'm probably at least in terms of doing non-meeting related stuff, I'm 10 times more productive when I am in home in a quiet environment and not being surrounded by all the noise and distractions, I get that, right.
But here's a simple example of good and bad friction in the work environment. And I'll use an example I think all your listeners are going to relate to, let's take your PowerPoint presentation, right? We've all had to build a PowerPoint presentation. Imagine one scenario, and this is the bad friction one, of course, where you are constantly reworking this presentation. Why? Because it's your boss's boss's presentation. And, your boss's boss is still not quite sure exactly what they want, but they kind of they're, they're fishing a little bit. And they'll know it when they see it. You know what I mean? Right? And they're constantly doing iteration, after iteration, after iteration, wordsmithing, the littlest things, color coding whatever might be, and probably half your slides that you created, or maybe more than half, are never used again. So to me, that's pretty bad friction, right? And we've all had that experience where we've done hours of PowerPoint where we felt it was just futile.
Let's take the same situation, and in this situation, I think you might actually spend more time on the PowerPoint. Imagine instead, your boss, this is your boss's presentation instead of your boss's boss, okay? And your boss said to you, look, there's three sections in this presentation, I want you to do the middle section, I want you to present it to my boss, and to his boss, the CEO, okay, and all sudden, you're like, oh, you want me to actually participate? You want me, you're giving me some ownership? Well, in this scenario, you may actually spend even more time figuring out how does the second section fit in with the first section? And how does it transition? Well, for the third section, how do I make my boss look like a hero? At the same time? What am I going to say? And how do I say it effectively? And and guess what, boss, do you mind spending an extra five or six hours, over two or three meetings, coaching me on what to say? And how to say it most effectively? And you know what I'm gonna, I'm probably gonna prepare four times as hard than I would have, if it wasn't my presentation, in terms of making sure that if I get asked random questions, I know the answer to those, that I have a backup book.
And so, same thing, PowerPoint. But what was asked and how it was asked was different. And in the second scenario, you actually are being asked, without even knowing, to probably invest even more time and energy. But at the end of that meeting, after you finished, your sense of accomplishment, reward and enjoyment and love for the company, and the brand, and working for your boss, has gone dramatically up, by the fact that you invested more.
How Can Managers Know When to Ask More of Employees and When to Hold Off
Siobhan: I like that you brought up the fact that the second scenario is ownership, and that it is, as opposed to you handing off this deck to your boss's boss who ends up chucking half of it, and it never sees the light of day, you're presenting it, you are taking ownership of it, you are fully investing yourself because you know that you're going to be presenting. So that absolutely makes sense.
But you also brought up that people are stressed. We just saw the Gallup report come out today and I believe the terms stressed, sad and anxious were the top three words that came out. So is there a limit to how much that you can demand of people or how do managers actually walk that tightrope?
Soon: So I think if the day is filled with a lot of bad friction, it is hard to introduce any type of friction because anything you throw into the mix there is going to be viewed as bad friction.
Here's the issue with good friction. It's contextual, OK? So what I mean by that is that when somebody is already in a stressed situation, when they are not in the mood for learning, or where they don't have any excess capacity to do anything else that might lead to what I call self-growth, mastery, autonomy, something that might appease to their sense of purpose or values, when you don't leave any time for that, that any good friction introduced into that scenario, will end up being bad friction.
It's the same thing, if I said to you, and you were so busy, and you didn't have an extra hour, and I say, I want you to present the second section, you're like, are you kidding me? I have no time for that, no, right. And so part of what a boss or a manager needs to think about is, am I leaving enough space for the important, but not urgent activities, that make work interesting, that make the idea of, you know, growth, and accomplishment, and achievement, and ownership, where it allows for that to happen. And if you don't make enough time as a boss, that, honestly, you're failing your team by not doing that.
Mike: Are there indicators, when you look at a team that a manager can look at and say, you know what, all right, I'm not leaving them enough time for this? Is there a kind of a dial that the manager can turn? And we're How do you know when you're able to do that? And how do you know when you're not?
Soon: That's a good question. I can only sort of pull on my experiences as being a manager. And I think, Mike, you and I talked in this sort of pre-show about I had worked previously at VF, which is a large apparel company, you would never heard of VF, but you've heard of the brands like The North Face, Vans, Timberland, Supreme, 7 For All Mankind, at the time when I was there. So over 30 brands, but when I worked there, one of the things I did early on was I tried to do too much. And so my agenda was a bit too ambitious.
And one of the things I learned about the idea of choice, I read this book, I think it's called "Choices," and how to make good choices. It was the idea that fewer choices are better. And one of the process to get to fewer choices is to take your entire work plan, and tend to kind of rank it between high-impact, high-effort, and then low-impact, low-effort. Think of it as those quadrants right. And over 20% of what I was doing was in the low-impact, high-effort area.
And I said to myself, why are we doing that? And we automatically just cut those off. And I would just suggest as an exercise do that. And that's not really answering your question as to, you know, when to you know? My general sense is that most people err on the side of always being over-ambitious over work, I met very few people, even with these hybrid work situations where people say, you know, oh, this is great, I have so many hours available to myself now, I still find that people are generally over-busy and doing a lot of low-impact, high-effort work.
You know, maybe that's unfair characterization, but there are a far and few bosses where employees are coming to you and saying, hey, is there anything else I could do? Hey, do you mind if I go take a training course now? Could you provide some more coaching feedback? If you're not hearing those things for your employees? It's probably indication that you're probably already in that situation where you are asking too much.
How to Identify if a Workplace Supports Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose
Mike: Yeah, it strikes me that that makes a lot of sense. Because anytime you add something in something has to be subtracted. I mean, we all had full-time jobs before this new thing came about. So therefore, we've got to get rid of something.
Now, what advice do you have for employees? So somebody who is sort of on the receiving end of good friction, you want more good friction in your life? How would you suggest that an employee go about creating a situation or talking to leadership and managers about that situation?
Soon: I think the first thing is you have to look at is the work environment you're in and the culture you have, is it what I would consider a positive one that promotes what I would consider mastery, you know, your ability to actually get better at your job, and sort of, is the organization behind that idea? Do they also promote the idea of autonomy, you know, the ability for you to think independently, and actually make some mistakes, with the understanding that we're in it for the long haul, you know, we're playing the long game with you. And so you've made a few mistakes, with understanding that you're going to learn from those. And we can also make sure that you're gonna be able to pick up and learn from those.
And then an organization that is actually concerned about living its mission and being true to its values, and the idea of being purpose driven. In fact, most of these ideas are written by Dan Pink in the book "Drive," he talks about all these things, and all three of those idea mastery, autonomy and purpose.
If you find an organization that is behind those three ideas, then you're gonna probably find organization that will encourage you to get better at your craft, that will give you opportunities to shine and get recognition. And also to have what I call good stress, of you know what, I'm going to show my work, or I'm going to lead a project, or I'm going to step up actually versus what I had been previously doing, and maybe fail a little bit, but it's OK, I've been given the license to do that. Or an organization that's going to make me feel strong and proud to be part of it. Because I can see where they're making choices to live the values and where they're actually saying no to business, or no to customers, or no to things that I know we can make easy money there. But they're saying no to that, which makes me feel good about that. And they're asking me to say no to certain things, which you know what I'm OK with, because I understand why we're doing that.
So I think you have to ask yourself, are you an organization that allows that? If not, honestly, Mike, I think it's an uphill battle as an employee to try to change, maybe you can change your boss, and maybe you start there, and that's, that's a good place. And if you find a boss, that leases sort of congruent with those things, fine. But if the senior leadership is not in that same vein, I think, honestly, it might be time to actually start looking for an organization that does really value those things.
Mike: Yeah. And there are probably other indicators to beyond just this issue, that employee may have that, hey, maybe this is not the right place for me to develop to grow, probably wouldn't be the first indicator of that.
Soon: Probably not.
The 7 Virtues of Good Friction
Mike: All right, so your book, "Friction," is all about this idea of good friction. And we obviously are writing to a business audience here. So we want to understand how would this can be applied in the workplace. So and you actually have a bit of a model that you write about in the book, and we'd like to explore that a little bit with you. And that model is called EMBRACE. Can you talk a little bit about what is EMBRACE?
Soon: Sure. So we talked about the idea of EMBRACE a dose of good friction. And so the premise is that not all friction is created equal, you got the bad friction, and you want to get rid of that. And then you got all this good friction that actually leads to what I call happy chemicals. Things like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins and adrenaline. And so if you can focus in on creating situations and work environments that actually produce greater dopamine, and oxytocin and serotonin, maybe less so endorphins, because that's more very physical, but okay, but at least adrenaline, a positive adrenaline, then you can get there.
And in the book, we talked about it, in terms of brand building, that if you focus on these five happy chemicals, you can create what I call 7 virtues of good friction, they just happen to spell the word EMBRACE [Engagement, Meaning, Belonging, Rapport, Assurance, Competence, and Exclusivity].
And the first one is engagement, you know, this idea of are you creating a two way interaction with your employees and the way that I think Siobhan said it ownership, right. So engagement, that's the first one.
Meaning, meaning is the second one. And you know, all great organizations that are purpose driven and values driven, they put attention to that, they put energy towards that, and they ask their employees to put attention and energy towards living those values, and going after that purpose and subscribing to that purpose. So meaning is a big one.
The next one is belonging, I think one of the keys to being sort of offline is that you lose that sense of belonging, you don't get that oxytocin boost for having the simple water cooler, or the lunch discussions and meetings, or just sometimes grabbing a drink after work. All these things are really part of this idea of creating connection and belonging, along with obviously, off-sites, and ideations in situations where you actually have to work closely with people. So that's another one.
And then there's Rapport. Rapport is a big one, rapport is always not only about how much you give, but how much is asked of you to in terms of and then also how much you ask back, it's got to be a two way street if you want to build a great relationship. And that's true for employees and the work environment.
And then assurance. Assurance is another one where sometimes certain inconveniences actually give you a sense of greater assurance. A good example is the double verification, we get on our bank accounts, that we get the one we're trying to log on.
So and then we talked a lot about this idea of mastery. So this one, the next one is competence. Are you building great competence?
And then the last one is this idea of exclusivity? Are you making it valuable? And actually, are people understanding that, hey, we're not giving anything away from free, you actually have to earn it. And so that's exclusivity.
So that's what EMBRACE stands for, and if you focus on good friction, you can actually create those seven virtues.
How Different Points of View Create Good Friction
Siobhan: I thought that it was interesting and very compelling, in the customer side, for a lot of these different qualities of embrace. But it was funny because when I was reading the section on exclusivity, it made me pause and think is that something that's desirable in the workplace setting? Is that something that we want?
So at one point you wrote, "the more difficult it is to earn acceptance, the more motivation those on the outside have to belong." And I was hoping that you could discuss that in the context of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts that are happening in workplaces throughout the country.
Soon: That's such a great question, it's such a wonderful insight on your part Siobhan. I've never been asked the question.
And so here's what I would say, I'm a person of color. And the last thing I want, is to be given an opportunity or given a job or, or given a promotion, just because the color of my skin was, let's say, in trend, OK. And I that's probably happened to me where subconsciously, I might have felt that it may not have been the case, I don't know, I wasn't in the rooms when the discussions happened.
But for being the employee on the receiving end of that, sometimes you have what I would call impostor syndrome, you feel like, maybe I didn't quite earn this, maybe I was given this because of the need to have greater diversity and inclusion and whatnot. And so here's what I would say about that. You need to be colorblind, in terms of making whatever promotion, whatever job that you're offering, wherever job opportunity, or whatever work opportunity is, you need to make that colorblind, but you need to make it something that you don't give away, doesn't matter who it is and what their background is.
And so I do think it's important that even if you are trying to diversify your workplace, that you don't necessarily relax the standards all of a sudden, here's an example, I worked really hard for the Asian community when I was at UC Davis. And there are populations that were underrepresented. And so obviously, the programs back then that formative actions, programs did everything they could to encourage greater populations of those underrepresented minorities in the system. Here's the problem, by the second year, most of them had dropped out. And that was an unfortunate situation.
And so I guess what I'm trying to say here is this, if you have something, don't relax the standards, but it might mean that you need to double your efforts in terms of looking for people that have different ways of thinking, not just different color skin, or you know, gender and all that. But just different ways of thinking. And it might also be what you value in terms of what's important for that job, might also be a diversity of points of views, diversities of skill sets, diversity of experiences and diversities of backgrounds.
And in part of what you're asking for which demanding is that diversity of thinking and backgrounds and experiences. And so guess what, for people that don't have what I call those varied points of views, or experiences, you know, what, that's a knock against them. And you know, maybe it's also statement that, hey, maybe I need to go get some, I need to go live in a different country, I need to learn a new language, I need to learn a different skill set, regardless of what the color of my skin is.
So it works both ways, is what I'm saying is that you don't want to just have an organization that's filled with diversity. But all sudden, you've relaxed the standards for those, just because you wanted to meet your DE&I standard or objectives.
Siobhan: Well, if I could just push back a little bit, because if we remove the lowering of standards part from the equation and say we look at it more from, I think a lot of people have used corporate culture as an excuse to exclude certain people from companies, so that would be the inclusion part where it's just like, hey, we're the exclusive thing and they're not a cultural fit, quote, unquote.
I'm wondering how do you kind of balance that tension between wanting to have the belonging, but at the same time, you're saying that keeping a certain level of exclusivity is also good?
Soon: First, here's what I would say about a situation where people are using the culture as sort of a screen or a reason to not hire somebody, I honestly think the culture is broken, OK? So you got to start with the idea that, is this a culture where quite frankly, if you don't have a diverse point of view, or you don't have diverse skill sets, or a diverse background, guess what, that's a knock against you, you want a culture where you know what people are actually excited about learning from one another and having diverse points of views and diverse backgrounds.
I actually think it starts with the company culture, and if you're hired into a situation where look, this company realizes that they need to bring more people in, and they're bringing you in for that diverse culture, you got to make sure that it's the inclusion part of it, there's actually an active program to improve the existing culture. If there's not, then honestly, you're going to be an island. And eventually, you're going to leave because, you know, the system is just going to reject the new Oregon.
And so I don't think the situation where the culture isn't at least in a growth mindset, realizing, hey, we're not quite there. And we need you to come in and help us. And we're going to work with you. And we're going to be open to what learnings and growth we're going to have to do as organization, then yes, I think that's a great situation.
If not, and we're just bringing in and it's tokenism. I just think it's failed to begin with, even before you even make the first interview.
So I think that's the one thing I'd say in terms of, I don't think you make the job any less hard to get, is what I'm trying to say, regardless of who the candidate is, I think you don't relax those standards, I just think it will work against you. What I think you need to think about is, what are those standards, and should one of those standards be a diverse point of view, a diverse background, bringing something that will challenge the organization? And that should be maybe one of the key criteria you put in to your job descriptions.
Addressing Bad Friction in the Workplace
Mike: All right, it strikes me as you're talking about this, that this is actually good friction, bad friction, what you're talking about, you're saying, as companies are looking to bring in people, you don't want to lower standards, you want to make sure that coming to work at a company is an exclusive opportunity. Not everybody gets this opportunity, that's actually a good thing. So that is good friction, you know, we require that you apply for this job, you go through some rigorous selection and some rigorous interviewing before you're invited to join the team. Great, good friction, right?
But once they're in there in your UC Davis example was a prime example of this is that if there isn't this workplace structure in place to support those folks, once they're in, then you've got bad friction, kind of drives people out? How would you address that sort of bad friction within a company? If you went back to that situation, and UC Davis with your knowledge now, in your research now, what would you tell people to do differently to avoid people dropping out after they've been, you know, invited into the group?
Soon: Yeah, I think that's a great question, Mike. And if we can solve that, boy, we wouldn't be doing podcasts, right. But seriously, I think it's a very fair question. And I guess the only advice I'd have on that in terms of sort of taking the bad friction of that culture, is asking the both existing employees and the new employees, and empowering them with the ability to come up with solutions.
Now, you don't leave them on island, you got to have a senior sponsor, you have to have a champion, honestly, you should be somebody both within the what I call the diversity community, but somebody who's not, somebody who quite frankly, could, you know, actually grow from this experience. By doing this, this is all good friction, right now, you're actually asking more of your employees to get involved in things that aren't just OKRs, right, the objective and key results?
You know, I think this goes back to the idea of what I think good friction in the work environment is, actually asking more of your employees. And part of what you're asking more of them is to co-create the culture, to have ownership and the ability to influence what happens. And it's not just a top-down situation where the senior leader has a vision and states, you know, the values and everybody just follows that, you're actually asking for this idea of feedback, loop engagement and collaboration at all different levels.
And to me, that's good friction, it's messy. And you have to understand that it's never quite finished, and it shouldn't be. And that's okay. And you have to be okay with the idea that or work in process. And that as a brand, we're always a prototype. And we're always prototyping be a better brand.
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How to Bring Good Friction Into the Hybrid Workplace
Mike: All right, I'm gonna jump off that prototyping idea and use that as a way to ask a question about this moment we're in at work right now. Because you could say that we're in a bit of a new prototype of the ways that we're working, with folks kind of coming back from remote work environments, and into a hybrid situation.
So as you look at this moment in the workplace, where, you know, we have perhaps more distributed teams, we have teams that are only together part of the time, how can organizations design hybrid workplaces that will actually inject some good friction? How does that change some of the things that you're talking about, if it does at all?
Soon: Yeah, Mike, I think that's such a great question.
I want to step back a little and let you know sort of why I was thinking about this exact question. And it actually started with my son who is in middle school. And when the pandemic started, I think he was actually an elementary school. And so you know, he was a fifth grader, and then within sixth grade, all that, right, and I just remember, the moment that they were allowed to go hybrid, meaning like one day at school, one day back at home, he was so excited he was, he couldn't wait to go back and be with his friends, to see his teachers, to go to school. And I was thinking, why wasn't that the situation when the rest of us were allowed to go back and see our friends? And why was the school situation so different than the work situation?
And I think, fundamentally, my take is that I feel like work, and this is probably overly generalized and abroad indictment, but let's say there is more of a trend to focus on what I said earlier, this idea of objectives and key results. And so everything's really focused on delivering our objectives. It's about outcomes, and it's about these results, and it sort of misses why people actually love work to begin with. Sure, we want to help the company that we're working for make money, and through that we're gonna get paid, we understand the financial ecosystem of it, there's nothing wrong with that.
But there's also a huge component about why people loved work, back in the day, back in the day, you know why people couldn't wait to go back to work. And I think we've lost some of that, and I actually feel like not being in-person has actually exacerbated, our desire to only be focused on objectives and key results, because, you know, it's kind of neutered out all the other stuff we'd love to that work.
So to your point, Mike, I think there's been a ton of innovation around the idea of online work, you know, all these Slack, and all these new meeting rooms and affinity groups, and all the different ways of interacting through your desktop or mobile, great. I think where the great opportunity is, how do we innovate in-person work? How do we make if it's two days a week, or three days a week, what are we doing during those two or three days that actually go back to what we used to love about work?
This idea of, hey, is this an opportunity for us to have greater collaboration, engagement, interaction, the bait, the ideation, whatever we are those days, maybe there's more of a focus on that or emphasis on? What about the idea of achievement, growth, mastery, all the things that you know, we want to get coached on or improve, our learning development? Is that an opportunity for in person work?
And then let's not forget the whole part of the social the connection, the bonding that happens with people that, quite frankly, become our friends, and I don't think there's anything wrong with him becoming our friends. And so I feel like this whole idea of OKRs are kind of neutered all that out. And by actually going to working at home and online, helps us actually even narrow the focus on just our objectives and our key results, and we're missing those other key components of in-person work.
And so that's what I think we need to innovate on is the idea of in-person work.
Siobhan: That is a compelling argument for returning to the office Soon, I really enjoyed the idea that, I see what you're saying, as far as the technology, creating this almost transactional level to work, we're reducing it to the transactional level, only that we are missing out on so much of the richness that happens naturally at work.
I would argue that potentially that's also an area for technology or those who are creating the technology to encourage people to find new ways to innovate there and to make work less transactional. I am now lecturing. So I'm going to stop and move us over.
Soon: I agree, I'm head nodding through the whole thing you're saying Siobhan.
Underrated/Overrated With Soon Yu
Siobhan: Usually around now, in the show, we like to play a game we like to break it up a little bit, to stop Siobhan from lecturing, and the game is called underrated/overrated. What we do is we introduce a topic, an idea, and we ask you to tell us if that is underrated or overrated, and if you have any further thoughts on it, you can share them. Are you willing to play Soon?
Soon: I love it. Let's do it. Do I get any prize money from this?
Siobhan: Yes, yes, we get one of those supreme guns that shoot out the cash money.
Mike: We've got Reworked T-shirts, we can send you.
Soon: I'll wear it proudly.
Siobhan: So here's your first one Soon. First step we have the phrase, 'It's nothing personal, it's business.' Is that underrated or overrated in your book?
Soon: Overrated. Everything's personal.
Siobhan: So I loved that you wrote about that in the book, because we see that come up so frequently. And we're seeing it come up a lot now, especially in a time where there are layoffs happening in a lot of companies. And that is often the phrase that's used when laying people off. And it's like, how can dismissing someone from their job not be personal?
Soon: Yeah, you know, Siobhan, I've had to do it six times in my life, it's probably one of the things I regret the most, is not being good enough in my job, whether it be fundraising, whether it be leading the company, whatever it might be, that I actually had to sit across from people that I grew to love and care about, who actually came in and shared the mission that we had, and had to tell them sometimes, you know, weeks before the layoffs, that I had just a heads up, I'm not sure we're going to be able to make payroll, and I know you have to get paid for your kids tuition, I just gotta give you this heads up. And then a few weeks after that, and months after that, say, I'm sorry, we're gonna have to, you know, reduce the workforce and admit to it that it's primarily my fault doesn't help to say that, but boy, that is such a tough situation.
And to your point, everything's personal. And I think, you know, we try to compartmentalize or justify or rationalize sometimes tough business decisions through by saying that, I think that's a cop out, I think we can say this is a tough business decision. And I know it impacts you personally. And guess what, it impacts me personally. And I'm sorry about that. And that's okay that, you know, sometimes you have to make those tough decisions. But don't lie to yourself and say it's not personal.
Mike: All right, I get the next one. You've worked in consumer goods manufacturing, or it's, I guess, consumer-facing organizations. This question for underrated overrated has to do with that. Do you think working retail the day after Christmas is underrated or overrated?
Soon: I think it's underrated. Most people will say it's overrated. And here's why I say that.
I was working at Clorox and I was selling great things like liquid plumber, or toilet bowl cleaners and whatnot. And I left that job because I had this retail startup idea in my head.
And so I left and worked at Crate & Barrel. And one of the things I really wanted to do, was do a full year there to understand retail. And one of the biggest and most important days was the day after Christmas, because that's the day when everyone returns probably about 50% of inventory you sold, they're returning it, okay?
So, and there's lines, and people want these things processed. And I think the stress of that, and then the understanding that it's actually a an important part of the whole Christmas cycle, from a business point of view. And then the humanity of having people come in and trying to have them stay patient, take the returns, but also offer them up either credit or help them find something else. I think it was one of the most important lessons in retails that I ever had.
And the thing about retail is it's probably harder than any white collar job I've ever had in my life. Because you're on your toes, especially the after Christmas, last time is eight hours, the day after Christmas, it could be 12 to 14 hours, you're standing on your feet. So your sore, your aching, and the person that walks in at the 12 hour 13 hour, they want to be treated like the person that walked in at 8 a.m. that morning. And somehow you have to find it within the bowels of your soul, to be courteous to be patient and to deliver great customer service. And if you can do that, man, you can weather almost anything.
Siobhan: So Soon, the next one that we have up, we're going to stay in retail, but we're bringing you to the grocery store. Boxed cake mixes, underrated or overrated?
Soon: Underrated. Here's why, I think, you know, cake mixes, think of them as a canvas for creativity, there are opportunities for you to add in some of your own ingredients, play with them a little bit. So in some ways, it's, they've reduced some of the bad friction in that you actually have to buy flour and shortening and yeast and all that stuff. They kind of figured all that part out for you. And now they let it so, they've taken all that bad friction, and then you can do the good friction of customizing it, do the frosting, throw in some special fruit or ingredients. And it's allowed for a lot more creativity, and I think it can be a lot of fun.
Siobhan: Soon, can you talk a little bit just a brief overview, because this was just so fascinating about the history of boxed cake mixes, because you do share that in the book about how they realized that introducing that small amount of friction was going to turn the tide and it really did, and box cake mixes took off as a result.
Soon: Yes. So the history I think, is back from 1940s or 50s, Pillsbury, you know, in the effort to make things frictionless, they took all the ingredients that you need to make a cake, and they actually put it into the box. And that included, you know, the dry egg powder, all the stuff that you would need. And initially, it sold because it's a novelty, and people liked it.
But eventually, sales actually became stagnant and actually started to drop off. And so the Pillsbury folks actually went and did some research, they did their consumer insights, and they talked to back then they were homemakers not to be gender specific, but they tend to be moms. And the moms basically said, You know what, I feel like a cop out. You know, when I make a cake, it's a manifestation of my love for my family, for the dedication and commitment that I put towards my family. And when I see them eat something that I've put so much time and effort into, as an expression of love, I feel rewarded. And your cake mix, I feel like I've just cheated them, you know, I feel like I just shortcut it at all. And, you know, truth doesn't represent my best effort. So, you know, it doesn't work for me.
So Pillsbury went back and thought about and said, You know what, let's just make one tweak, instead of the dry egg powder that they used to put in it, they said, Look, all we're gonna do with this cake mix is now you have to add in two eggs, and mix it with water and eggs. That simple tweak, made the product, all of a sudden, it tipped the scales, to the point where now the moms felt like, man, I had put in enough effort, this is the expression of my love, and I feel so great about serving this to my family, and the sales skyrocketed, by just adding that amount of good friction back into the cake mix.
y the way, I wrote an article on that, and the Pillsbury folks were so kind enough to contact me and thanked me, because it is such an interesting story that they, and insight that they came up with.
Siobhan: Did they send you box mixes? Because I know, I want cake now.
Mike: No they knew they needed to inject a little consumer friction in there, Soon had to get his own mixes.
How to Create Good Friction in Your Workplace
Siobhan: So we want to just close out Soon, with just a little bit of a discussion about friction and the current business environment, I think that you've given us so many examples of what good friction can look like. And I think that particular one of the cake box mix is just, it's going to linger with me for a long time.
So I'm gonna hand it over to Mike to ask the final question.
Mike: Yeah, I guess the question is, you know, kind of looking at this as a learning opportunity. How do you encourage folks to learn how to create good friction? What can they do? What can somebody who's listening to this, who is going to go back on a team meeting after they listen to this, what is some practice they might be able to bring to the workplace, to their interactions with their teammates to inject good friction into the workplace?
Soon: Yeah, and I think this is a simple summary, I do think you need to create an environment where people have enough time to do stuff that's actually very motivating, stuff that makes people want to come to work. So that's job number one is, hey, can we go and just do an inventory of everything we have? And let's just eliminate the stuff that's a low-impact, high-effort by just doing that alone, you probably can save, I don't know, 10%-20% of the hours.
Why don't you repurpose those times at the time that you've saved there? And really think about? What might I do to encourage people to have greater mastery in their job, right? Is there a part of the job that they really enjoy and they want to get better at? Does it also mean that I have to free up a little bit of my time as a manager to coach them, to help them, to guide them? Do I also need to find resources for them for training and development? Whether it be internal or external? The answer is, yes, of course.
Where might I give them greater autonomy? Where may I allow them in a safe environment to make some mistakes as the process of getting better at something right? I can't expect everyone to be good at something new from day one. I've got to give them that time to do some trial and error and kind of to find their voice in this new activity. But at the same time, I'm going to ask a little bit more of them. I'm going to ask them to take out a little more responsibility. I'm going to ask them to take on a new topic or lead something that you know may be a little bit of a stretch for them and I'm gonna allow for the time for them to grow into that role.
And then lastly, I would say this, how much of your activities are really focused on living your values, and also living your mission and your vision. I mean, I, I look at so many great companies out there and I work for some of them, like The North Face, and Vans, they actually encourage people to go climbing, they encourage people to go surfing or skating.
You know, I worked with this one organization is a wonderful organization, six largest airline in the world, Indigo Airlines, you've never heard of them. But they're the largest airline in India, one of their key values is respect, and respect for both, generational respect. And so they have this program where you bring your mom to work, and you get to show your mom what you do. And you have, you know, and it's this interaction with your parents, and then that's celebrated. I mean, wow, think about that, you know, organization like Nike, they encourage everyone to go out and exercise and to 'just do it,' right. So I would say, make time for those different things. And people want to actually invest more time.
Siobhan: I love the idea of bring your mom to work day. I think that more companies should adopt that whatever their values are.
Soon: Exactly, I'm, there. Or bring your kids too, right. I mean, there's that. I mean, it goes both ways, right? And why not make it something where there's generational living and giving right?
Siobhan: No, that's lovely. So Soon, if our audience wants to find out more about you, about your book, "Friction," where are the best places for them to find you?
Soon: Yeah, so they can find me at my website. It's very simple. It's only six letters. It's S-O-O-N is my first name like soon, like early, okay, and my last name is spelled Y-U so soonyu.com. Also, you can just type that into Google. And just because there's not a lot of people name Soon Yu, it'll probably direct you to either the book, the Amazon, or to my website. And so you should be good to go.
Siobhan: Well, thank you so much Soon.
Soon: Thank you both so much for the great questions.
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