The path of least resistance

Water always flows downhill. Sometimes we act as salmons in life though, wanting to swim upstream. I know I do. There’s an ancient belief called “the past of least resistance” that also refers to Taoism. It means you’re trying too hard. You’re forcing it. You search for answers with your brain but you push the solution further and further away.

In a Harvard Business Review article, author Whitney Johnson talks about why you should try to ‘lead without trying so hard‘. She refers to Edward Slingerland’s book, Trying Not to Try: The Ancient Chinese Art and Modern Science of Spontaneity.

The book apparently “describes the importance of allowing our minds to let go and explore a less rigidly controlled state of being: a state in which you can only win if you don’t try to win, where you effortlessly respond to a situation. This is the Taoist concept of wu-wei (pronounced oooo-way).”*

Johnson links this to giving back and having a mission. “True leaders are absorbed in something much bigger than self.” she says.

Late essayist, writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau would’ve disagreed though. He thought this path lead to “crooked rivers and crooked men“. And Winston Churchill said: “It always looks so easy to solve problems by taking the path of least resistance. What looks like the easy road turns out to be the hardest and most cruel.

What do you think?


*Source: Harvard Business Review –

One thought on “The path of least resistance

  1. Myles Butler says:

    This is interesting. It sounds like the “path of least resistance” can have a completely different meaning for people. I can definitely see how it could be confused or misinterpreted as being lazy or taking the easy way out. But I would guess that the original meaning was more about not creating internal resistance to what you are doing, even when taking a difficult path externally.



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