One Sentence Summary of The Path of Least Resistance : Our freedom in life, like our freedom of movement in a building, is partly defined by its structure, thus to be able to create our life, and move towards our ideal, it is better to change its structure rather than change our behavior within the same framework, this book teaches us to do so by showing how we can create a structure in our life, which draws us inexorably, and almost effortlessly, along the path of least resistance- and pushes us to create what we really want for ourselves.
By Robert Fritz, 285 pages, 1984 (first edition), 1989 (current revised edition).
Note: Because this book is extremely heavy and interesting, and somewhat dry (translation: difficult to summarize 🙂 ), I am posting it in two parts. Here is the first:
Summary and Book Report of The Path of Least Resistance :
Robert Fritz is an American composer, director and screenwriter, and creator of the Technologies for Creating concept that he teaches in the company he created, and that he shares with us in this book.
He begins by telling us that the roads from downtown Boston appear to have no precise structure. Yet they are built on former cow trails that existed in the 17th century. The cows were content to put one leg in front of the other, but once they had been to a place, it was easier to return, because the path was increasingly more useable and defined. The cows followed the nearest path that was easiest for them – that of least resistance. Thus, the structure of the plains and the path of least resistance for seventeenth-century cows still determines the organization and construction of urban Boston today.
Note: Although it seems that downtown Boston is effectively a shambles, and a source of numerous outcries by its inhabitants, the history of the cows is an urban legend. The image is none-the-less valuable for explaining that unsuspected structures – created by forgotten paths of least resistance – influence our behavior every day.
Therefore, energy goes where it is easiest for it to go. It is a fundamental point on which the whole book is built, and from which flow the three following ideas and insights:
1. We move through life by taking the path of least resistance.
2. The underlying structure of our lives determines the path of least resistance.
3. We can change the underlying fundamental structures of our lives.
Out of these three insights comes this guiding principle: We can learn to recognize the structures that play a role in our lives and change them in order to create what we really want to create.
In a very structural and systemic manner, Robert Fritz explains that structure refers to both its elementary components, as well as how those components interact with each other and with the global framework that they form, the whole being more than the sum of its parts.
This may seem complicated, but let’s take an example: the human body. The human body is made up of many very different elements, and each has a specific function: the brain, heart, lungs, red blood cells, nerves, muscles, etc., all interacting with each other on different scales to create a whole which is much more than the simple sum of its parts. Anything that affects one element can affect other elements at the same time, and the whole system, all the components, are in related to one another, and doctors and surgeons learn to think of the body as a system and structure.
Thus, a surgeon who operates on one organ is not only concerned with the state of the organ itself, but also the whole body of which it forms a part, and he takes factors into account which may be completely external to this organ – such as blood pressure, brain waves, the presence of bacteria, allergic reactions …
Everything has an underlying structure, whether physical, as with bridges or skyscrapers, or intangible, as with the plot of a novel or the form of a symphony. Our life has a structure, it consists of multiple factors interacting with each other and with the structure itself.
So the structure determines the movements and behavior of the objects that it consists of, and certain structures are more useful than others for getting the desired results.
How can you change the structure? By creating it. Often we think in terms of solving problems, but this approach only allows us to change some elements here and there without changing the structure, and the structure could then return the elements to their initial state. By creating we are changing the structure.
When we try to solve a problem we are acting to remove something: the problem. When we create, we are acting to produce something: the creation. Therefore, by thinking structurally, rather than saying to ourselves “How can I make this undesirable situation go away?” we say to ourselves “What structure do I need to adopt to create the results that I want to create?”
It is a radically different approach. The author explains it to us throughout his book, after having shown us the fundamental problems with the problem-solving approach. Let’s learn about it.
Part One: Fundamental Principles
Chapter 2: The Reactive-Responsive Orientation
When we were children, we received many messages that essentially told us that there is one way of doing things: there was the right way to put your clothes on, the right way to eat your food, the right way to cross the street. Our job as a child was to learn about the world, its limits and especially the right way to live in it. We assumed that grown-ups knew what they were saying, since they seemed to know how to do tons of miraculous things, like driving a car or repairing broken toys or making food to eat.
The focal point of our experiments was to learn how the world works and how to get along with it. We concluded that there was a thing or two to learn and that it was good because, when we showed that we had learned something, we were often rewarded – or at least left alone. Then, when our own interests grew, we depended less and less on family members and more and more on ourselves and other people our age. Through multiple experiences, we discovered that grown-ups are sometimes wrong and that they don’t know everything about everything.
The whole time we went on assuming the fact that the world only works in one way and we began to seek it out for ourselves. Our fellow explorers, our peers, and friends were happy to share their ideas with us, and we may have learned more about sex from them than from our parents. We discovered very early that some grown-ups could be unfair, mean or dishonest. To protect ourselves, we have learned to try and understand situations, to find a balance between what we wanted and what they wanted us to do. Sometimes when we were cooperating, grown-ups seemed to love us more. So, since we like them back, we cooperated for political reasons. But we might have found that cooperation does not change a whole lot, even when we put forth the effort, there was not much difference in the results that it produced. So we may then have decided not to be cooperative.
Over time we developed our own ideas, we changed our view of how life is, but we have kept this idea that life is built around concrete rules of operation. This view was central in developing our own ideas on how to live our lives. Some of these ideas were about how to be useful to others who were beautiful or intelligent or strong or fun. Or up to what point the world is dangerous and how to protect ourselves and avoid problems, or the importance of being a greater threat to others or how much to control things in order to minimize danger.
Once we formed our opinions about the world, the next step was to define a philosophy with which to deal with it. This philosophy was often formed by watching others who went before us, whoever they were – parents, teachers, friends, enemies, rock stars, stars from film or television, or political figures, etc.. Some of our impressions came from books, movies, television, fashion, and poetry.
The study of “what life is really like” has become important to us. If we knew “how it works,” then we could figure out the right action to take. We suspected that there were some special people who really knew “how it works.” Many people were willing to say they knew. We needed to find out who was right about it.
Maybe we found a person or group who seemed to have the answers. Whether they were optimistic or pessimistic, it’s the same thing. A way of looking at the world, followed by actions consistent with that vision which we learned growing up.
In the end, it boils down to one thing: reacting to circumstances. And the fact that circumstances are the dominant force in our lives. This message reaches us in many ways, by the parental approval for the right responses to appropriate circumstances and disapproval in the opposite case, by the rewards teachers give for a correct answer and bad grades in the opposite case.
When circumstances are at the center of our lives, we can only react in one of two ways: by responding to it or by reacting against it. We can be the “good little child ” or the “angry rebel.”
This reaction-response orientation assumes that you are powerless. In fact, if we could only react or respond, where does the power lie? In the circumstances. Thus, since the power does not lie in us, we are powerless and the circumstances are all powerful. Even those who have achieved what others see as significant achievements have often succeeded in order to avoid failure. Success itself does nothing to change the assumption of powerlessness.
But living permanently at the mercy of circumstance often leads to a life that is far from ideal. Every year many young people commit suicide or join cults in response to a lack of meaning to their existence.
Even without going that far, it leads us to live in a closed, circular system: if our tendency is primarily to respond to circumstances, then our path of least resistance leads us towards a more reactive state. And if our tendency is more to react to circumstances then our path of least resistance leads us towards response mode. And so we move successively from one state to another, because it is easier to do this than to change the general structure, easier to solve problems rather than create.
Chapter 3: Creating Is No Problem – Problem Solving Is Not Creating
An important part of the creative process is to recognize what exists currently. We have many problems. They require our attention. But at best, solving the problems can only provide temporary relief in a specific situation, but it cannot, by itself, lead to ultimate success.
Thus, when there was the terrible famine in Ethiopia in 1984, the whole world mobilized to come to the aid of the hungry and send food. But those interested in the Third World – as it was then known – had seen this disaster coming for years. They were not heard. And despite the huge aid that saved thousands of lives, nothing has really changed. The political forces have remained in place, agriculture has remained rudimentary, infrastructure is non-existent. Does this mean that food aid was a bad idea? No, it was essential. But it all it did was to buy time. If this time is not used to create a sustainable society, it can only delay the tragedy.
So what triggered this enormous wave of global support? The severity of the problem. Pictures of starving children invaded television screens. The call for our help, the biggest stars who used their talents to mobilize the public. Millions of dollars were raised. As a result, the famine gradually abated. The situation improved. The media became interested in another topic. The pictures of starving children have disappeared. Contributions have fallen off. The focus on Ethiopia has evaporated. But today, in Ethiopia, as in many other countries around the world, children are dying of hunger.
This is the fundamental problem of solving problems: the path of least resistance takes us from the worst to the best, then from the best back to the worst. This is because the actions we take to address the problem mitigate the problem. Then, when the severity of the problem decreases because of the actions that we take, then the motivation to take more action in turn decreases. So the problem remains. Then it may increase again later in a continuous stagnant cycle.
To break out of this endless loop, we must create. Creating does not mean solving the problem creatively. In this case, use of the word creative refers to the style and not to the substance. This is the case, for example, in brainstorming, a process in which we try to overcome our usual way of looking at things by using free association of the imagination, then suspending critical judgment to be more inventive. This process has nothing to do with the real creative process which is at work in the arts and sciences. An artist does not paint a canvas to solve a problem, but to realize a work of art.
Can you imagine Mozart using brainstorming to find alternatives for the opening of the Marriage of Figaro? Or Beethoven doing the same thing for the 9th Symphony? Beethoven’s notebook was filled with themes and variations, but these notes were not free associations or a generation of alternatives, but a focused study of how interval structures interact. “Model, then test in a systematic and apparently cold way;” Beethoven’s critical judgment was not held up in his drafts, but increased by it.
So the act of creating starts with this question: “What do I want to create?” Then by concentrating our critical judgments on the results we are seeking.
When we recognize the final result that we want to create, we can focus on the process and choose, rather than select at random.
Chapter 4: Creating
One day Robert Fritz passed through East Harlem by taxi, a grim ghetto in the heart of New York, where he had once lived after getting his master’s degree at the Boston Conservatory of Music. Going from cultured Boston to a ghetto devoid of culture was a stark contrast, but something struck him that day as he contemplated his former stomping ground. Spectacular graffiti adorned many city walls. Where he had lived, these graffiti were vulgar kinds of vandalism sketched in a hurry with spray paint. Now, most of the works of art were complex and unique, born in a ghetto where suffering, misery, and violence were the daily bread of its inhabitants.
Photo by Jacivico
Photo by jag9889
Some Harlem Graffiti
The city has become the canvas. If someone had told Robert Fritz in the 60s that the under-educated, cultureless children of New York would rise up, not in violence, but in art and dance, he would never have believed it.
It’s a profound lesson. We have been led to believe that the circumstances of our lives determine our ability to express ourselves. If this were true, how would this creativity, this originality, and this vitality have been able to come from humble people born in adversity in the ghetto? Creation is not a product of circumstances.
The author proposes 5 steps to truly create:
1. Think of the result we want to create.
2. Find out what already exists.
4. Learn the rhythm of the creative process.
5. Create a movement.
Chapter 5: The Orientation of the Creative
Living life as a creator is truly a special type of existence. It’s difficult to explain it to someone who is in reaction-response mode, both the opportunities and realities of life are completely different.
What motivates a creator? A desire for his creation to exist. And the reason why a creator created whatever, is because he loves it enough to want to see it exist. It is a deep, true love, that comes from inside us.
But what is the secret of creation? How do we create the what in “What do I want?”
We invent it from scratch!
It is both as simple and as complicated as that. Even if it seems impossible, it is worth trying. There are many things that have been discovered or invented when it seemed impossible.
What is the formula? There is none. Learning formulas and processes has become the socially acceptable response. There is an abundance of processes to lose weight, build muscle, re-energize, learn the art of seduction, stop smoking, etc. It is a wonderful age we live in. There are so many things available. But often the criteria that people use to determine which direction they should take are dictated by the process rather than the results you wish for.
Chapter 6: Tension Seeks Resolution
The tendency for any structure is to fix every stress that it suffers by going down the path of least resistance. If you stretch an elastic band, its tendency is to revert to its original form as soon as you release it.
Sometimes we have contradictory tensions. If we are hungry (tension), we will naturally try to resolve this tension by eating (resolution). However, if we are overweight, we want to reduce the weight to a reasonable level, which creates a different system of tension and resolution. Being overweight (tension) encourages us to eat less (resolution).
The two systems are incompatible. If we try to solve one, we let go of the other one and allow the tension in it to increase. It is a conflict born of the very structure we are using.
The contradiction between a desire and a belief can create such a conflict.
Thus, the desire creates the tension, which is resolved by getting what we want. Conversely, the belief that we cannot get what we want creates a tension that is resolved by failing to get what we want.
Now imagine that you are in a room, attached by two elastic bands in front and behind you. On the wall behind is written “I can not get what I want” and on the wall in front of you “I want that.”
Now imagine that you move towards the wall in front of you, towards your desire and its realization. The more you advance, the more the elastic band behind you exerts its force, until you cannot continue and the elastic pulls you back.
Now you are heading towards the other wall, the one with your limiting belief, but now it’s the elastic of your desire which slows you down, then ends up pulling you back.
Thus we are prisoners in a structure that forces us to oscillate endlessly, to work towards a goal, then its opposite, without any chance of escape: the structural conflicts are not resolvable. It’s the structure that needs to change, not the problem. However, any attempt to change the internal structure of the existing structure will not work.
Chapter 7: Compensating Strategies
So, structure conflicts lead to endless oscillations and not to the desired results. People tend to develop compensation strategies to manage the shortcomings of the structure. How do they develop? Generally, gradually.
If your car tires get out of alignment and your car starts to pull slightly to the left, you will develop a compensation strategy by pulling the steering wheel slightly more to the right when you are driving in a straight line. If the tendency for the car to go left develops gradually, your act of compensating will also develop gradually, perhaps even without you noticing.
Similarly, if you try to go from one structure and swing towards another that resolves it, you are automatically going to change some behaviors. But if you try to change your behavior without changing the structure at its root, you will never succeed. Imagine that a friend notices that you tend to pull the wheel to the right. If he knows nothing about wheel alignment, he might point out your behavior and suggest that you change it: “You shouldn’t turn the steering wheel to the right, hold it straight instead.” You could follow his advice and change your actions temporarily, but soon – in order to stay on the road – you go back to your old way.
You could even go and see specialists, gurus and other psychologists from whom you may learn the following:
You are pulling the steering wheel to the right because you have over-developed the left side of your brain. You are too intellectual and have not developed your intuitive side enough. What you should do is concentrate on your receptive nature through meditation and by changing your diet. Your diet should include more grains and vegetables. This will better balance your protein consumption and help you become more yin.
Obviously, this does not solve the problem of the wheel alignment …
The author then continues by telling us that there are three major strategies for compensating:
1. Remaining in a zone with tolerable conflict
2. Manipulation using conflict
3. Manipulation using will
Taking this third strategy as an example, many people try to use it by employing positive thinking: You program your mind with positive propaganda to get your subconscious on board and encourage its cooperation to control your life better, using statements, audio programs, self-hypnosis, positive reinforcement, motivational meetings, slogans and notes stuck on the bathroom mirror. But if you suppose that you can influence and direct your subconscious, what message are you giving it by using this kind of programming technique? It is very difficult to communicate with the subconscious. This requires special and extraordinary measures. The old “programs” have enormous powers. The subconscious is stupid and unruly. It must be treated like a child.
If you think that programming your subconscious is the key to your life, why try to influence it with this kind of message? When you try to feed your subconscious positive thoughts, these acts of manipulation tell it more than all the positive propaganda in the world. It is one of many dead-end compensation strategies.
Chapter 8: Structural Tension
To change the existing structure, another structure must be called in, and this structure must 1) incorporate the previous structure and its conflicts and 2) convert a complex structure into a simple structure.
The master structure must be a system for simple resolution of tension, one that resolves, and that ideally resolves completely. This master structure is called structural tension.
The structural tension is built from two major components:
1. The vision of the outcome you want to create.
2. A clear vision of the reality that you currently have.
The tension between what you have and what you want will create the tension that will lead you to your desired outcome.
One of the ways to weaken structural tension is by not representing reality correctly. This is the strategy used by people who “have a vision” while ignoring what is going on around them. Do not confuse creators with dreamers. Dreamers are happy just to dream, but creators turn their dreams into reality.
Chapter 9: Vision
The best place to start the creative process is at the end. What is the outcome you want?
By knowing that you can move from concept, general and rich in possibilities, to vision, specific and focused, having laid to rest all the possibilities of the concept to focus on only some of its aspects.
Here are the steps suggested by the author to find out what you want:
- Ask yourself the question: what do I want?
It is amazing to see how many people do not ask themselves this obvious question. Ask it of yourself in every kind of situation. Make a habit of it. Find out what allows you to focus your attention quickly and to accurately describe the truth around you.
- Think about what you want independently of considerations regarding the process.
Otherwise, you will limit your ability to envision the outcome to what you already know, but the creative process is fed with the discovery of what you don’t know.
- Separate what you want from the possibilities that exist.
In the same way, do not limit what you want by what is possible. If you have cancer you want to be healthy. It may be impossible, but it is your deep desire. Don’t deny it.
- Ask yourself the question: what do I want?
Chapter 10: Current Reality
There once was a lion came upon a monkey. The lion thought this was a good chance to confirm his position of prominence in the jungle.
-“Hey, monkey !” the lion growled.
-“Yes sire,” the monkey answered in a shaly voice.
– “Who is the king of the jungle ?!” the lion growled even louder.
-“Why, you are, sire, you are!”
-“And don’t forget it!” the lion said, very pleased with himself.
A little later the lion came upon a zebra.
-“Hey you… zebra!” the lion roared.
-“Yes sire,” the zebra answered in a nasal voice.
-“Who’s the king of the jungle ?!” the lion roared some more.
-“You are, sir, you are!” the zebra said with a timid and forced enthusiasm.
-“And don’t you forget it!” the lion roared.
A little later the came upon an elephant. “Hey you, elephant! Who’s the king of the jungle ?!” the lion roared and growled with his most ferocious roar and growl.
Without saying a word, the elephant picked up the lion with his trunk and threw the lion against a tree. Then he walked over the lion and stepped his tail. Then the elephant picked the lion up again and slammed him down on the ground.
As the elephant walked away, the battered lion lifted his head and yelled, “Hey, don’t get mad because you don’t know the answer !”
Some people have a lot of trouble with reality. It seems if it should be simple enough: See the obvious. But as children we were often shushed up by an adult while we said something that was undeniably accurate like :
-“Grandma’s house has a funny smell.”
Continued in the next episode… 😉
In case this is your first time on my blog, I also posted a book review on another classic, Lead the Field by Earl Nightingale.
Buy The Path of Least Resistance on Amazon: