Teamwork Not Genius

Houston, we have a problem.

For years the legal profession has encouraged individual excellence and rewarded individual productivity.  In fact, we’ve come to admire those outstanding lawyers who define the best of the legal profession.  Every firm has its legendary lawyer — the person who defied odds to win an unwinnable case or found a solution to a seemingly intractable corporate problem.   We may even believe that some of these men (and they almost always were men back in the day) were geniuses. And so we aspire to be brilliant, just like them.

But what happens when the challenges are too big for one person to handle alone? While he doesn’t mean to diminish in any way the accomplishment represented by the theory of gravity or the theory of evolution, Jonah Lehrer reports that things are more challenging now than they were in the times of Newton and Darwin:

…our modern problems have gotten so hard – so damn intractable, complicated and multi-disciplinary – that we can no longer solve them by ourselves. … But the complexity of our 21st century problems (clean coal, hydrogen cars, everything in neuroscience, string theory, etc.) has not just led to a postponement in peak creativity. It has also lessened the importance of the individual. …teams have become a far more important part of intellectual production.

…the era of the lone genius is coming to an end. If our current lists of global thinkers seem paltry, it’s because the best thinkers no longer exist by themselves, toiling away in a vacuum. Instead, they require the constant feedback and knowledge of others. We live in a world of such complexity that our problems increasingly exceed the possibilities of the individual mind. Collaboration is no longer an option.

And here we find our problem.  If the path to innovation and progress lies in teamwork and collaboration, what are lawyers going to do?  Psychological studies of lawyers indicate that they score low with respect to the personality traits most useful for harmonious and productive teamwork.  Furthermore, Lehrer describes the best environment for innovation as one with constant feedback, knowledge sharing and transparency.  Does this sound like your law firm?

As I said earlier, Houston — we have a problem.

[Photo Credit: MsAnthea]