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  • John Hagerman


Who would have thought an interesting career/business concept would come to me while letting my son practice his driving in preparation for getting his license? It happened a few years ago when my son was learning to drive on a usually busy four-lane street when I noticed that the lane we were in was fairly tightly packed while the lane next to ours had long gaps between cars. I was reminded of something I learned early in my college career when I was paying the bills by being a driving instructor, and I told my son to, “take the lane of least resistance,” and move over. He changed lanes and, instead of being tensed up with cars close in front and behind, I could see him relax and start enjoying the drive. That’s when it struck me, taking the lane of least resistance could be a good metaphor for business.

So how does a driving instruction translate into business sense? Think about it, when you’re driving in a busy lane have to constantly contend with distractions like tailgaters, bunched cars in front of you, and having to keep your head on a swivel to avoid an accident. In business, when you’re in a busy lane, you have to go at the pace everyone else is going or you might get run over. Sometimes there are people so close behind you they distract you from what’s ahead to the point where you miss opportunities. When traffic is so tight in front of you don’t have the space to learn what you need to learn before being forced to move forward. It’s stressful because you become more worried about not making a mistake than doing it right or, heaven forbid, enjoying the drive.

When you’re driving in the lane of least resistance, it’s less stressful and safer, both in your car, and in your career. When there are fewer cars in your lane you have the freedom to create space between you and the jerk on your bumper. Instead of being pushed where you don’t want to go, you can steer a different path and go where you want to go at the speed you want to travel. In your car you can leave an ample safety zone in front of you to avoid hitting the driver in front of you who is too busy texting to watch where they’re going. In your career, you can see way ahead. You can see the taillights coming on so you can react without having to slam on the breaks. You can see new sites or attractions far enough in advance to easily check them out rather than being rushed past and wishing you’d had time to stop.

Okay, I admit I might be forcing this a bit, but the metaphor has stuck with me for several years. Hopefully that usually means there’s something to it that might be useful to others.. Let’s look at a couple more direct ways the concept might apply.

  • In the busy lane, it’s the other drivers that determine your speed. In the lane of least resistance, you are the one determining your speed. In your business, or career, when you are in a position to set your own speed, you get where you want to go faster. You may elect to slow down so you can learn something new. You might see a side street to take that gets you there faster. Of you might just decide to slow down and enjoy the ride.

  • In the busy lane, your stress level and danger level go up because you’ve lost the ability to take the initiative. All you can do is react to what is happening around you. In the lane of least resistance, stress and danger levels go down, because you don’t have people constantly breathing down your neck, and you can see obstacles far enough in advance to avoid trouble before it becomes a crisis.

  • The fast lane in business becomes all about just trying to keep up, rather than getting ahead. You’re forced to settle for doing exactly what everyone else is doing, and you’re unable to see anything innovative or fresh that could vault your business miles ahead of the competition. You’re stuck with being part of the pack instead of leading the pack.

  • In the lane of least resistance, you’re able to see what’s happening way ahead of where you are. It’s like a downhill ski racer who looks way down the mountain and sets up turns several gates in advance so that they can take them with maximum efficiency and speed. That means you have the freedom not to just react, but to be agile in your responses. You can see, and not miss different routes that might make all the difference for your business.

So, what exactly is the lane of least resistance in business? How do you find it and how to you get into it?

The lane of least resistance in business is the lane generally less travelled. It’s the lane you suddenly see when you turn your head a few degrees and look at things a little differently. The lane of least resistance becomes the lane you’re in when you make the decision to step outside your comfort zone and decide to approach a project or business from your perspective, rather than the perspective of everyone around you. It’s like driving while looking through your own eyes, rather than trying to look through the eyes of the person in the seat behind you.

Still too esoteric? Try this. When you get stuck and feel rushed and pushed to complete a project whose parameters and approach were arbitrarily dictated to you, or that were inherited as “the way we’ve always done it,” look straight at the problem, then turn your head ten degrees and see what changes. What’s along the edges? Are there signs pointing a different direction? When you contemplate a different approach, do you suddenly feel less stress?

When you see a possible new direction, and the idea of going there feels less stressful, trust your instinct and make the change. What you’ll be doing is driving into the lane of least resistance. It’s the right lane for you, the lane you were meant to be in.

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