How Innovative is Your Firm, Really?

Many businesses (including law firms) tout their innovation capacity. They use the right buzz words (agile, design thinking, rapid prototyping, etc.) and they display trendy props (innovation labs, informal gathering spaces, and lots and lots of post-it notes on walls). But is that enough to make a firm truly innovative?

Ideo says no. And Ideo should know.

Katharine Schwab, writing for Fast Company’s fastcodesign.com, reports that Ideo, the world-famous design firm, has studied its own 26-year old archive of client projects (as well as some external resources on innovation) to determine how best to measure innovation in an organization. For Ideo, “the most important element is the organization’s ability to adapt and respond to change.”

Through this research, Ideo “identified six basic vectors that it says are instrumental to an innovative, adaptive company”:

  1. Purpose: “A clear, inspiring reason for the company to exist — beyond just making money.” What is your law firm’s mission? You claim it is to serve the client. Is this actually borne out in the way the firm behaves internally and externally? Is it reflected in every decision the firm makes? Ideo has found that when leaders clearly articulate the company mission and then walk the talk, “projects and strategic solutions succeed 20.40% more often”.
  2. Experimentation: “Trying out new ideas and making evidence-based decisions about how to move forward.” Even if your firm is willing to experiment, does it have the discipline to make truly evidence-based decisions? (Note: many decisions that are described as evidence-based are actually pre-determined and then papered over with appropriate “evidence.”)
  3. Collaboration: “Working across business functions to approach opportunities and challenges from all angles.” In my report, Optimizing Law Firm Support Functions, I found that some of the most successful support functions were the ones that had learned to punch above their weight by collaborating productively with other administrative departments and with fee-earners. Is this type of collaboration the norm at your firm or is it unusual?
  4. Empowerment: “Providing a clear path to create change in all corners of the company by reducing unnecessary constraints.” How much change is your firm willing to tolerate? Can it handle the type of wholesale change contemplated by this vector?
  5. Looking out: “Looking beyond the company’s walls to understand customers, technologies, and cultural shifts.” How plugged in is your firm? Does your firm have the type of close relationships with clients that enable robust two-way communication about the things that matter to the client? Do you keep abreast of technological changes or is your firm a card-carrying technology laggard? Is your firm in tune with changes in the industry? Or is your firm fully occupied with its navel-gazing?
  6. Refinement: “Elegantly bridging vision and execution.” In other words, to what extent is your firm able to successfully execute new ideas? Do you have the right people with a bias toward action? Do you have the right methodology to support them as they transform ideas into reality? Do you have a robust change management approach?

Next, Ideo created a survey that clients can use to measure these vectors and the related behaviors.  Along with the survey results comes “feedback on tangible ways to become more innovative.” Ideo is finding that this self-reporting by teams, coupled with the feedback, demonstrably leads to better innovation performance.

Bonus: Ideo’s New Insights 

Thanks to the survey, Ideo “has definitive data to back up its hypotheses about what behavior actually drives” a team’s aptitude for innovation. Here are some insights from the data:

  • More is better: Do not limit your team to too narrow a range of innovation options at the beginning. “Instead, when teams iterate on five or more different solutions, they are 50% more likely to launch a product successfully.”
  • Command-and-Control systems squelch innovation success: “When a majority of team members who took the survey said that they felt comfortable challenging the status quo and acting with autonomy, the chances of a failed launch decreased by 16.67%.”
  • Your mission and underlying priorities must be in sync and stable: This alignment and stability provide a strong foundation that supports and cushions the naturally disruptive activities of innovation.

If your firm is ready to accelerate its innovation program, take a closer look at Ideo’s assessment and dashboard tool: Creative Difference. It might provide the data and insights your firm needs to truly become more innovative.

[Hat tip to Alessandra Lariu who pointed me to this article.]

[Photo Credit: Alexas Fotos]

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