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The Path of Least Resistance

How do we create the thing - the work, the results, the relationships, the life - that we want, and why are so many of us frustrated in that creative process?


In his 1988 book 'The Path of Least Resistance', Robert Fritz puts forward the idea that the underlying issue is one of structure, and our relationship with it. Because many of us are in what he calls a 'reactive-responsive orientation', we spend our lives bouncing between two ends of a polarity (such as 'being hungry and being on a diet', or 'not having enough work to do and having too much work to do'), never addressing the underlying tensions and snapping back to balance ('the path of least resistance') as though we are held in position by two rubber bands. The system always finds balance - and eventually we return to equilibrium, as long as we don't address the structure of the system itself. We excuse this by rationalising conflict, accepting disappointment, yoyoing endlessly, and even denying reality.


Traditional orientations that constrain, control, react, prevent, imitate - these are easier to define and turn into process, and they require us to put less of ourselves on show - but they are incapable of resolving conflict because they can only respond to one or other side of the conflict.


The alternative, and only way to transcend that conflict, is to switch to a truly creative orientation - to work with a different structural tension between what is true NOW and what we want to CREATE. We embrace the discrepancy between what we want and what we have and then seek to close that by creating something new. To do that, we need a clear enough idea of what it is that we really want, and then we embark upon a fluid, organic process to germinate, assimilate and bring to completion a 'thing', before using the creative momentum generated by that completion to start to create again.


Throughout, the focus is on closing the tension and on the outcome, with process in service of that outcome, not an outcome in itself. We create not to fix what we see is not working, but to bring something we really want into the world.


The book hasn't been updated for nearly 30 years, and is fairly well-worn (even more so if you take our friend Jonathan's advice and hunt down a copy of the first, more concise edition). Its age shows in places. “Lap-top” has an anachronistic hyphen; the mark of a disruptive CEO is apparently jeans and an earring; there are not many female leaders mentioned. It's not a complex or heavy read (at least not after the first 30 pages), and yet most of us found that we were skating over the last few chapters. Some of us found it simultaneously dense and rich, and light and fluffy; one reader found themselves asking, 'is this as deep as I think it is?'


But for all that, we found a lot of value, and are already recommending it. The ideas link to some very current thinking around adult development, and ties them together in an interesting way. The shift from reactive-responsive to creative orientation is a move from a socialised ('what can I create? how do I respond to the requirements of the system?') to an independent mindset ('what do I want to create?'). The idea that we fail to break habits because we are always a step behind the addiction process and reacting to inherent tension is consistent with work on habit forming by Charles Duhigg, James Clear and others. Transcending a system rather than remaining subject to it speaks to Kegan's competing commitments and Jim Dethmer's Conscious Leadership. And so on... For those who are interested in growth, leaders who are transitioning from a socialised to independent mindset, coaching clients who might be struggling to break out of an unhelpful repeating oscillation, there's lots that's useful here.

Our book group meets every six weeks or so over coffee in the basement coffee shop of an iconic central London bookstore, which is more salubrious than it sounds. We welcome forward-thinking coaches, facilitators and development professionals who feel drawn to the book’s subject - whether they have read some, all or none of it - and enjoy a wide-ranging and honest conversation about the book and how it relates to our own practice and experience. 


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