The day after Steve Jobs died, a knowledge management colleague at another law firm asked why a man who had such a profound influence on technology had seemingly little influence on legal knowledge management. That stopped conversation for a moment. Tongue firmly in cheek, I countered with the proposition that if Steve Jobs had turned his attention to legal technology, it would work a great deal better and be easier to use than it is.
All joking aside, my colleague’s question started me wondering about Steve Jobs’ legacy with respect to knowledge management. After a little Google research, I must admit I haven’t found anything that Steve Jobs said directly about knowledge management. However, I have found lots of things he said and did that legal KM should not ignore:
- Focus on Simplicity. Steve Jobs was famous for his commitment to simplifying tools and processes. His drive to eliminate fussy, confusing buttons from the cellphone led to the iPhone. Stephen Wolfram says that Jobs stood out for his astonishing clarity of thought. He “took complex situations, understood their essence, and used that understanding to make a bold definitive move, often in a completely unexpected direction.” Sometimes lawyers and legal KM professionals can make the error of over-complicating matters. Steve Jobs would not approve.
- User Experience Trumps All. Cliff Kuang, writing for Fast Company, said: “Jobs may not be the greatest technologist or engineer of his generation. But he is perhaps the greatest user of technology to ever live….” In short, Jobs was a “user-experience savant.” Kuang continues, “It’s not that Jobs doesn’t think like a consumer–he just thinks like one standing in the near future, not in the recent past.” Even if you don’t have someone like Steve Jobs in your firm, you can achieve better results by listening carefully to your internal clients. Steve Denning argues that even with Steve Jobs’ famous aesthetic sense and conviction about what the customer wanted, Apple listened to its customers very carefully.
- Plan Early for the Next Improvement. The launch of a system or application doesn’t mark the end of the project, it’s just the beginning. Cliff Kuang describes how this fact has become reality at Apple: “[Jobs] has taught his entire organization to play in the span of product generations rather than product introductions. Apple designers say that now, each design they create has to be presented alongside a mock-up of how that design might evolve in the second or third generation.” Now contrast that with the plausible view that nothing much new is happening in legal knowledge management. Things would be different in legal KM if Steve Jobs were in charge.
- Knowledge Sharing is Essential for Innovation. There is a famous story of the visit Steve Jobs paid to Xerox’s R&D facility. Daniel Stuhlman recounts it in the following way:
The computer mouse and the graphical interface were invented at Xerox’s research center. Steve Jobs went on a tour of the facility and was able to get enough ideas to create a new computer software system that eventually led to Mac OS and Windows. Xerox was never able to capitalize on its own discovery. Steve Jobs did not steal an idea, he took a great idea and developed it. I wonder if Xerox had a knowledge management problem or was Steve Jobs a gifted visionary?
If you are wondering what law firm KM might look like had Apple taken an interest in it, look no further than Apple’s 1987 Knowledge Navigator. I bet the lawyers in your firm would kill for a system like this.
[Thanks to Ron Young for reminding me about Knowledge Navigator.]
[Photo Credit: Cornelia Kopp]