There aren’t many things I regret in life, but every year at this time I remember one particularly bad decision. It happened when I was in graduate school.  A group of my friends thought it might be fun to get a cheap flight and visit a new town. I was broke and so rather than run up additional debt, I decided that it was time to be a grown-up and behave responsibly. Consequently, I turned down the trip and stayed at school in order to save my pennies.  My friends left for their holiday and found themselves in Berlin watching history happen as the Wall fell.  To my everlasting regret, I spent those pivotal days back at school watching history on TV.

During the course of the last 18 months, many firms and their managers have made seemingly prudent decisions regarding spending.  I suspect that a large number of them have opted to stay at home and save pennies rather than to venture out in search of something new.  While this may be a safe choice, is it the right choice?  What opportunities are they foreclosing?  What Berlin Wall will they miss?

[Photo Credit:  Romtomtom]


100 and Counting

Yesterday we visited the matriarch of our family to celebrate a special occasion — her 100th birthday. She showed us the many humorous and touching birthday cards she had received (including one from the President and Mrs. Obama). Since she’s as sharp as a tack, we were able to have a wide-ranging conversation that covered family, politics and sports. (Just for the record, she’s very disappointed in the Red Sox and unwilling to root for the Yankees.) And then, we shared some celebratory cake.

Just before we left, she showed us a beautiful woolen scarf she was crocheting, as well as the stack of scarves she had recently completed. When we asked her about the scarves, she told us that they were destined for a nearby homeless shelter to keep its inhabitants warm during the approaching winter months. We were impressed.  Given her age, no one would blame her for kicking back and taking it easy. However, she was very clear about her motivation — she makes these scarves because she wants to be, in her words, useful.

100 years old and still looking for ways to contribute.  What a great example for the rest of us.

[Photo Credit:  Jessica N. Diamond]


The Value of a Post Office Box

Sometimes those small things we routinely take for granted give us cause to remember how valuable they are in their ordinariness.  This fact was driven home to me last night when I mailed off my biennial registration to the New York State Office of Court Administration.  In New York, each practicing lawyer must register with the State every two years, just after his or her birthday.  This process involves confirming one’s contact details, assuring the authorities that one has complied with particular ethical and educational requirements, and submitting a registration fee.  As I completed the form, sealed the envelope and dropped it in the mail, I was reminded how these simple acts were much more challenging eight years ago.

The deadline for submitting the registration materials is one month after one’s birthday.  Since my birthday falls in the middle of August, I have until the middle of September to complete the task.  However, on September 12, 2001, as we were beginning to understand the scope of the wreckage of 9/11, I learned that the post office box and postal station to which I normally would have sent my registration materials were casualties of the 9/11 catastrophe.  Suddenly, even if I wanted to comply with the rules, I couldn’t.

Last night,  as I looked at the address printed on the registration envelope, I found myself grateful for the existence of a post office box.  And, I was reminded that even something as simple as that post office box can represent the blessing of a relatively peaceful life.  After 9/11, I’m glad for the reminder.

[Photo Credit:  mhawkins]


How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s Manual

In celebration of Easter, here’s a present that will delight.  Best of all, it is low-calorie and will not enrage your dentist.  Enjoy!

How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s Manual
by Pamela Spiro Wagner

First, forget everything you have learned,
that poetry is difficult,
that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,
with your high school equivalency diploma,
your steel-tipped boots,
or your white-collar misunderstandings.

Do not assume meanings hidden from you:
the best poems mean what they say and say it.

To read poetry requires only courage
enough to leap from the edge
and trust.

Treat a poem like dirt,
humus rich and heavy from the garden.
Later it will become the fat tomatoes
and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.

Poetry demands surrender,
language saying what is true,
doing holy things to the ordinary.

Read just one poem a day.
Someday a book of poems may open in your hands
like a daffodil offering its cup
to the sun.

When you can name five poets
without including Bob Dylan,
when you exceed your quota
and don’t even notice,
close this manual.

from We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders, published by Cavankerry Press.

Courtesy of the American Academy of Poets

[Photo Credit:  Nedieth]


Tales from LegalTech: Emerging from the Wringer

LegalTech 2009 is over and we’re exhausted.  There’s something absolutely draining about all those inputs, all those people talking at you, and all those little plastic toys.  It’s enough to make even extroverts like me run screaming from the conference hotel.

It will, undoubtedly, take us a few days to process what we saw and what we learned.  We have the quick notes we tweeted from the various sessions to remind us, but we don’t yet know if they will prove to be  invaluable or completely ephemeral.  In addition, some hardier souls (like David Hobbie and Kelly Talcott) have already published their blogs on various sessions.  I’m in awe of their ability to synthesize information so quickly and grateful that we have the benefit of their views.

For me there is something about the learning process that requires a period of quiet reflection in order to consolidate the disparate bits of information I’ve picked up.  And when I’ve been drinking from an information firehose as I was at LegalTech, it takes even longer.  Starting tomorrow, I’m going to indulge in a little quiet reflection and when I emerge, I hope I’ll have something sensible to say about what I learned at LegalTech.

Before I hibernate, I would like to thank the good folks on the LegalTech Advisory Board and at Incisive Media for organizing a conference rich in possibilities and opportunities.  I was glad to have a chance to participate both as a speaker and a blogger.   Best of all, LegalTech provided a wonderful lab for demonstrating how we interact with and learn from each other.  The multi-layered interchanges that bounced between the conference rooms, the Twittersphere, the Blogosphere and the hallways  made for a very rich learning environment. Thank you to everyone in New York and online who made this possible.

[Photo Credit:  cobalt123, Creative Commons license]


The Power of Symbols

On this national holiday to celebrate the life and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and on the eve of the historic inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America, I found myself thinking about the power of symbols and images to convey messages without words. This country has come far, but not fast enough.

[Photo Credits: RPhotos2008 (Marian Anderson); Civil Rights (MLK); Presidential Inaugural Committee]


The Pleasure of Your Company

The Pleasure of Your Company is requested at the relaunch of the Above and Beyond KM blog on a new domain that has been a long time in gestation:

As you’ll undoubtedly notice quickly enough, I’ve moved but haven’t yet finished unpacking.  So please bear with me as I hang the curtains and shift the furniture around.

Since this move is happening in plain sight, please let me know what you think.  Over the course of the last year, I’ve come to value your input enormously. In the meantime, I hope we’ll be able to continue the conversation we began last year — but now in more gracious (and spacious) surroundings.

I do hope you’ll join me.

(Photo credit:  Steve & Jemma Copley, Creative Commons license)


Behind Every Successful KM Effort

In the November 24 edition of Newsweek there’s a humorous quote:

There is no one more surprised than I — except my husband. You know what they say: “Behind every successful woman, there is an astonished man.”

These are the words of Gen. Ann Dunwoody, while speaking at a ceremony held recently in Washington, D.C. to recognize the fact that she is the first woman to achieve the rank of four-star general in the US military. Of course, she’s playing with the old adage: “Behind every great man there is a great woman.”

Reading her words made me wonder — what lies behind every successful KM effort? I’d suggest vision, a collaborative firm culture and entrepreneurial knowledge managers. You also need great teamwork with IT. I’m not sure you need a lot of money or a large staff. But, then again, I’ve always been of the opinion that working within financial or staffing constraints often leads to game-changing innovation.

What would you add to this list?


When People Care…

…they participate.

We’ve seen extraordinary voter turnout in this election. What caused these voters to break through their apathy and actually participate in record numbers? They cared.

There’s a lesson here for knowledge management. You don’t need incentives. (Not even the free coffee one vendor offered to all voters… and then all customers.) You just need to give folks a reason to care. We saw that on November 4, 2008 in the United States. How will you do that in your law firm?


Go Vote

Unless you’ve been under a rock these last few months, you’ll know that today is Election Day in the United States. Go vote as if your life depended on it. Voter apathy diminishes a country that holds itself out as a defender of democracy.

Given the importance of this election, I suspect very little but the most essential billable work will be completed in law firms across the country. There will be time enough tomorrow to worry about that and about knowledge management. For today, use your web 2.0 tools and your social networks to ensure that the election is free and fair and to encourage your friends and family to exercise their rights as citizens. Do your part. Go vote.