4 Frictions Entrepreneurs & Leaders Must Overcome To Achieve Success


Why do good ideas fail to succeed? How come genius products and businesses can’t make it off the ground?

It often isn’t the idea or product that causes a business to fail—it’s the people. In his new book, The Human Element, David Schonthal breaks down friction theory, which explains why people resist change and what slows them down from making progress. Bringing something to market or trying to create change involves both fuel and friction. Schonthal says most entrepreneurs focus on the fuel, or creating a great product or service and acquiring customers. But the other aspect of friction theory is the friction itself, or the human beings you’re trying to influence.

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Schonthal and co-author Loran Nordgren identified four primary sources of friction or resistance that stand in the way of a product’s success in the market. These are the main reasons great ideas fail—they aren’t tackling the friction of getting people to change and adopt something new:

  1. Inertia. No matter how good your idea is, people naturally resist change. Inertia is the tendency to stick with the status quo. Schonthal recommends tackling inertia by making unfamiliar ideas more familiar and highlighting the improvements and differences of a product so people can make the mental leap to adjust how they live, work, and use the product.
  2. Effort. Change requires physical, emotional, mental, and economic effort. If a customer has to put forth a lot of effort to use a new product, they likely aren’t going to do it. Great products need to be well-designed in all aspects so that they require as little physical or cognitive effort as possible for customers.
  3. Emotion. Adopting a new idea often leaves people with new emotions and feelings. If they are scared to try something new, they may be feeling fearful or intimidated. Too often, Schonthal says the emotional impact on customers isn’t taken into account, which can lead to more emotional friction. Focus on how the product makes people feel and what they will feel as they change.  
  4. Reactance. This is a psychological term that refers to people’s aversion to being changed by other people. No matter how good the idea is, people don’t like feeling like an idea is being imposed upon them and will resist change because it takes away their decision-making power. Countering reactance involves reframing to provide autonomy and include customers in the decision-making process.

Bringing something to market isn’t just about creating a great product—it’s also about appealing to customers and addressing their reluctance to change. Appealing to the four main causes of friction can help entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level and lead to stronger adoption by customers.

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