I just returned from a four-day workshop on structural thinking conducted by bestselling author, Robert Fritz, and his wife Rosalind. His groundbreaking book, The Path of Least Resistance (Ballantine, 1984), though published over 30 years ago, remains one of the most thought-provoking and helpful resources to anyone desiring to create anything.
I have devoured it—multiple times—and regularly apply the strategies to my own life and work, teaching some of the principles in my workshops and suggesting it as required reading for some of my coaching clients.
The fundamental concept of the book is that behavior follows structure, just as water follows the path of least resistance downward, so if we want to change our behaviors, we have to start with examining our structures. Fritz writes, “People commonly believe that if they change their behavior, they can change the structures in their lives. In fact, just the opposite is true.” Our behaviors are deeply influenced by the structures in our lives. Fritz is careful to draw a distinction between structure and psychological conceptions. Structure is the relationship between your beliefs, aspirations, assumptions and objective reality.
To properly identify structure, we need to first understand tension. The gap between what we want to create and our present reality forms tension. And since tension seeks resolution, the dissonance between what we want and where we are propels us toward our goal. That’s an advancing structure. It’s a wonderful thing that keeps us progressing forward.
Often, however, we may find ourselves in an oscillating structure. We move forward toward our goal, then away. We may diet to lose weight, for instance, but soon find ourselves hungry. So we eat more than we might have otherwise and gain weight again. Fritz illustrates oscillating structures by asking us to imagine standing between two walls attached to each other by rubber bands. The more we move toward one wall, the more the tension of the other increases, until we relax that tension by regressing, only to increase tension from the first wall again.
Oscillation occurs in businesses too. Corporate leaders desiring more uniformity over outcomes centralizes decision-making among the regional entities. Over time centralized decisions do not adequately support the unique on-the-ground needs and so management reverts back to decentralized decision-making, until centralized needs again prevail. This is structural conflict and the only way to resolve it is to understand the underlying structure and thereby create a new, more effective, structure.
The Path of Least Resistance and his companion business-oriented volume, The Path of Least Resistance for Managers, can help you do just that. They are absolute must reads for anyone wanting to create more for their life or business. While deeply thought-provoking, both books are very readable and packed with illustrations from the arts, business and education.
If you’re serious about creating new outcomes, once you read it, I’m sure you’ll devour its concepts as I have and return to it again and again.
Comment below: If you have read “The Path of Least Resistance,” how did it help you?
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