What’s Going Right?

4 Faces Buddha Lawyers have many special gifts, but one of the most vexing is the ability to “issue spot.” They are trained to take a proposition in both hands and then turn it upside down and inside out until they have identified all the potential problems.  This is hugely helpful to a client who is trying to weigh the risks and benefits of a proposed business transaction.  However, this tendency can be hugely challenging for IT and knowledge management personnel who are trying to persuade a lawyer to adopt a new tool or a new way of working.

Now don’t get me wrong — some of my best friends are lawyers.  In fact, I’m a lawyer. Even so, I must admit that lawyers can be a little negative from time to time.

But lawyers are not the only ones.  Tony Schwartz has observed that the negativity bias is something that all humans share and it can lead us to wallow in the slough of despond:

Because human beings have a strong “negativity bias,” we pay more attention to our bad feelings than to our good ones. It once clearly served our survival to be vigilant about what might go wrong and that instinct persists. Today, it may serve to buffer us from disappointment, but it also promotes disproportionate and destructive discontent. The simple question “What’s going right?” provides ballast in tough times.

So What’s Going Right?

This can be the best question to ask when you are seeking feedback on new technology or a new law firm knowledge management initiative.  It can change the energy in the room and draw out the truly constructive comments.  Best of all, it encourages the lawyers involved to use their considerable brainpower to focus on opportunities for growth rather than obsessing about potential problems that may (or may not) stop a project dead in its tracks.

Focusing on the positive is not intended to sidestep reality or allow you to bury your head in the sand.  Its purpose is not denial.  Rather, its purpose is to elicit feedback at an early stage — before the tool or resource is so fully baked that it cannot be adjusted.  Asking about what’s going right can help the anxious stop obsessing about the impossible goal of perfection and start focusing on what’s necessary and possible.

If you want to be agile, if you want to innovate, start asking about what’s going right.  You might be pleasantly surprised by what you learn.

[Photo Credit: Manuel Bahamondez]



A Sadie Hawkins Proposal

February 29 is leap year day, an odd day marked by odd customs intend to underline just how unnatural the day really is.  Take for example the conflation of Li’l Abner’s Sadie Hawkins Day with some older customs that upset the “natural order” by putting women in charge.  So we have a day when women are allowed to propose marriage to men <gasp!> and we have events at which women are allowed to invite men to dance <gasp!>.

While those traditions may be shocking in some quarters, I’d like to propose a gender-neutral alternative for celebrating Sadie Hawkins Day:  Look for constructive ways to upset the natural order. What do I mean by this? Here are some suggestions:

  • Before you do something the same way for the 99th time, ask yourself if there is another, better way of doing it.
  • Before you do anything, consider whether it needs to be done at all or whether it can be delegated.
  • When you see everything sitting neatly in its place, ask yourself whether a little disorder around the edges might in fact energize things.
  • If you’re used to working in a top-down, command-and-control fashion, look for ways to loosen the reins and let things flow bottom-up.
  • If your professional life is focused on managing knowledge stocks, consider what it would mean to facilitate knowledge flows instead.
  • Imagine what else might be possible if you decided to give up Just One Thing.

This isn’t about change for change’s sake. Rather it’s about giving yourself permission to break out of your rut and discover a new perspective.  Some of the experiments might fail, but I guarantee that you will learn something of value if you approach this in the spirit of exploration and intellectual honesty.

While Sadie Hawkins events traditionally promised romance to the lovelorn, I’m afraid my approach won’t deliver a heartthrob. However, I suspect that you might discover something nearly as wonderful — innovation and insight.  That’s not a bad return for one odd day.


KM and Law Firm Innovation

Innovation The Financial Times recently published an interesting report entitled, US Innovative Lawyers 2011.  I encourage you to read that report in its entirety soon.  In the meantime, here are some highlights and observations.

According to the report, FT’s researchers received 272 submissions (including from 53 AmLaw 200 firms) and interviewed more than 300 lawyers and clients to identify the most outstanding innovations.  Each submission was scored in terms of (1) originality , (2) the rationale behind the work, and (3) the impact of the work on the client, the industry or on business more broadly.

At the end of the day, which firms made the cut?  FT identified 26 firms in the US as truly innovative:

  • Davis Polk & Wardwell
  • Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
  • Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton
  • Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe
  • Latham & Watkins
  • Cravath, Swaine & Moore
  • Paul Hastings
  • Sullivan & Cromwell
  • Seyfarth Shaw
  • Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison
  • Kirkland & Ellis
  • Dewey & LeBoeuf // Mayer Brown
  • Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher // White & Case
  • Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft
  • Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
  • Dechert
  • Morrison & Foerster // Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
  • Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
  • Jones Day // Weil, Gotshal & Manges
  • Fulbright & Jaworski
  • Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer // Proskauer Rose

What made these firms stand-out?  These firms say they rely on their culture and human capital to innovate.  In particular, they hire smart people who like to find new and better ways of solving problems for clients. One firm pointed to its lockstep compensation model, but since plenty of non-lockstep firms made the grade, that most likely is not the decisive factor. According to the FT report, the factors that distinguished the firms on the list from the others were “their commitment, their ability to adapt and to work together in the best interests of business to unusual and important effect.”

How can law firm knowledge management help?

While I don’t know the extent to which each of these firms relied on their knowledge management resources to foster innovation, the innovations reported suggest that KM can help make a firm and its lawyers more innovative in the following ways:

  • Much innovation arises from making small changes to what came before. In legal practice, this means we need to give our lawyers easy access to precedents and practice guides so that they have a solid foundation from which to innovate.
  • Innovation can go beyond specific matters to providing online information and advice on a subscription basis.  KM and library services can play an important role here in gathering the data for the client-facing resource.
  • Innovation with respect to the business of law can have a huge impact as well.  Seyfarth Shaw’s Lean Six Sigma efforts put the firm on FT’s list.
  • KM personnel and practices can help support alternative fee arrangements and project management efforts.
  • Jeffrey Carr, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, FMC Technologies, is a well-known advocate of changes in the legal industry.  Among other things, his in-house legal department has created a wiki to share legal advice internally and is developing M&A process maps.  Are you doing anything similar?

As I said at the beginning of this post, it’s worth your time to read the report in its entirety. While the specifics of each legal matter may not resonate for you, focus on how what you do (or should be doing) could help your firm get on that list and stay on that list.  The KM principles we espouse and the information we handle daily  can help bring about the innovation to which our firms should be aspiring.



How High the Moon?

Les Paul 93rd Birthday Concert I’m not easily impressed, but today Google impressed me.  How?  They put an extraordinary “Google Doodle” on their search page in honor of the June 9 birthday of the legendary guitarist, Les Paul. (See video below.)

One of the great benefits of living in New York City is that we have access to amazing performers.  Nearly everyone who is anyone comes to New York to strut their stuff.  And Les Paul was no exception.  In fact, well into his 90s, he had a regular gig on Monday nights at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City.  I was fortunate enough to experience the magic. There he would sit with his trio and make the most astonishing music with his iconic electric guitar.  Over the course of the evening, he played many of his greatest hits for a highly appreciative audience — an audience that went wild when he launched into a famously fast rendition of How High the Moon.  Inevitably, a listener was left open-mouthed, wondering how he produced such fantastic sounds from his instrument.

In a similar fashion, even this jaded New Yorker was left open-mouthed when I realized that the Les Paul Google Doodle was interactive.  (See the video below.) By moving my cursor over the strings of the guitar image, I could produce the sound of an electric guitar.  Amazing!

You may be less easily impressed and feel that I ought get out and see the world more often, but that’s really not the point.  The beauty of this playable guitar on a Google search page is that it reminds us that we haven’t yet reached the limits of what’s possible using online media.  In some ways many of us have until now merely moved our old print or telephonic or face-to-face communications to our computers, and we haven’t looked for much more than improved speed and some hyperlinks. Google’s guitar points to a much wider range of possibilities — allowing us to co-create, allowing us to experience new things — all through the computer.

Keep this in mind when you return to the daily grind of your office.  We have tools on our desks that are grossly underutilized.  While we may not have access to Google’s talented designers, I bet there’s a great deal more we could do with our existing computing power if only we thought outside the (music) box.

In honor of the innovative musician, Les Paul, take this Google Doodle to heart and to work tomorrow. Push your systems, your designs and your imagination a little harder, a little further.  Just start by asking the classic Les Paul and Mary Ford question:  How High the Moon?


This video captures the Les Paul Google Doodle in Action:

Here’s a video of an older Les Paul, playing How High the Moon while doing astonishing things with his guitar (please excuse the quality of the recording):

Here are Mary Ford and Les Paul performing How High the Moon:

[Photo Credit: PiscesBlue81]


What Are You Waiting For?

is flickr an addiction?Some say that the legal profession has raised caution to a high art form. Even so,  it is possible to find in every walk of life people whose favorite course of action is to adopt a wait and see strategy. But is this a wise course? Some recent writing about the human tendency to avoid making a commitment and taking a decision suggests that the temporary reprieve provided by a deferred decision may be extremely costly.  Consider the following:

  • While many prefer to make only reversible decisions (or avoid hard decisions altogether), psychologists tell us that this approach can lead to more unhappiness and poorer performance.  According to their studies, our unwillingness to commit to a decision causes us to waste energy worrying about that decision after the fact. This in turn leaves us with less energy to act in such a way as to ensure a good outcome.  In other words, the lack of commitment can lead to a bad result.  For more information on this phenomenon, read Heidi Grant Halvorson’s post Why Keeping Your Options Open Is A Really, Really Bad Idea.
  • The wait and see strategy is particularly problematic when facing innovation.  It takes courage (and what sometimes seems like a touch of insanity) to be a first mover, yet the benefits of being first can be very rewarding.  Bruce MacEwen reminds us of this when talking about the slow pace of innovation in his favorite location — “lawland.”  In his post, Be Innovative? Who, Me?, he looks at the European and US car industries.  As he tells it, the European automakers seized a key competitive advantage by committing early to innovation. Thus, by the time the US stragglers finally admitted that the European innovations were worthwhile, the Europeans had time to refine those innovations and move on to the next thing. McEwen suggests that lawyers can draw a lesson from the automakers.
  • In her recent commencement address at Barnard College, Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook’s COO) spoke about the costs of failing to commit to a career.  In her view, this failure to commit over time leads to the kind of career from which too many women are willing to walk away.  Andrew McAfee describes her remarks as a “graduation speech for the ages.” While you may not agree with everything she says, it’s worth thinking about her comments on the dangers of failing to commit.  In particular, she urges the listening graduates to “lean in” to their careers:  “Do not lean back; lean in. Put your foot on that gas pedal and keep it there until the day you have to make a decision, and then make a decision. That’s the only way, when that day comes, you’ll even have a decision to make.”  (I’ve posted a video of her speech below for those of you who would like to hear more from her.)

So there you have it — three different instances in which failing to commit, to decide, to act can have painful consequences.  In light of this, what are you waiting for?

Sheryl Sandberg’s Speech:

[Photo Credit: Crashcandy]


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]


Got the T-Shirt

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

I’m sure you’ve heard this expression before — usually from the mouth of someone who has made a fine art of boredom.  However, the person with the t-shirt is rarely looking for the thrill of adventure or the excitement of discovery. Rather, they are most likely trying to shut down someone else’s effort to innovate.

The reality is that it is a rare instance when history repeats itself exactly. So chances are that the t-shirt person has not actually experienced this particular set of circumstances before. There may be variation around the edges that a person fixated on their prior experience has failed to notice.  Of course, it is in that variation that opportunity lurks. Yet there are none so blind as those who will not see.  Is it any wonder that innovation is so challenging?

So tell me:  how big is your t-shirt collection?



There are days when you all really want is to inhabit an alternate reality. For many, the easiest way to approximate this experience is by engaging in a little counterfactual thinking. Wikipedia tells us that

Counterfactual thinking is a term of psychology that describes the tendency people have to imagine alternatives to reality. Humans are predisposed to think about how things could have turned out differently if only…, and also to imagine what if?

If we’re serious about innovation, a little counterfactual thinking can be powerful — provided it doesn’t slip into the realm of delusional thinking.  For purposes of innovation, examining the “if only” question can help you understand what happened, and help you understand what might be improved the next time.  If you approach these “if only” questions regularly and wisely, you can help foster a process of continuous improvement with powerful results — all because you took the time to consider an alternate reality.

Equally,  asking “what if” can free you from mental ruts and ossified business processes.  This ability to step outside your routine to consider alternatives is critical to innovation.  Holly Green describes the process in her post, What If You Asked “What If?”:

It involves examining your own thinking process to understand why you think the way you do. More important, it involves pausing your thinking process every now and then and contemplating how to change perspectives, how to challenge your own assumptions, how to consider the opposite of what you normally think, how to ponder multiple right answers, and how to do things differently.

Not only can this type of counterfactual thinking help identify new directions, it can also help you avoid bad ones.  Jack Vinson writes that asking “What if I’m wrong” is a great way to prevent the painful consequences of implementing a half-baked idea. To be clear, Jack is not recommending that we become paralyzed by doubt:

This is not a suggestion to kill ideas simply because there are negative ramifications.  It is a suggestion to verify that those negatives could really happen, and decide how to prevent those negatives from happening while still getting the benefit from the original idea.  This might be part of a risk management practice, or it could be part of being smart about deciding how to do things.

So counterfactual thinking need not be delusional.  In fact, it can help with innovation and risk management when done correctly.  On that basis, counterfactual thinking seems like sound thinking to me.

[Photo Credit: ChernobylBob]


A Guide to Innovation

Good looking and ubiquitous. Who am I talking about?  The Old Spice guy, of course!  While I doubt that I’m in their target market, even I couldn’t resist watching some of the videos that Old Spice posted on YouTube.  [If you’ve been in a cave or off the grid this week, you may not have seen the recent Old Spice ad campaign that has taken the internet by storm.  To help bring you up to speed, I’ve posted a few of the videos below — strictly as a public service, of course!]*

Eye candy aside, I was struck by some of the reaction to the ad campaign.  Even the most jaded of  the commentators had to admit that the rapid-fire interactive nature of the marketing effort was innovative.  As I thought about this further, I wasn’t altogether surprised to learn that the parent company of Old Spice is Procter & Gamble.  Those of you who are long-term readers of this blog may remember a post I did on the use of design at P&G entitled Why KM Needs Good Design.  As it turns out, good design is just part of P&G’s approach to innovation, which is described by their legendary former CEO, A.G. Lafley in this Harvard Business Publishing video:

While I commend the entire 14-minute video to you, I do want to draw your attention to a few points A.G.Lafley made:

  • Innovation isn’t just about product or technology.  At P&G, they try to “integrate innovation into everything [they] do” — from their product design to the design of their internal business processes.
  • They start and end with the customer. This means that they take concepts and prototypes to customers early to ensure customer views are reflected in product development.  They aim to “co-create and co-design” with target prospective customers.
  • Starting at the 3:20 minute mark, A.G.Lafley describes P&G’s innovation review process.  As you listen to him, consider how a similar approach would affect your organization.
  • They have a business strategy and an innovation strategy.  Their job is to ensure that the two are aligned and support each other.
  • A.G. Lafley is aware of the human tendency to do the easy thing first.  Therefore, part of his role is to focus his team on the biggest, most critical issue that must be resolved in order to ensure the success of an innovation.
  • Basic rules for an innovation process:
    • Know your customer. Know what their needs and wants are.
    • Bring the right team together, set the direction and some simple goals, then make some choices.  (Making choices is how he describes strategy.)
    • Have a simple process for gathering ideas, converting those ideas into basic prototypes and exposing those prototypes to your customers so that they can provide feedback.
    • Have a development and qualification process to evaluate innovation.
  • While grassroots innovation is good and to be encouraged, enterprise-wide innovation is difficult without the full engagement and support of the CEO.   In addition to assuming responsibility for innovation, the CEO must create an innovation culture within the enterprise.
  • An innovation culture requires
    • being open and open-minded
    • connecting ideas and people
    • working collaboratively
  • What keeps the team engaged and motivated during long-term innovation projects? “It’s not the boss flogging you.” It’s the positive feedback you get from your customers along the development path.

This holistic, customer-focused approach to innovation is something we all should consider  in our knowledge management efforts, Enterprise 2.0 deployments, law firms or other places of work.  While we may not achieve the viral success of the Old Spice guy, the resulting innovation is bound to have an impact.


*As promised, here’s the remedial course on Old Spice ads. (This is just a small selection of the large number available on YouTube.)  Enjoy!

In response to Gillette:

In response to Alyssa Milano (4th in a series of videos):

[Photo Credit: Umpqua]


Gentry Underwood Keynote:Innovation Through E2.0

Gentry Underwood, Head of Knowledge Sharing, IDEO


[These are my quick notes, complete with  (what I hope is no more than) the occasional typo and grammatical error.  Please excuse those. Thanks!

From time to time, I’ll insert my own editorial comments – exercising the prerogatives of the blogger.  I’ll show those in brackets. ]


  • They focus on “design thinking” = human-centered design.
  • Three key principles of Design:
    • Empower people, not ideas – ideas are cheap
    • Create platforms for coalescence – give people a place to be together and work together.
      • They have a wiki system organized around groups, they have a blog effort that is a rich source of new ideas, etc.
    • Facilitate and Reward Participation.  Every little bit of friction in the system impedes participation.
      • They are maniacal about eliminating friction in the system.
      • Bring information to people. Don’t make them go find it. (They use a feed system for this.)
      • They display their activity stream on the wall of the office – it encourages people update their stream. This provides built-in rewards
  • Good design coupled with good technology will change the culture, which will in turn change they way an org works and what it produces.
  • They used a platform from existing software with a custom interface. They are moving to a mGenera platform.