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]

Share

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).
Share

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

 

Share

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]

Share

Operating at Imagination’s Frontier

Killerwhales_jumping“Does my dog know that whales exist?”

When that curious question popped up on yik yak* yesterday, it sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole: Whales are beyond the experience of most dogs and, therefore, presumably can’t be imagined by most dogs. This, in turn, led me to the following question: How much more is beyond our personal experience and possibly beyond our imagination?

As technologists, we often find ourselves in the position of having to do the human equivalent of explaining the existence of whales to disbelieving dogs. Our colleagues understand the material world and they understand the tools they have at hand. However, they may not always be able to appreciate how something new can improve their professional or personal lives. They really need to see it before they can believe it.

Is it any wonder that adoption of new technology is tough and creation of new technology is tougher?

Our role as technologists is to operate at the frontier of imagination, creating out of whole cloth new possibilities and capabilities that simply did not exist before. Our role is also to act as guides and translators for colleagues whose experience and imagination may not extend as far as ours. When we get it wrong, everyone’s lives are diminished. When we get it right, we open the door to even greater possibilities, and push the frontiers of imagination out just a bit further.

* * * * *

*In case you haven’t tripped across yik yak yet, here’s wikipedia’s description of it:

Yik Yak is an anonymous social media app. It is available for iOS and Android and it allows people anonymously to create and view “Yaks” within a 10 mile radius.[1] It differs from other anonymous sharing apps such as PostSecretand Whisper in that it is intended for sharing primarily with those in close proximity to the user, potentially making it more intimate and relevant for people reading the posts.[2] All users have the ability to contribute to the stream by writing, responding, and “voting up” or “voting down” (liking or disliking) yaks.

 

[Photo credit: Wikipedia]

Share

Where is Your Failure Report?

Engineers Without Borders logoIf your organization is populated by perfect people with a perfect track record, feel free to ignore this post. For the rest of you, I’d urge you to spend a little time with Engineers Without Borders Canada. This nonprofit was founded in 2000 by two young engineers who had “a dream of an organization that would enable engineers to contribute something other than another bridge or another electrical grid.” Since then, the organization has built its fair share of wells in Africa, but it has also moved beyond those projects to tackle some really big ideas:

Some are social enterprises that bring affordable financing the rural entrepreneurs. Some improve African government service-delivery and decision-making. And some mobilize Canadians and engineers to create change in areas like ethical consumption. All challenge the status quo and provide radical alternatives to unjust systems.

One key to the organization’s growth and success has been failure. Or, more precisely, it’s gutsy approach to failure. These engineers understood early on that they couldn’t move forward if they did not learn from both their own experience and the experiences of others. A critical part of this was learning from failure. But how can one do this when few people own up to their failures? To address this, Engineers Without Borders Canada set out to create a new learning and innovation culture in which disclosing, discussing and even celebrating failure would not only be possible but, in fact, be expected. While a conversation behind closed doors might be tempting from a risk and reputation management perspective, Engineers Without Borders Canada puts its money where its mouth is: this organization discloses its failures publicly. Since 2008, the organization has published an annual Failure Report that contains “strong reflections on misaligned expectations, misplaced intentions, and incorrect assumptions.”  That’s right — they put it out there for the entire world to see.  They put it out there for their donors to see. Talk about transparency and accountability.

So why should any of this matter to someone working in a professional services firm or other for-profit business? If your organization is serious about innovation and improved performance, it has to confront the results of experiments gone wrong. And, it has to do so in a culture that supports learning rather than lynching. Engineers Without Borders Canada seeks to help all organizations build a supportive culture through storytelling. Their aim is to encourage as many organizations as possible to come clean about what’s really going on. Why?

The more stories that are shared, the easier it becomes to share your own. Slowly but surely, failure becomes less of the “F Word,” and a more commonplace, even celebrated vehicle for humility, learning, and innovation.

Striving for Humility is the title of the 2013 Annual Report of Engineers Without Borders Canada. While I don’t expect anyone in a law firm to draft a report with that title, consider what you might write if you told the truth about what’s happening on your watch. What would change if you successfully identified repeatable lessons that could be shared with your colleagues. What if those lessons were incorporated in your organization’s operating procedures? To be clear, this is not about paying lip service to transparency with an occasional after action review or, worse still, a database of lessons learned that no one ever consults. Rather, this is about encouraging attitudes and behaviors that enable us to share knowledge, learn and innovate. It’s about creating an organizational culture that is more honest and, perhaps, a tad more humble.

So in that spirit, I’ll ask again: Where is your failure report?

Share

Diffusion of Innovation: How Change Occurs

The speaker is Professor Bill Henderson is at the Indiana University School of Law. [These are my notes from a private global meeting of large law firm knowledge management personnel.]

The Diffusion of Innovation field was invented by Everett Rogers. He wrote his first book in 1962, examining why farmers were not adopting the latest and best farming techniques. The key was to be able to demonstrate that the new techniques actually yield better corn. Once the farmers saw the evidence of their eyes, they were prepared to consider the new techniques.

The path of innovation is especially challenging in the law firm world. In the Henderson’s view, a lot of lawyers tend to be very literal, very concrete. This means that they will have a hard time talking to innovators, let alone being early adopters. This poses a big problem for any person in a law firm who is trying to innovate (e.g., knowledge management personnel). For Henderson, the key is to find early adopters who are open to change AND are influential enough to attract the positive attention of their colleagues who are later adopters.

In the legal industry, we have the Artisan Guild (ranging from criminal defenders/ solo practitioners to Big Law). They  focus on the Bespoke and Standardized work identified by Richard Susskind. On the opposite end, we have the Low Cost Providers (e.g., legal publishers and eDiscovery vendors). They are focused on Susskind’s Commoditized work. In between is the “green zone” we have lots of opportunity to master Systematized and Productized work: In-House Vertical Integration, New Law (e.g., Axiom), Lean Law (e.g., Seyfarth), TechLaw (KM & Analytics vendors: e.g., kCura, Reccomind, PLC), People Law (e.g., Modria and Legal Force).

Variations Determining the Rate of Adoption

  • Perceived attributes of innovations that influence an individual to adopt change
    • Relative advantage = How improved an innovation is over the previous generation.
    • Compatibility = The level of compatibility that an innovation has to be assimilated into an individual’s life.
    • Complexity = If the innovation is perceived as complicated or difficult to use, an individual is unlikely to adopt it.
    • Trialability = How easily an innovation may be experimented. If a user is able to test an innovation, the individual will be more likely to adopt it.
    • Observability = The extent that an innovation is visible to others. An innovation that is more visible will drive communication among the individual’s peers and personal networks and will in turn create more positive or negative reactions. (Metrics help with this.)
  • Type of innovation Decision
    • Optional
    • Collective
    • Authority (e.g., when clients speak, law firms must listen)
  • Communication Channel (e.g., mass media or interpersonal)
  • Nature of the social system (e.g., its norms)
  • Extent of Change Agents’ Promotion Efforts

 

 

Share

What Technologists Can Teach Lawyers About Innovation

Agile Conference , Hoofddorp, 18th June 2009 Many law firms find themselves in sobering circumstances. They are facing mounting economic pressures, more discerning clients, and a deep-seated reluctance to change a way of working that has not kept pace with science or technology.

Something has to change.

Unfortunately, change means disrupting all that is known and comfortable. It’s no wonder that people say: “Change is good. You go first.” In fact, the sheer challenge of innovation can be enough to keep the risk-averse from ever trying something new. And, even if they can overcome their natural tendency to cling to the status quo, a lack of knowledge regarding the most productive way to carry out disciplined experiments can mean that their tentative innovation initiative is either stillborn or severely compromised.

Thankfully, lawyers and law firms are not yet beyond hope. At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card, sometimes the help you need is close at hand. In fact, it may even be right under your nose. The technologists in your firm should have experience with a specific method of disciplined experimentation called Agile, which could provide the guidelines needed to help risk-averse lawyers conduct fruitful innovation experiments regarding how they practice law and how they run their business. To learn more about this, see my post What Technologists Can Teach Lawyers.

Has your firm benefited from this sort of collaboration between technologists and firm management? Have you used Agile to find better ways of meeting client needs and responding to current economic conditions? If so, please let me know. Yours might be the precedent that shines a light on the path for everyone in the legal industry.

[Photo Credit: Tim Difford]

 

 

Share

Disrupt Yourself

We sometimes joke in our family that the moment  you think you have everything organized and on an even keel — watch out! Something is bound to occur suddenly to upset that equilibrium:

  • a key member of your team decides to relocate to be closer to family
  • a strategic vendor goes out of business
  • the bottom falls out of the economy

In the face of these often uncontrollable events, it can be hard to maintain your equilibrium. To be honest, the key may be to strengthen your resilience so that you can cope with these stresses and prosper.

Whitney Johnson takes all of this one step further. She suggests that it’s important not to let your equilibrium lead to complacency. Her prescription for the complacent is straightforward and slightly unnerving: Disrupt yourself.

What does she mean by this? She borrows from the work of Clayton Christensen when she suggests that a better path to success is to seek out territory in a new market (or the low end of an established market) and use that as a base to disrupt your industry. She also borrows the notion of the S-Curve to explain how we should propel ourselves from one area of mastery to another:

The S-curve mental model makes a compelling case for personal disruption. We may be quite adept at doing the math around our future when things are linear, but neither business nor life is linear, and ultimately what our brain needs, even requires, is the dopamine of the unpredictable. More importantly, as we inhabit an increasingly zig-zag world, the best curve you can throw the competition is your ability to leap from one learning curve to the next.

If you’re prepared to accept the challenge and are willing to disrupt yourself, Whitney Johnson has five suggestions for you:

  1. Assess. Assess where you are vis-a-vis where you want to be. If your current path will get you there with gradual improvement, you should stay on that “sustaining innovation path.” If your path won’t get you to your goal, try going where no one else wants to play (or hasn’t yet thought to play) and look for opportunities there.
  2. Iterate. “Disruption is a discovery-driven process.” We need to iterate, iterate and iterate again until we get the model right. Often the strategy that leads to success is different from the strategy you began with.
  3. Embrace Your Constraints. “Constraints are problems to be solved.” They drive us to rethink how we do things.
  4. Be Impatient. Look for quick wins, small wins that confirm that you are on the right path. However, be aware that you’ll need to be patient as your strategy of disruption unfolds.
  5. Start Today. “Dare to disrupt yourself, your status quo. Be disruptive. Now.”

 

This post has focused on the personal benefits of disruption, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you to consider in the context of your law firm or organization the following observation from Clayton Christensen:

Whenever the tension is greatest and the resources are scarcest, we actually are much more open to rethinking the fundamental way we do business.

Legal industry commentators have said that when law firms finally find their backs against the wall, they will be forced to rethink their business model. Some would argue that the time is long overdue for law firms to disrupt themselves. It will be interesting to see which ones accept Whitney Johnson’s challenge.

 

Share

It’s Time for a Law Firm Hackathon

Yahoo! Hack Day In the world of law firm blogging there is Bruce MacEwen…and then there are the rest of us. Writing as Adam Smith Esq., Bruce has just completed an extraordinary series of posts entitled “Growth is Dead.” In his final installment, The S-Curve, Bruce says that if law firms wish to survive the current economic headwinds, it’s critical that they identify the next S-Curve and jump on it. The problem is that for all the hand-wringing we’ve seen since 2008 (usually accompanied by dire mutterings about the “New Normal”), there don’t appear to be many well-considered, internally coherent proposals for that new S-Curve.

For those of you coming to the conversation late, S-Curves illustrate, among other things, life cycles (of technology, for instance) and the diffusion of innovation. Clayton Christensen showed us in The Innovator’s Dilemma how upstarts can enter an industry with disruptive innovation that creates a new S-Curve and lets them eat the lunch of more established players in their vertical. The challenge for those more established players is to innovate sufficiently so that they don’t become footnotes in history.

If only innovation were that easy.

In reality, innovation can be extremely hard work. To begin with, organizations are too often rather hostile towards innovation. Further, individuals within those organizations sometimes lack the right mindset for change. (If you’re interested in learning more, read Why Innovation Fails.)

So how do you work around these problems in order to find the disruptive innovation that is right for your organization? As far as the legal industry is concerned, we don’t have the luxury of waiting until the stars are aligned. We need answers fast. It’s time for a Law Firm Hackathon.

What’s a Hackathon?

Hackathon is a portmanteau of hack + marathon, and is used to describe a brief, intense period of hands-on collaboration to solve a specific problem. Invented in the world of software development, hackathons initially were used to develop usable code by pooling the efforts of many over the course of a short period (e.g., a day, a weekend, or a week). Since then, hackathons have been used to re-imagine everything from a better New York City government website to social justice in Africa to the world’s sanitation crisis to improved management practices and reinventing business itself.

Here are some key elements of a hackathon:

  • Issue an open invitation so that you involve people who might otherwise be trapped in organizational silos — this event has to be more than the same old folks talking about the same old things
  • Frame the problem clearly at the beginning of the hackathon
  • Be sure to provide for creature comforts — food, drink and work space

The critical thing is to move past brainstorming to creating a workable prototype within the time period of the hackathon. The result need not be a final product. However, it should be something tangible or concrete on which you can build.

How to do a Law Firm Hackathon

  • Read Late Night Pizza: Extending Hackathons Beyond Technology (see the “hackathon-in-a-box” materials)
  • Recruit widely from across the firm, but ensure that the firm’s senior leadership participates fully
  • Follow the good advice from the Mix Management Hackathon:
    • Be radical — the hack should make a discernible difference in your firm
    • Be practical — the hack should be easy to implement
    • Be simple — if the hack is too complicated, it won’t gain traction
  • When the hackathon is over, don’t waste time before you implement the winning hacks. In the words of Frans Johansson, the key is to “start with the smallest executable step.”

Start planning your law firm hackathon now. Time is running out. As Bruce MacEwen says: “We have no idea yet what BigLaw will look like in the future, and the only way to find out is to invent that future.”

**************************

Here is some additional reading regarding hackathons:

[Photo Credit: Scott Beale]

Share