How KM Enables Innovation #KMWorld

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Description: 

Most companies struggle to find ways to embed innovation into their business. This talk shares the journey of establishing a grassroots movement—a journey fueled by innovation, knowledge sharing, and learnings, and the critical success factors discovered along the way.

Speakers:

  • Wendy Woodson, Director, Booz Allen Hamilton
  • Kim Bullock, #innovation Catalyst, ExxonMobil

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2017 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • How They Approach Innovation.  There are multiple kinds of innovation — not just transformational, game-changing innovation. Instead, they use the following model [see Managing Your Innovation Portfolio]
    • Transformational Innovation
    • Adjacent Innovation — taking what you do well and moving into a new market
    • Core Innovation — improving your bread and butter functions — this area is ripe for smart KM
  • Brutal Truths:
    • Culture & Behaviors. These beliefs and behaviors are so deeply ingrained in the organization that they can be extremely difficult to identify and excavate, much less reform.
    • Politician & Magician. We are always selling (politician), we’re always performing (magician).
    • Art not Science. There is not a single best approach to innovation. The key is to find business problems worth solving and then working with the affected group to improve their situation. The speakers spoke about a project they did to reduce the burden of exception reporting from  70% of the avaialble time to 30% of available time. This translated into a significant improvement in the quality of life.
    • Warrior. We have to be very thick-skinned and ready to fight for attention, for support, for successful projects. KM often is considered a “nice to have” rather than a “need to have.”
  • Opportunity. For all of the brutal truths, the speakers believe that there is tremendous opportunity in KM for rewarding work.
  • Critical Success Factors.
    • External Network. Just as you create your internal network within your organization, intentionally create an external network that can be the source help, information, and commiseration.
    • Brutal Truths. Be honest about the Brutal Truths discussed above. And be very forthright about your projects and progress. And be very honest with your leadership. They need to know.
    • The Middle Matters. We usually tend to start by looking for support from senior champions or at the grassroots level. However, the middle managers are influencers who often are ignored. The speakers focused on the middle managers — they were explicit about exactly what they expected in terms of influencing up and influencing down.
    • Attention, Attraction, Adoption.
      • Attention — use standard marketing tactics to get their attention
      • Attraction — explain what you are offering and how you can help
      • Adoption — get down to brass tacks, find an issue you can work on with the business, get it done, and then repeat.
    • Tell the Story. Rather than just insisting that KM is good, collect and share the success stories. Capture them in an article, record videos. Both of these are more contagious that assertions by KM.
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You’ve Created an Innovative Product/Service – Now What? #ILTAG122 #ILTACON

Session Description: As more law firms experiment with innovation by delivering their services in new and interesting ways, many encounter logistical challenges. How do you price the products/services in a market bereft of competitors? How should you go about positioning and selling these innovations? How will you maintain and scale operations to keep the product/service updated? What’s the best way to deliver support for the new product or service? We will answer these questions and more as we present real-world examples of innovative products and services that have been attempted and actualized.

Speakers:

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2017 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • Background.  The firms of these speakers are at different stages of innovative product development.
  • First Things First.
    • Making the Business Case
      • Define the value to the firm
        • how does this move the needle for the firm?
        • Will it be a value-add, a revenue-generator?
        • Does the value warrant the level of effort the project is likely to require?
        • How do you balance benefit to the firm and benefit to a smaller group within the firm (e.g., a partner’s vanity project)
      • Include the client point of view — this may be uncomfortable because it likely will require changes in the way your firm has always delivered legal services.
  • Governance.
    • Define governance and the decision-making process
    • Identify key stakeholders who should be involved — be prepared to include a wider group of stakeholders than you would normally involve.
      • it is better to have them in the tent early than have them torpedo the project later
    • Determine Go/No Go
      • a strong business case is critical for buy-in
      • be prepared for naysayers — sometimes they signal their lack of support early in the project so be alert and address their concerns early
      • collaborate early and often
      • be willing to experiment, which means being willing to fail
        • sometimes this means “going rogue,” operating under the radar until you have useful project data to share with the fim
        • this requires having some buy-in from firm leadership to provide the latitude for action and resources
  • Adoption/Change Management
    • any time you create a product or service that will disrupt current products and services, you should expect significant pushback
    • develop a change plan prior to launch
    • identify and secure commitments from internal champions
    • consider engaging a third party change management consultant — especially if the disruption you are planning will have a major impact internally
  • Create strong internal marketing and communications
    • be transparent from the beginning
    • be sure to explain “what’s in for me” — from the perspective of everyone who is likely to be affected by the change
      • this is especially important if the product/service is likely to reduce billable hours
        • in this case, focus on the longer term benefits to the firm
        • bring evidence to the audience — market research and peer evidence (from other partners or even other firms)
    • attorneys are on the front line — they need to have enough information to market it to each other and to their clients
    • keys to success
      • know your audience
      • have a strong messaging/communication plan
      • focus on education
      • use multiple resources — videos, case studies, talking points, pricing, contact info for the dedicated sales team, etc.
        • create an internal, central place where attorneys can find all the resources they need in single place
    • Don’t rely solely on email — in many firms people are already inundated with email. Therefore, travel to your offices and schedule in-person meetings.
  • External Marketing and Communications.
    • use experience data to drive strategy — this means that you REALLY have to get to know your buyer and their sales cycle, and then align your marketing/sales plan to that cycle
    • create a realistic action plan
      • test the waters before a major launch — even asking clients for their thoughts on the planned product/service
      • don’t forget to use indirect marketing as well — put clients in touch with other clients who have experienced success with this product/services
    • Keep it simple
      • be direct but impactful — attorneys, especially, may need coaching to stick to the key powerful facts
      • appeal to your audience
    • Adjust and try again
  • Pricing.
    • Don’t start by telling your client what they need and what you are going to charge them!
    • Rather, start by ASKING what your client what the need and what their comfort level is with respect to pricing. It isn’t just about cheap, it might be about increased predictability/reliability in pricing.
    • Understand the worth of your product/service
      • what is the true value add — TO THE CLIENT
      • is it a revenue generator
      • is it a brand builder
    • Understand your client
      • consider customized pricing
      • understand how they are using internal legal or consulting alternative resources
    • What will the market bear?
      • what is your firm’s experience data on this?
      • what are other firms charging?
        • this information doesn’t usually come via online research
        • you can ask clients — they are usually willing to tell you
        • you can ask colleagues in other firms
  • Ownership: How to keep it going.
    • These projects can require substantial investment by the firm — consider having a partner lead the effort (on the
    • You can be a victim of your own success — you now have a product/service you have to maintain for your clients
      • keep the produce up-to-date regarding design, technology, process
      • technology products often require external support
      • keep content fresh
      • monitor the market on an ongoing basis
  • Evolving the Product.
    • Keep track of client satisfaction
      • you can use surveys, face-to-face feedback, third-party consultants
      • gather input that drives change
    • plan for resources to maintain and improve the product/service in planned phases
    • usage data
      • you may need to refine your collection/analysis as your product matures
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Do You Have Moonshot Magic?

Buzz Aldrin: Apollo Flag

When you meet a person named Astro Teller, you know you are going to hear something interesting. Teller is the head of what he describes in his TED talk as the “Moonshot Factory.” We know it as X (formerly, Google X), the extraordinary innovation company. The impressive people at X call their goals “moonshots” because they are working on projects as audacious as the original moonshot proposed by President Kennedy. They also believe that they are working in a factory (rather than a lab or incubator) because they want to develop technologies that are both practical and replicable at a reasonable cost.

To achieve their moonshot innovations, the people of X have created a moonshot blueprint, a set of rules that govern their work:

  1. Focus on a huge problem that affects many millions of people.
  2. Propose a radical solution to that problem.
  3. Establish a credible belief that the technology necessary for that radical solution really can be built.

Putting this blueprint into action has resulted in an impressive array of innovations: self-driving cars, Makani energy kites that place portable wind turbines higher up in the stratosphere where the wind is faster and more consistent, and Project Loon (a balloon-powered Internet to provide connectivity to billions of people who live beyond cell tower access).

The moonshot blueprint has also resulted in some pretty spectacular failures. And that, paradoxically, is the secret of the Moonshot Factory’s success.  According to Teller, moonshot work is messy work so they have had to confront that reality:

But rather than avoid the mess, pretend it’s not there, we’ve tried to make that our strength. We spend most of our time breaking things and trying to prove that we’re wrong. That’s it, that’s the secret. Run at all the hardest parts of the problem first. Get excited and cheer, ‘Hey! How are we going to kill our project today?’

Obviously, this appetite for hunting down failure takes intestinal fortitude. After all, it’s quite natural for people to prefer the easy, safe path to success. Few want the disappointment or reputational risk that comes from being associated with a failed project. However, X needs its people to smoke out failures as soon as possible. It’s the best way to avoid truly expensive disasters later on.

So they put their money where their mouth is. In his TED talk, this is how Teller describes their winning approach:

We work hard at X to make it safe to fail. Teams kill their ideas as soon as the evidence is on the table because they’re rewarded for it. They get applause from their peers. Hugs and high fives from their manager, me in particular. They get promoted for it. We have bonused every single person on teams that ended their projects, from teams as small as two to teams of more than 30.

This is a radical approach to innovation that goes beyond Failure PartiesFailure Reports, Failure Targets, and even Safe-to-Fail experiments. Yet it is the secret to achieving moonshot magic.

What could you and your team accomplish if you developed moonshot magic?

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons]

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Wanted: A Disobedient Law Firm

On March 24, Reid Hoffman (co-founder of LinkedIn) reminded us that the deadline is fast approaching to apply for the MIT Media Lab’s Disobedience Award. Just the name of the award alone caught my attention. In a world of conformity, it was startling to see an award for nonconformity.

So what’s the rationale for it? Here’s what Hoffman had to say:

Progress comes from innovation, and innovation happens when inventors, entrepreneurs, activists, organizers, and others refuse to accept the status quo. Instead, they pursue new paths and new solutions – and sometimes bend or even break the rules in the process.

To be clear, this award is not intended to reward lunatic risk-taking. Rather, they are looking for something far more special, as Joi Ito (Director, MIT Media Lab) makes clear:

This prize is a one-time experiment that, if successful, we will consider repeating in the future. It will go to a person or group engaged in what we believe is excellent disobedience for the benefit of society. The disobedience that we would like to call out is the kind that seeks to change society in a positive way, and is consistent with a set of key principles. The principles include non-violence, creativity, courage, and taking responsibility for one’s actions. The disobedience can be in — but is not limited to — the fields of scientific research, civil rights, freedom of speech, human rights, and the freedom to innovate.

This notion of a one-time experiment is entirely in keeping with the ethos of the Media Lab. This is clear from the Hoffman’s description of the Media Lab:

It’s an institution that prioritizes methodical but untethered experimentation, where researchers with widely varying areas of expertise are encouraged to collaborate and improvise in ways that become not just multi-disciplinary but antidisciplinary – disobedient.

What a concept: “an institution that prioritizes methodical but untethered experimentation.” Does that sound like a law firm near you?

So here’s the question for you. Is there anything you are working on or your firm is working that, in its own context, might be an example of creative rule bending (or breaking) for a greater purpose? If Hoffman is correct that such behavior drives innovation, then I hope your answer is yes. On the other hand, if you and your colleagues are squarely in the conformity camp, you need not apply for the award. Worse still, you may be missing the amazing opportunities that result from the curiosity, experimentation, and intelligent risk-taking typical of the ethically disobedient. One thing is for sure — you are unlikely to innovate.

I’ll be very surprised if a law firm or even a single lawyer wins the award. But wouldn’t it be nice if such a thing really were more likely?

 

[Photo Credit: Leon Riskin]

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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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Innovation Through KM, Process, & Quality #KMWorld

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Description: KM is but one of the legs that comprise the tripod of an innovation framework. The other two legs are efficient processes and a culture of quality. The need for this triumvirate is focus. Generally, to be successful, KM strategies must be planned and executed in steps. These steps require that KM be introduced through projects both to show progress as well as to limit the impact on an organization’s resources at one time. That’s where process comes into play. as specific processes must be targeted for improvement. The techniques of process improvement enable the focus needed to choose KM projects that are endorsed and supported by senior leadership. The final element of the innovation tripod—a culture of quality—means that the measurement of KM results is expected and conducted.

Speaker: Jim Lee, Sr. Vice-President, Knowledge Management Director, Fulton Financial Corporation

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2016 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • Who are KM’s best allies?  
    • Scientific Management — Frederick Taylor
    • Project Management — Henry Gantt
    • Quality Management — Walter Shewhart
  • This is how KM, Process, and Quality play together to move the business forward:
    • WHY — the business objective, outputs, outcomes of your process or activities
    • WHERE — quality management thinking and measurement do this — how can KM help?
    • WHAT — process improvement focuses us on this — how can KM help?
    • WHEN — the process map tells us when something is to be done
    • WHO — knowledge management uncovers who is best for a project or for a question
    • HOW — best practices are forms of knowledge embedded in the process
  • Real Innovation: it requires seamless cooperation among KM, process management, and quality management.
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Have You Eaten a Child Lately?

knife-fork-1498188Regular readers of this blog will know that I am extremely interested in productivity. Along with my interest in productivity, however, is an even greater interest in impact. At the end of the day, if what we do does not make a difference, then why bother?

So why do we repeatedly allow ourselves to work on too many projects in the face of too little available time? The predictable result of this diffusion of energy and attention is diminished impact.

It was in this vein that I began to consider cannibalism. To be clear, I am not literally suggesting that each reader give expression to their inner Hannibal Lecter. Rather, the type of cannibalism I had in mind was product cannibalism.

Consider Apple. In a 60 Minutes interview with Charlie Rose, Phil Schiller (Apple’s head of marketing) admitted that Apple often pits one of its products against another:

Charlie Rose: Is there danger of one product cannibalizing the other product?

Phil Schiller: It’s not a danger, it’s almost by design. You need each of these products to try to fight for their space, their time with you. The iPhone has to become so great that you don’t know why you want an iPad. The iPad has to be so great that you don’t know why you why you want a notebook. The notebook has to be so great, you don’t know why you want a desktop. Each one’s job is to compete with the other ones.

On the other hand, consider Bausch & Lomb. According to The Economist’s overview of cannibalisation,

Bausch & Lomb invented the soft contact lens but failed to launch it because the firm did not want to lose the lucrative business of selling the drops that hard lenses require. As a result, Johnson & Johnson swept into soft lenses, and the market for hard lenses (and their drops) disappeared.

The uncomfortable truth of strategic product cannibalization is that you have to be willing to grow some children at the expense of others. Bausch & Lomb responded to this discomfort by trying to protect their eye drop business. I’m sure it seemed like a rational decision at the time. By contrast, Apple deliberately refuses to protect its products. Instead of wrapping their products in cotton wool, Apple insists that each product earn its place by being strong enough and excellent enough to fight off the competition — including internal competition.

Each law firm support function offers a range of products and services. Does your support function demand such excellence from each product and service that you do not have to waste time worrying about competition from within your group, from other parts of your firm or from an outside vendor? If your product or service is not best in class, then the smart thing to do is engage in a little strategic cannibalization.  If you are not willing to do it, someone else will do it for you. And, if you abdicate this responsibility to someone else, I can almost guarantee that you will not be happy with the results.

So be sure to ask your team this question regularly: Have you eaten a child lately?

[Photo Credit: Simon McEldowney]

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Insights and Innovation: The Light Bulb Moment #KMWorld

 

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Description: As a researcher, writer and practitioner, our speaker discusses five ideas for increasing discoveries, describes the insight stance-a mental set we adopt for encountering new ideas and events, and looks at how it might help organizations improve their level of innovation.

Speaker: Dr Gary Klein, Senior Scientist, MacroCognition LLC

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2015 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • How to improve performance?
    • The initial impulse is to simply reduce errors. However, you also need to increase insights.
      • reducing errors = playing not to loose
      • increasing insights = playing to win
  • Where do insights come from?
    • Insights = unexpected discoveries about how things work. Typically, they come without warning.
    • His methodology: he created a set of articles, interviews and other
    • He found three common themes:
      • Creative Desperation: insights we get when we are stuck and trying hard to find a solution
        • finding the solution is tough because we often are hampered by our unconscious assumptions that narrow our thinking improperly
      • Connections: these insights arise when we put different things together.
        • for example, Charles Darwin put his empirical information together with Malthus’ theory on population growth and then realized that competition for resources drove the patterns he was observing in nature.
        • this is more than “just connecting the dots.” It is not as simple as it sounds.
        • this about realizing pieces fit together
      • Contradictions: these insights arise from observing something that does not make sense.
        • these pieces do not fit together
        • you notice them because they do not fit the pattern you expected
  • How can we get more insights? The ShadowBox Approach.
    • this is a scenario-based approach that helps the trainee see through the eyes of the expert
    • in the middle of the scenario, pause: say that this is a decision point, so please identify the possible responses and rationale
      • rank-order your possible responses and see how they stack up against experts
      • compare your rationale against those of the experts and learn what the experts saw that you did not see
  • Why do some get insights and others don’t?
    • the person who had the insight had an active, curious mind — they loved to puzzle about things, play with things
    • the person who did not have the insight had their head down, trying to get the work done
  • How to increase the chance of getting insight? Develop an insight mindset.
    • Make insights a habit
      • celebrate your insights
      • create the expectation that you are capable of insight
      • observe what works or doesn’t works and then try to figure out why in hindsight
    • Use your curiosity
      • explore anything that strikes you as interesting
      • be curious about problems
      • be curious about coincidences
      • be curious about anomalies and contradictions
    • Encourage others
      • ask others if anything has surprised them since the last time you spoke with them about a common project
    • Take advantage of confusion and conflicts
      • when things don’t go as planned, ask what the other person thought they were supposed to do
  • Over-emphasis on reducing mistakes can interfere with insights
    • Distraction : the effort at reducing mistakes (document and tracking) gets in the way of seeing new patterns.
    • Passivity: critical thinking may lead people to view their jobs as not making mistakes
    • Why do organizations continue to overemphasize the reducing error?
  • Why do organizations fear insights?
    • Insights are disorganizing — they disturb things, they create bumps
    • Distrust of creativity
      • Mueller says: “The settlers get the land, the pioneers get the arrows.”
    • Predictability allows effective management
    • Perfection enables effective management
      • managers prefer error reduction to making discoveries
    • Effort — insights often cause extra work
    • Loss aversion
      • we feel twice as much pain about we are giving up than pleasure about what we are gaining
    • Goal fixation
  • How can we help organizations ward off insights and innovations?
    • Make sure your organization has a clear chain of command in order to reduce confusion and ambiguity.
      • this will block out unusual or disturbing ideas
    • Gather all the relevant data before making decisions so as to reduce uncertainty.
    • Before starting, conduct a thorough review to reduce the chance of error.
      • if you insist on perfect methodology, you will not have innovation
    • Establish a firm project goal and schedule.
      • this is a great way to reduce insights and innovation that are yet to be discovered
    • Ensure you a harmonious team
      • Rely on consensus decision making (i.e., each person on the team has a veto).
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Your Innovation Angle

Bent Pyramid EGRWThere are the facts about an event. And then there are the stories we tell about an event. Sometimes the facts and the stories do not match entirely, but there are valuable lessons to be learned from both the facts and the stories if we are willing to pay attention.

The facts I have in mind relate to the building of some pyramids for Pharaoh Sneferu. It was during his reign that Egyptian engineers made the giant leap from a stepped pyramid to a smooth-sided pyramid. Thanks to their work, Sneferu’s son, Pharaoh Khufu was able to build several smooth-sided pyramids, including the Great Pyramid of Giza.

The facts are interesting enough, but the story I was told in Egypt about Sneferu’s building effort is much more interesting if innovation is your focus:

Pharaoh Sneferu and his engineers had an audacious goal: they wanted to build the first smooth-sided pyramid and they wanted to make it larger than any pyramid built before. One key to increasing the size of the pyramid was the angle at which the sides rose from the base. So the engineers began to build the pyramid using a 54-degree angle. Part way up, they made some disquieting discoveries:

  • the base of the pyramid was built on unstable ground and could not support the heavy structure,
  • a larger pyramid required larger stones, which were cut in such a way that their weight pushed down towards the center of the pyramid, potentially causing the pyramid to collapse in on itself, and
  • without the stable base and the larger stones, they could not build a pyramid at the desired 54-degree angle.

The physics of the project kept Sneferu’s engineers from achieving the vision. Rather than tearing down what they had built and then starting over again, they simply adjusted the angle of the sides, reducing it from the original 54 degrees to 43 degrees. In addition, they changed the way they cut and lay the stones, thus relieving some of the pressure on the structure.

These adjustments allowed them to build a smaller but stable pyramid. However, the resulting structure looked nothing like the intended design. Instead, the sides of the pyramid were bent to reflect the change in angle. For this reason, the pyramid is known as the Bent Pyramid.

Now here is where the story takes a really interesting turn. The Pharaoh had commissioned the largest and smoothest pyramid in the history of the world. What he got instead fell far short of that goal. Building a pyramid was typically a 10 to 20-year project, so he had what appeared to be a very expensive and time-consuming failure. Under these circumstances, firing the engineers or even executing them might be perfectly understandable.

Sneferu, however, did neither of these two expected things. Because he was inspired by the vision and convinced by the theory regarding the building angle, he gave his engineers another chance to achieve the vision. These highly innovative engineers next did something that smart innovators do: they examined their prior attempt, identified their errors and then modified their design to incorporate the lessons learned from the bent pyramid. The result was the Red Pyramid: the world’s first smooth-sided pyramid and, at that time, the world’s largest pyramid. How did they accomplish this? They built it at an angle of 43 degrees from its base.

A few years later, Sneferu’s son, Pharaoh Khufu, built the Great Pyramid of Giza that still stands today as a testament to the brilliant engineers of ancient Egypt. Its angle is 51.5 degrees.

Innovation Lessons

For innovators there are several powerful lessons in this story:

  • To improve your chances of success, do not make the mistake of innovating in a haphazard manner. The better approach is to innovate by using a series of disciplined experiments that are thoughtfully designed and carefully executed.
  • While others may judge an experiment a success or failure based solely on its outcome, innovators need to take a different approach. An experiment that is not examined for lessons learned is a failure — regardless of its actual outcome.
  • As you innovate, collect and share your knowledge. Your insights may form the basis for further innovation by others.
  • Keep your sponsor on side. This means ensuring you both share a clear and compelling vision of the intended results of your innovation effort. And, it means clear communication throughout the project to ensure the sponsor understands when a flaw in method does not necessarily indicate a flawed vision.
  • To the extent you can, choose a sponsor who knows the value of second chance in the hands of an intelligent innovator. What’s the sign of an intelligent innovator? You may not get it right the first time, but you can guarantee that you will not squander the experience.

The person who told me this story claimed that the key lesson was: choose your sponsor with care! As a practical matter, we cannot always choose our sponsors. In fact, I suspect that Sneferu’s engineers did not have much choice either. That said, we are not static creatures.  Most of us do change and grow as we experience life. When you are engaged in innovation, you have to be open to that change and growth as you learn from your experiments. Just as importantly, you need to help those working with you change and grow at a similar pace — whether they be subordinates or sponsors. It is as you grow together that you develop the resilience to learn from disciplined experiments and then push forward with a better design and stronger execution towards your ultimate goal.

That is Pharaoh Sneferu’s angle on innovation. What is yours?

[Photo Credit: Evangeline Warren]

This post also appeared on LinkedIn.com

 

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Why Your Firm Does Not Innovate

barrier roadsign-30907_640What is holding your law firm back?

You hear about exciting things happening in other industries. You hear about exciting things happening in other law firms. Meanwhile you and your colleagues are told to keep your heads down and just work harder. Do what is expected. Don’t rock the boat.

Innovation is not on the menu.

What is keeping innovation off your firm’s menu? In 2008 I wrote about Claudia Kotchka, an extraordinary business executive who helped lead the revitalization of Procter & Gamble. She did it by using design principles to understand better how P&G’s customers lived their lives and how P&G’s products could make those lives better. In my earlier post, Why KM Needs Good Design, I borrowed from Kotchka’s work to suggest ways in which law firm knowledge management professionals could use design thinking to improve their products and services.

Clearly my focus was too circumscribed. In fact, not just KM departments, but also the businesses that house them can benefit from this approach to innovation. None of this is news. So why don’t more firms try it?

In Kotchka’s view, there are three major barriers to innovation:

  • Complacency. Success makes a company very resistant to trying new things;

  • Risk-aversion. Many big companies have what Roger Martin calls a tension between validity and reliability. The punch line is that companies are very reluctant to take any risks that would upset the profit that flows from reliably making a high quality product that lots of people want to buy; and

  • Functional silos. Kotchka observes that when required to work in cross-functional teams, different functions — such as marketing, finance, and manufacturing — look at problems only from their functional perspectives. However, she noticed that when those team members take off their functional hats and take responsibility for solving the business problem — as start-up teams do – the results are much better.

Chances are you will find at least one of these (or, more likely, all three of them) in your law firm. That is why your firm does not innovate.

Which leaves me with one question: what will you do about this?

[Photo Credit: Nemo]

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