Pope Francis on Law Firm Management

Pope FrancisPlease excuse the poor quality of the photograph in this post. I snapped it quickly as Pope Francis’ Fiat turned the corner onto Fifth Avenue, enroute to St. Patrick’s Cathedral earlier this evening. Despite the blurry photo, you can see the Pope in his distinctive garb and you can see his Fiat. And that’s good enough for the purposes of this post.

So what does the world’s most popular Catholic have to do with law firm management? It’s not that he has made any particular pronouncements on the subject. However, he does model behavior that would be very beneficial in law firm management:

1. He is unpretentious.

Pope Francis makes a very loud statement every time he steps into his Fiat. Aside from showing loyalty to an Italian product, he is shunning the trappings of world-class achievement. It is as if he is saying he has not forgotten where he came from. It is as if he understands the realities of life for the people he leads. This demonstration of empathy and solidarity makes it easier for devoted Catholics to accept his leadership. And it makes his leadership attractive to even disaffected Catholics and non-Catholics. In short, his lack of pretension makes his leadership extraordinarily effective and downright powerful.

Now, think about your firm’s leadership. Are they unpretentious? Have they stayed in touch with their roots? Can they still connect with the rank-and-file? Can they win over the disaffected?

2. He is accessible.

Aside from the considered ordinariness of the Fiat, its size puts him within reach of everyday people. He is not cloistered within a limousine. And then he stops the car to give a blessing to someone others might easily overlook.

Apart from his choice of vehicle, Pope Francis pursues accessibility to a degree that concerns his security staff. He is known to interact directly with visitors to St. Peter’s Square, “embracing and chatting with pilgrims, and kissing babies and children.”

This type of accessibility means that he is more likely to connect with people who have different perspectives than those of his inner circle. And it is more likely that he will meet people who are prepared to speak truth to power.

Is accessibility of this sort the norm in your firm? Does your managing partner find ways to be available to the people of the firm? What about your executive director or CXO? Can anyone speak truth to their power?

3. He does not cling blindly to past practices.

Over the millennia of its existence, the Catholic Church has had ample opportunity to develop and maintain traditional practices. Pope Francis, however, has shown a willingness to question some of those practices in light of modern realities. One cannot imagine him holding back change by using the favorite incantation of administrators the world over: “But we have always done it this before.” (Or its close cousin: “But we have never done it this way before.”) Given his mindset, it is easy to imagine the opportunity for thoughtful innovation within the Catholic Church.

Does a similar opportunity for thoughtful innovation exist within your firm? Or is innovation stillborn because of an unwillingness to examine and possibly put aside past practices that are no longer effective?

4. He is willing to adjust policy to respond to changing times.

In the short time since he took the helm, Pope Francis has indicated repeatedly that even some sacred cows may need to be sacrificed in order to keep the church relevant in the 21st century. To the consternation of purists, this has meant that he is willing to take another look at established church policy and, perhaps, amend it to reflect modern times.

How adaptable is your firm administration? Are they responding appropriately to recent changes in the business environment and the needs of clients? Does firm policy reflect a sense of confidence in the maturity, professionalism and commitment of staff?

What if Pope Francis ran your firm?

Can you even begin to imagine the difference it would make if Pope Francis ran your firm? Consider whether you can achieve some of those differences without papal intervention. It could result in a much-needed miracle for your firm.



Yogi Berra on Law

Yogi Berra empirestatebuildingOn September 23 the Empire State Building sported pinstripes in honor of the pinstriped Yankees uniform worn by Lawrence Peter (Yogi) Berra who died this week at the age of 90.

Over the course of his storied career, Berra attained both professional acclaim and cultural stardom. The professional acclaim was due to his extraordinary record of achievement:

  • He played on 14 American League championship teams.
  • He won 10 World Series titles.
  • He was voted most valuable player of the American League three times. (He shares this accomplishment with the likes of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.)
  • He was an All-Star every year from 1948-1962.
  • As a manager, he led the Yankees to the 1964 American League title and then led the Mets to the 1973 National League title.

His status as a cultural icon had less to do with his athletic prowess and everything to do with his distinctive manner of speech. Berra is famous for things he said and, possibly, for some things he didn’t say. What may be less well-known is that many of his witticisms were directed at the legal industry:

  • “I always thought that record would stand until it was broken.” When he said this, Berra could have been speaking for law firm partners throughout the United States who sincerely believed in 2007 that the sky was the limit to the unprecedented growth in rates and profits they were enjoying.
  • “The future ain’t what it used to be.” This was the reality law firms faced at the end of 2008. Their future did not seem nearly as rosy it had been just a few months earlier. In fact, at that time the future of many firms was completely unclear. Even today, the situation is challenging. According to the Citi Private Bank’s Law Firm Group, growth this year is possible but will not be stellar: “While we remain optimistic that revenue and profit will both grow, we believe that they will now fall short of 2014’s results.”
  • “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” This has been the so-called strategy of some firms that have tried desperately since 2008 to find a winning formula. De-equitize partners? Done. Throw associates and staff overboard? Done and done. Alternative pricing arrangements? We’ll do it. Legal project management? We’ll try that too.
  • “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” Strategy has been a real challenge for law firms. In 2013 I asked a large group of law firm managers how many of their firms had a business strategy. Only a handful responded positively. Fast-forward to the autumn of 2014 when I asked a large group of law firm knowledge managers the same question. In this instance almost everyone responded positively. That’s great news for the industry, isn’t it? Well actually, no. When I asked that same group how many of their firms had agreed metrics by which they measured progress against their strategic goals, almost nobody raised a hand. So there you have it — strategy without true accountability for implementation is merely window dressing.
  • “We made too many wrong mistakes.” When you consider the way some lawyers have attempted to run their businesses with little or no management training, it isn’t altogether surprising that they’ve made some “wrong mistakes.” What is more frustrating is that even in the face of these errors, some partners remain reluctant to turn over the management of their businesses to professional managers, much less accord those “non-lawyer” managers the courtesy of professional status within the firm.
  • “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.” A change in value changes everything for law firms. Consider the change in the way clients value the services firms once provided. Increasingly, clients are moving legal services in-house or to special service providers. And they are demanding that their external counsel demonstrate the value of the services they continue to provide. At the end of the day, the one thing that holds its value is intelligently calibrated business advice informed by legal knowledge and judgment. That is something clients will still pay for.
  • “You can observe a lot just by watching.” If you are looking for examples to emulate, don’t limit your observations to the firms with the highest profits. Look for the firms that are doing the tough structural work: establishing a strategy that guides operations, implementing internal disciplines to manage costs in both the practice of law and the business of law, revising roles and responsibilities to reflect the reality of client needs in the 21st century, hiring world-class managers and then giving them the authority to run the business in a rationale way.

As you can see, Yogi Berra had a lot to say about the legal industry. Yet despite the doom and gloom, his optimism still shines through. After all, “it ain’t over till it’s over.”


G100 CIO Recap – #ILTACON #ILTA061

ILTACON 2015 LogoSession Summary: Members of ILTA’s G100 CIO Advisory Board provide a recap of the G100 CIO event held on Monday, August 31st.


  • Don Jaycox, CIO for the Americas, DLA Piper
  • Andy Jurczyk, CIO of Seyfarth Shaw
  • Robert Marburger, CIO of Alston & Bird
  • Dean Leung, CIO of Holland & Knight

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2015 Conference. Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, 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.]


  • Most of the attendees in the room are the senior leader for IT within their firms.
  • Challenges of working with a multi-generational workforce. Chris deSantis was the speaker at the G100 session.
    • There are 3 generations at work now: Boomers, Gen X and Millenials
    • We have to think about them, not only as employees in the IT team, but also as internal clients (both as lawyers and in other administrative departments.)
    • Why should we care about this? We are responsible for ensuring continuity and developing the leaders of tomorrow. This is more challenging when each generation has a different point of reference and different values.
    • Different aspirations:
      • In 1960, adulthood (the age of 30) meant completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. (This was true of 77% of women and 65% of men.)
      • In 2010, only 13% of women and 10% of men have achieved these “indicia of adulthood.”
    • Generational Split: about 2/3 of the G100 CIOs are boomers. Their senior staff also tend to be boomers as well.
      • Some of this is location-specific. There seemed to be more Gen Xers in senior roles in law firms outside the northeast.
      • See the Tattoo Index. For traditionalists and boomers, tattoos are a sign of rebelliousness. However, now tattoos are more about conformity than rebellion. (Millennials get at least six tattoos. For them, it is a matter of personal expression.)
      • See the Cellphone Index:  How many people sleep with their cellphones? Millennials and Gen X are much more likely to do so because it keeps them connected to their community.
    • Each generational group shares a common lens.  It has to do with the context when they were children, plus what their families talked about and were concerned about.  Gen Xers grew up with the oil crisis and war, so they tended to be more insecure and secretive. By comparison, Millenials grew up during one of the longest stretches of prosperity, so they tend more to optimism.
    • Each generation values different things:
      • Boomers: value training, picking a side or team (often led by a boomer), optimism, competition, conspicuous display, working, work ethic, upward mobility, the covenant of lifetime employment, permissive parenting, etc.
      • Gen X: self-reliant and independent, skeptical, informal, tech-savvy, etc. They seek work/life accommodation.
      • Millenials: digital natives and optimistic people who value diversity, social responsibility, collaboration and cohesion, constant contact (they look for praise frequently), transparency, the environment, being scheduled, being discerning consumers, etc.
        • They are the products of Gen X parents. Yet their Gen X don’t provide the same support that their Gen X parents do.  As Leung noted, “We inspire our kids, yet we admonish other people’s kids.”
    • Each generation needs different things from their managers.
    • A key difference among generations is how they handle telecommuting
      • Boomers grew up with face-to-face classrooms and socializing, so they assume that a work team needs to operate face-to-face as well.
      • Millennials much prefer to telecommute.
      • Seyfarth’s experience with telecommuting:
        • The Seyfarth Shaw team works remotely four days each week, but they do have one day when they gather to reinforce their sense of team and community. In addition, they have social events periodically to strengthen their ties.
        • Seyfarth will extend this model to other groups (including other departments and lawyers) in order to improve quality of life and reduce costs.
        • In Seyfarth’s experience, it has not been a technology challenge.  It requires leadership to do this successfully.
      • In most firms, the issue of telecommuting depends on the personality and experience of the head of a particular department.
    • There are two typical reactions to the generational differences:
      • Quit your whining and get back to work!
      • It is the obligation of the leader to help each person deliver their best work.
    • The generations tend to pivot. The Boomers were very rebellious (in the 1960s) and then pivoted to be incredibly hardworking. The same may happen to the Millenials.
  • Cybersecurity. Speakers were from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — Dr. Andy Ozment, Assistant Secretary, Office of Cybersecurity & Communications, and Daniel Sutherland, Associate General Counsel. Their presentation was What the DHS Can Do For You.
    • Cyber Risk Management:
      • 80% of time on best practices
      • 15% of time on sharing information
      • 5% of time on incident response
    • Most of the firms attending the G100 Summit were very focused on cybersecurity and implementing best practices.
    • Because of the frequent client-initiated security audits, the legal industry is no longer the “soft underbelly” and may in fact be ahead of most other industries in terms of cybersecurity.
    • The more we share information on security best practices (and events), the stronger the entire industry becomes.
    • The financial services industry struggled with the tension between data privacy and security. They were able to reach industry-wide guidelines on sharing security information within the industry to alert firms to security threats and enable all to achieve greater security. Ozment encouraged the legal industry to adopt guidelines that achieve a similar goal.
      • Once an industry knows more about security threats than the people doing the incursions, then the industry has the upper hand.
      • DHS is working to gather data regarding cybersecurity threats and incidents, and then distribute anonymized information to firms.
    • There are three types of security threats (vandals, spies and muggers). Each require a different response.
    • The DHS offer the legal industry 3 services (each service has its own website):
      • cybersecurity framework
      • critical infrastructure cyber community (C3) voluntary program
      • risk assessments
    • Take key (standard) measures and then do the risk assessment.  E.g., two-factor authentication, updated security patches, etc.
    • Jaycox: “We all had full-time jobs before cybersecurity became a major challenge.”
    • How to avoid incursions:
      • Implement all the recommended technical controls such as two-factor authentication, up-to-date security patches, upgrade your log aggregation services/methods so that you can understand what is happening on your network.
      • Understand that the vast majority of incursions (60-70%) occur via phishing.
      • Also be aware of DNS-related attacks. (This can be addressed by two-factor authentication.)
      • Make it a priority to educate users so they understand the risks of phishing.
    • Once there has been an incursion:
      • your first instinct is to shut them down and get them out as far as you can (unless they are in a super-critical area).
      • Instead, watch them for a short period of time to understand their pattern of operation so you can prevent the next incursion.
    • Lessons Learned for best security:
      • Two-factor authentication.
      • Least privilege.
      • Application whitelisting
      • Network segmentation.
      • Education.
  • Four Asks from the Department of Homeland Security. Each law firm should do the following:

Teamwork is Hard Work

french-riviera-133592Most blog posts I publish here are written from my home office in New York City.  This one is an outlier — I’m writing from the balcony of my hotel room, which overlooks the Mediterranean. What brings me to the French Riviera? Believe it or not, work. (It’s hard work, but someone’s got to do it!) I’m here as a consultant to a wonderful company that is undertaking some impressive and daring projects to keep it at the leading edge of its industry.  We’ll be covering a number of topics this week, but the key topic for today is teamwork.

The company has grown rapidly through acquisition, snapping up smaller companies around the world that are outstanding in their areas of expertise. They each bring their own approach to excellence. In a manner that is not dissimilar to that of law firm partners, they are willing to work together, but are just as happy to be left alone to do the excellent work they do. This leads to a very interesting question: if you want to realize the promised synergies of a global organization, how do you set up and operate teams that work effectively across geographies, languages, cultures and business unit silos?

There are bodies of research and literature on this topic, but I’d like to draw your attention today to the work of Sandy Pentland and his colleagues at MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory. By monitoring how people work in teams, they have generated fascinating insights into what makes a group of people become a high-performing team. It turns out that there are two key factors that separate high-performing teams from low-performing teams: the communication patterns within the team (e.g., body language and the flow of ideas, who you talk to and where you talk to them) and the team’s energy and engagement outside formal meetings. In The New Science of Building Great Teams (subscription required), Pentland reports that the patterns of communication within the team account more for team success than the substance of their discussions and the combined impact of team members’ intelligence, personality and talent. A team’s energy and engagement outside formal meetings “explained one-third of the variations in dollar productivity” among similar teams.

Applying these insights to call center productivity (which is measured by the average handling time (AHT) of customer calls), Pentland and his colleagues suggested some changes at one call center that would enhance the energy and engagement of teams. The results were impressive:

[W]e advised the center’s manager to revise the employees’ coffee break schedule so that everyone on a team took a break at the same time. That would allow people more time to socialize with their teammates, away from their workstations. Though the suggestion flew in the face of standard efficiency practices, the manager was baffled and desperate, so he tried it. And it worked: AHT fell by more than 20% among lower-performing teams and decreased by 8% overall at the call center. Now the manager is changing the break schedule at all 10 of the bank’s call centers (which employ a total of 25,000 people) and is forecasting $15 million a year in productivity increases. He has also seen employee satisfaction at call centers rise, sometimes by more than 10%.

Before you say that while this may be useful in a call center environment, it does not apply to a global company or a law firm, consider the following: Pentland asserts that the complex data of an organization is more likely to be handled in face-to-face meetings or conference calls, rather than via emails or written documents.  In Pentland’s view, these meetings and conference calls require a certain level of teamwork in order to ensure that the complex data is handled correctly. And success depends heavily on the patterns of communication, as well as the energy and engagement of the team members involved.

The next time you’re in a meeting or working as part of a team, take a few minutes to assess the patterns of communication, the flow of ideas, the level of engagement and energy. Are you seeing good things? Is your team operating optimally? If not, be warned that these are early indicators of a low-performing team. The good news is that none of this is fatal, provided you and your colleagues take corrective action.

Later today, I’ll be doing exactly this type of observation with respect to the teams we’ve set up for the company’s project. And, we’ll be intervening as often as necessary to ensure that every one of these teams is a high-performing team. Admittedly, we’ll be doing this from the comfort of a beautiful hotel on a gorgeous coastline. It’s hard work, but someone’s got to do it!

[Photo Credit: Viator.com]


When I Grow Up

We tell ourselves stories all the time. Stories that help us make sense of our days; stories that help us simply make it through our days. On occasion, we tell ourselves lies.

Sometimes all it takes for us to understand how false our stories are is to hear their lines uttered by someone completely unexpected. That’s the experience I had watching the brief video below that is the brainchild of organizational strategist, Kevin D. Jones.

In this video, children absolutely skewer the attitudes and platitudes that have become a part of the working lives of far too many people. Kevin Jones calls these people cogs and has mounted a campaign to redeem their work lives. He calls himself a “decogofier” and is dedicated to a mission that is long overdue: “We aim to help others out of an emotional workplace poverty and put them back in control.  We also help orgs decog their workforce.”

How do you know if you’re a cog?  The deCOG blog suggests that you ask yourself the following questions:

1) Are you a corporate slave or someone who is in charge of his/her own career?

2) Do you bring your whole-self to work, or just the part that needs to get the job done?

3) Have you forgotten what it feels like to be passionate about your work?

4) Are you holding out, hoping a restructure or layoff doesn’t happen?

5) Do you use phrases like, “Back to the grind,.” “Will this week ever be over?” “I can’t wait ’til the weekend.”

6) Do you know WHY you work? Or do you work for a paycheck?

7) Do you feel that you can act, or do you feel acted upon?

8) Do you feel comfortable rocking the boat when you need to, or do you fear retaliation more?

9) Do you know what your work values are and are you true to them? If the company violated those values, would you leave?

10) Do you feel empowered enough to be able to create huge amounts of value?

In this economy, it truly is a great thing to have a job. But you need to be sure that the job you have is the job you want.  Above all, it should be job that brings out the best in you — not a job that brings out the worst of the stories you tell yourself.


Remembering Carl Frappaolo

On Thursday, March 21, the family and friends of Carl Frappaolo are gathering in Boston to celebrate the life of one of the leaders of the knowledge management community. Since I cannot be in Boston for that gathering, I am writing some remembrances here.

I last saw Carl at the KMWorld conference in October 2012 where he accepted the KMWorld Reality Award on behalf of his organization, FSG. In many ways, the Reality Award typifies what Carl stood for:  moving beyond the rhetoric to actually getting something useful done through KM.  To underscore the point, here’s what the announcement of the award said:

This award recognizes an organization in which knowledge management is a positive reality. The recipient of the KM Reality award is an organization demonstrating leadership in the implementation of knowledge management practices and processes by realizing measurable business benefits.

While Carl was not about mere rhetoric, he certainly had a deep understanding of the vocabulary and theory of knowledge management. He knew what it takes to be “a good knowledge leader.” This provided the foundation for his more than two decades as a widely respected KM practitioner. His bio at Delphi Group (which he co-founded) is impressive. Here are just a few excerpts:

  • “With over 25 years of experience working with a broad array of business solutions including knowledge and content management, portals, search engines, document management, workflow, BPM, records management, imaging, intranets and electronic document databases, Mr. Frappaolo is well versed in the practical business aspects and technical aspects of implementing large scale e-applications.”
  • “Mr. Frappaolo has been recognized by AIIM International (the Association for Information and Image Management) as a Master of Information Technology and as an Information Systems Laureate, and in 2000, was bestowed the Distinguished Service Award by AIIM.”
  • “Mr. Frappaolo has authored over 300 studies on the technology and practices of e-business, portals, Knowledge Management and Electronic Document Management and has been cited and published in leading industry periodicals….”
  • “Recognized as an industry leader with great technological foresight, Mr. Frappaolo is a frequent speaker at conferences and trade shows and has delivered the keynote address at numerous national and international trade and user conventions. His audiences consistently find his presentations thought provoking and always on the cutting edge.”

I had the good fortune to hear Carl speak on many occasions. One memorable keynote talk he gave was at the 2010 Enterprise 2.0 Conference at which he asked “Can E2.0 Crack Through KM Culture?” While I cannot do it justice, my notes of his talk coupled with his slides should give you a glimpse of his knowledge and insight.

At KMWorld and shortly thereafter, Carl and I spoke about his work with FSG. He was inordinately proud of the accomplishments of that organization in the world.  This pride is evident in his quotation featured on his FSG bio page:

What attracted me most to FSG was the mission of the organization. After a long and successful career as a consultant assisting hundreds of organizations advance their causes by maximizing the value obtained from their intellectual property and experience, I was looking for a chance to use my experience and skills in a way that would have a serious and positive impact on pressing and important social issues. FSG gives me that opportunity.

What is equally evident is the high regard in which Carl’s colleagues at FSG and beyond held him.  He will be missed.


Don’t Leave Talent on the Table

Dandelion Have you ever made the mistake of leaving talent on the table when hiring or staffing? If so, you should consider what Robert Austin has to say in the video below about the Danish software testing company, Specialisterne. This company recruits and retains a workforce that is uniquely suited to the rigors of software testing. What’s so special about their staff?  Most have been diagnosed with some form of autism. It’s important to note is that this company’s business model is not based primarily on grudging accommodation of people outside the norm. Rather it’s built on “using the characteristics of people with autism as a competitive advantage.” Here’s the company’s extraordinary story in its own words:

At Specialisterne, people with autism work in an environment where they are presented with the best possible opportunities to reach their potential. They don’t have to learn to adapt to the usual working-environment norms, such as being a good team player, being empathetic, handling stress well and showing flexibility. These are not the usual characteristics for people with autism; a fact that usual[ly] results in their being excluded long-term from the labour market. Instead, Specialisterne welcomes the very differences and character traits that are so often seen as a stigma.

Putting it simply; at Specialisterne, not fitting in is a good thing. The traits that usually exclude people with autism from the labour market are the very traits that make them valuable employees at Specialisterne, such as attention to detail, zero tolerance for errors and a persistence to get the job done. We don’t see them as people with an autism diagnosis; rather, we see them as true specialists, which is why we refer to them as “specialist people”. Imagine a world where someone who was once defined by their diagnosis, would instead be defined as a “specialist person” ?

As Austin notes in the video, companies that pass over idiosyncratic talent in favor of more well-rounded or complete talent end up “leaving talent on the table.” They may settle for uncomplicated and reasonably good over slightly more challenging but brilliant.  According to Austin, one way to ensure that you don’t leave talent on the table is to check yourself every time you find yourself sacrificing talent for ease within your context when hiring and staffing.  To explain the importance of context he paraphrases Thorkil Sonne, founder of Specialisterne, who uses the metaphor of a dandelion:

The dandelion is generally considered to be a weed. However, dandelions can be valuable: they have medicinal properties and can be used to make a salad, a coffee substitute and wine, among other things. Therefore, the dandelion’s essential characteristics are not what makes us view the plant as a weed, but rather the context in which we find it. A dandelion in a lawn is unwelcome, while a dandelion in an herb garden is likely to be nurtured. Similarly, companies may consider people with autism to be unemployable because those companies have been forcing these people into inappropriate and unsupportive contexts. Change the context and then you realize the benefits.

In these days of shrinking budgets, do you want a minimally competent but unremarkable team, or should you be thinking about the competitive advantage you gain by hiring idiosyncratic talent? While idiosyncratic talent may require gifted managers, Specialisterne demonstrates the benefits of this unconventional approach.

They don’t leave talent on the table.

[Photo Credit: Code Poet]


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.



Dave Pollard: Conversations that Don’t Suck #kmw12 #KMWorld

Dave Pollard is retired CKO at E&Y and Director, Group Pattern Language Project. For more information on the Group Pattern Language Project see www.groupworksdeck.org

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2012 Conference. Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, 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.]


  • Intention. How you prepare for a meeting has an enormous impact on the results of the meeting. For example, engaging a facilitator beforehand can help surface conflicting agendas early. What matters with respect to intention? Set the focus for the meeting early and articulate that priority clearly and early.
  • Context. To promote better conversation, place them in a pleasant discussion space. Even if you have participants of different rank, make sure you’ve created a welcoming and equal playing field so that everyone feels empowered to contribute regardless of rank. Be sure that you understand and give respect to group culture and the history/context of the discussion. Finally, make sure you’ve invited the right people to the meeting and that all of them are present and participating.
  • Relationship. “Hosting” a meeting is a critical role. They set and maintain the tone of the meeting. You can help build relationship by breaking bread together, expressing appreciation for the members of the group and encouraging the good faith assumption (i,e., accept that we are all doing our best). Other critical factors are transparency, shared airtime and continuous attention to tending the relationships as they grow,
  • Flow. Pay attention to the rhythm, energy, balance, and pacing from beginning to end. How you open a meeting sets the tone. Equally how you close the meeting can help with resolution — especially where there has been conflict or uncertainty in the meeting. Be aware that if you are exploring a new topic or looking for new ideas, you need to observe the divergence/convergence rhythm: diverge so that you can brainstorm and then converge to come to consensus.
  • Creativity. Be careful that you don’t shut down creativity too early. Common ways of doing this are failing to encourage bold thinking, trying to force new ideas into an existing structure too quickly, using budgetary constraints to stop new ideas, being unwilling to be playful (using humor and fun). That said, be aware of the “power of constraints.” If you embrace limitations as challenges, that can help focus your efforts more productively. Just be aware of your intentions — don’t rush to a constraint if your goal is to shut down the current conversation.
  • Perspective. When it looks like a meeting is running off the rails, it may be necessary to help everyone shift perspective. For example, help the group focus on common ground. While doing that, don’t ignore what’s going on — be sure to honor the contradiction and ambiguity that has emerged. Other ways of shifting perspective are (1) Fractal (notice patterns repeating at different levels); (2) Go meta (widen the lens, change the frame of analysis; (3) Change your focus by zooming in or zooming out (focus on forest or focus on trees); (4) Time shift (reflect on the past, envision the future); (5) Translation (reframe, articulate, bridge differences); (6) Value the margins (listen to voices from the edge);(7) Viewpoint shift (see with new eyes so you can think differently about the problem).
  • Modelling. The facilitator needs to be very courageous throughout this process — don’t be defensive — just hold the participants to their commitment to achieve/perform together. In addition, the facilitator needs to “hold space” — this means maintaining the trust, focus and openness of the group. Sometimes the facilitator may need to say “I’m stuck here and need help moving us past this logjam.” Ideal participant behaviors include (1) listening carefully until you really understand what is being said (or not said); (2) mirroring — reflecting back what you’ve heard; (3) don’t things personally — it isn’t always about you; (4) be self-aware — understand your own values, biases, needs, biases, gifts. One key technique is to use the words “Yes, and” rather than beginning with the word “But.”
  • Inquiry & Synthesis. At this stage, it’s important to take time to reflect. Then distill by summarizing/synthesizing what’s been said or decided. If necessary,consider going deeper (drilling down) until you really undersatnd what’s going on.
  • Faith. While this may be a tough concept for a business audience, it is important that people trust that by doing the right things, the right result will emerge. Letting go and letting come can be very hard — especially for the faciitator.



Overcoming Law Firm Irrationality [#ILTA12]

We’d like to think that our advanced education protects us from the dangers of irrationality, but for too many of us that is a delusion. The reality is that unless you are keenly aware of how you make decisions, you may well find that your seemingly logical decisions are riddled with unconscious errors. As modern psychology is demonstrating, most individuals know surprisingly little about what happens in the space between our ears. Now, before you start protesting that you’re smarter than the average bear (and, therefore, fully capable of avoiding irrationality), consider how often you’ve observed irrational decision making on the part of others. It happens all the time.

It truly is easier to see the speck in another person’s eye than the log in your own eye.

If individual decision making is rife with irrationality, what happens when a group of people make decisions on behalf of an organization? Unless they are very careful, they are liable to achieve collectively an even greater degree of irrationality than an individual acting alone.

So what’s the cure? I’m so glad you asked.

Come to the ILTA conference on Thursday, August 30, at 3:30pm (in Maryland B) to hear an entertaining and thought-provoking discussion about common cognitive traps into which people tend to fall and learn how we can move our decision making process out of the realm of the unconscious and sometimes irrational to the more rigorous, deliberate and rational. Along the way, we’ll discuss how data (whether it be Big Data or little data) can help light the path to more rational decision making.

The name of this session is “Overcoming Irrationality: Improve Decision-Making and Client Service with Strategic Uses of Data” [Hashtag: #INFO6]. The panelists for this session are the name partners of that “preeminent” law firm: Abraham Friedmann Mills & Rovner LLP. Those of you who have attended recent ILTA conferences will know that this will be the third year in which this firm has held a partners meeting in conjunction with the ILTA conference. In prior years, these partners have discussed the implications of two radically different law firm business models (i.e., law factory vs. bet-the-farm practices) and how to future-proof your law firm. This year they will get to heart of why so many law firm organizational decisions are fundamentally irrational. They also plan to give examples of how other industries have used data to make more rational decisions.

As in prior years, we expect a lively discussion with the audience. So come prepared to jettison your preconceptions and jump into the conversation.