Close this search box.

The path of least resistance

Colleague to me on a walk: “I think we have different approaches. I’ve always found it’s better not to provoke unless I have to and I’ve got what I need by following the paths of least resistance.”

She explained to me that I’d put a challenge and proposal to a leadership team that would be very counter-cultural for them and that even if my work was is great, they’re not likely to accept it because they’ll be too upset.

Our conversation continued. “But I’m tired of worrying too much about bruising their egos, what about the customers they serve?!” I said. “Well we all have egos, you’ve just shown that through showing off with your work.” she said.

We walked some more. I acknowledged that ego, emotion, values (passion, perfection, professionalism) had contributed to the approach I’d taken in this situation. However, I’d also factored in the longer-term direction and purposefully decided that in this case, not making improvements for the sake of people’s feelings wasn’t the right approach. By the end of our walk, my colleague and I agreed, on balance (and only just about) that I had done the right thing for the organisation.

But what did we learn and what could I have done differently?

High psychological safety and high standards equal high performance

I could have read the Fearless Organization[1]Edmondson, Amy C. The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2018. the day before I’d taken action. Amy Edmunson talks about how for high performance you need to create both high psychological safety and high standards. Maybe if I didn’t feel we were short on time I’d have thought about how I could talk over what I was thinking with the leaders we’re working with and talk through my thoughts on what needed improvement.

However, there’s not any room for low standards (comfort or apathy) in this organisation. The people it serves needs it to have high standards and its long-term success depends on high standards too. So in this case, while there is a chance I have caused some anxiety, in the timescales available – the real world – I’m okay with my actions.

At this point, you’re probably thinking that I’m saying my friend’s approach of following the path of least resistance isn’t a good approach. That’s not the case at all. But if we always take this path (lower standards) then we might not succeed in the long term. At the same time, if I was relentless in applying the highest standards nobody would want to work with me. Next time, I’ll be more mindful of how I can create both safety and maintain high standards.

References and notes

References and notes
1 Edmondson, Amy C. The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2018.


More posts

Organsation design tools

See an overview of the design methodology Click Here Below you’ll find an overview of a suggested step-by-step activities for an organisation design project, together

organisation design methodology

Introduction There are multiple design approaches out there. From the Design Council’s double diamond to Deloitte’s more staged approach. So while there’s not a requirement to create a new

The Royal Society of the Arts (RSA)

The full title of this organisation is the royal society for arts, manufactures and commerce. The RSA has been at the forefront of significant social impact

Request volunteer help

Register for news and updates