Had a Bad Day?

Today was a good day.  Really.

I had the pleasure of some productive meetings and a chunk of quiet time to get things done. Best of all, I was delighted to find myself on the receiving end of compliments regarding a recently launched law firm knowledge management resource that I’ve been working on for some time. Who could complain? Certainly not me.

That said, I realize that days like this are not always the norm — especially not for KM professionals. There are too many days when it seems as if everyone is a critic. On days like that it’s worth remembering that taking a longer view can be helpful. This was brought home to me several years ago when, in response to clear user feedback, we introduced a brand new KM system. I took the constructive criticism in stride until someone said to me, “Why can’t you make this system just like the old one?”  Really??? Fast forward a few years and those same critics were sending colleagues to the “new” resource because (surprise, surprise) it actually worked well. Unbelievable.

Lest we think KM folks are specially set aside for abuse, you might find it instructive to see the vitriol that was heaped on some movies that David Christopher Bell features in the 10 Classic Movies that Critics Hated. I’m willing to bet real money that no one in your organization ever said of your efforts anything comparable to this: “…a nice try that misfired.” That was the critical response to The Night of the Hunter. This is how Bell describes it:

No other film is as known for being so great and having such a poor reception than The Night Of The Hunter. The film itself is now played to every student churned out of film school and praised as being a masterpiece of both cinema and horror. The truth is that the film really is that good – it was simply made in the wrong era…

With the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, Wikipedia reports:

In 1992, The Night of the Hunter was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in its National Film Registry.

That’s not so bad for a “misfire.”

Granted, you may not want to wait 37 years for vindication, but isn’t it comforting to know that quality usually does show through notwithstanding the misperceptions of early critics? That’s worth remembering on days when it feels like everyone is a critic.


Enterprise 2.0 and Social Networking’s Influences on Human Resources [#e2conf]

Oliver Marks moderated this session involving representatives from Newsgator, Neudesic, Yammer and Ultimate Software.

[These are my notes from the Enterprise 2.0 Conference 2012 in Boston. 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.]


  • Using Social Tools to Augment HR Data.Lisa Sterling, Head of People Engagement at Ultimate Software, reports that her HR group gathers HR-related information from their Yammer implementation to provide timely performance data. For example, rather than treating performance reviews as an annual event, they find status updates in Yammer in which colleagues praise the work of other colleagues and use that current information on individual performance.
  • The Alternative to the Document-Centric Approach of HR. Newsgator uses a social layer to surface HR-related information in the place where people are working — not in a separate HR system of record. A Neudesic customer is using an auto-follow function in Neudesic Pulse during the onboarding process to provide new employees with a group of early connections to help their integration into the organization.
  • What’s the Impact of Individual Social Activities on Our Work Life? When Ultimate rolled out Yammer, they didn’t provide warnings about forbidden activities. Rather, they helped employees understand the benefits of microblogging. They haven’t had an issue with self-promotion or improper reciprocity (e.g., if you praise me, I’ll praise you). Ann Lee reiterates that before you implement a social tool, be sure you’re clear about the business benefits. Don’t focus merely on the “coolness” of the tools (or the dangers of the tools).
  • What’s the Value of Adding Social? Neudesic estimates that organizations will save initially $1500 per employee from implementing their product. However, if a social tool fosters a connection that leads to a business process improvement or a product innovation, then you’re looking at a much bigger return on your social investment.
  • How to Filter Information in these Systems? Information overload can be a major problem with social platforms. Yammer enables you to structure the data dynamically to help surface relevant information, aggregated by topics that are pushed to users.
  • Should HR be Involved in Social Media Implementation? HR needs to be sure that the social platforms are supported by appropriate staffing outside IT (eg., from knowledge management, etc.). These new tools will surface new roles such as content curation and community management. HR is a key stakeholder that is commonly overlooked in these projects that typically are viewed as primarily technology projects. HR’s role shouldn’t be limited to sanctioning employees for using Facebook at work. HR should be involved in deployments to leverage its extensive knowledge of the organization’s culture and work force.
  • Success Stories Newsgator reports that Deloitte views their social tools as a key part of their overall talent management effort. They look at “the whole arc” of the relationship between an individual and their organization and see how social tools foster that relationship. Ultimate Software realized that with the influx of millennials, Facebook (and similar sites) had rich collections of data on Ultimate because their millennials were posting there. Ultimate wanted to give those millennials an internal place to post that valuable information. When Neudesic integrated their own product (Neudesic Pulse) with their HR system, they found that by strategic use by HR, they were able to make the onboarding process quicker and more effective. One of Yammer’s retail clients uses Yammer to share best practices and market information in real time across the organization.
  • Collaboration is a People Problem, Not Just a Technology Problem. If a company views HR solely as a cost center, that organization is unlikely to give HR a seat at the table. If a company views collaboration as a performance challenge, then you have to involve the talent management team.
  • The Consumarization of HR Just like we’ve experienced the consumarization of IT, employees are asserting more individual approaches to their training and career development. They want to learn in a manner that suits their personal style and they want to take that learning with them. Social technology can help tailor HR offerings to the need of the individual.
  • Social Flattens the Organization By its very nature, social technology tends to sidestep hierarchy, thereby flattening the organization. It also surfaces talent. HR needs to be aware of this and needs to be able to shape this and deal with the consequences. HR could also exploit this for leadership development and successsion planning purposes.

No Time for KM

Clocks 1 Everyone is busy. No one has enough time. We’re racing to get as much done as quickly as possible.

Welcome to the real life version of Beat the Clock.

If we superimpose on our busy lives the legal industry’s focus on the billable hour, we end up with some challenges about how to spend our time. Clearly client service needs trump all other demands on our time. Then there are the business development needs, and the continuing legal education needs, and the law firm administrative needs.  All of this adds up to more work than we can complete in a reasonable work day.

Now please tell me: where do the lawyers in your firm find time for knowledge management?

The Secret Powers of Time

If this wasn’t bad enough, have you considered that the time perspective of your law firm colleagues may also have a negative effect on their willingness or ability to contribute to KM efforts? To be honest, until I saw the video below on The Secret Powers of Time, I hadn’t given much thought to time orientation. I had just assumed that most of us were in identical races against the clock. As with many things in life, it turns out that things are a bit more complicated.

So what makes our relationship with time more complicated? According to Dr. Philip Zimbardo, it’s that people can have different time orientations or, has he describes it, they can inhabit one of six different time zones:

  • Past positive: These people focus on “the good old times”
  • Past negative: These people focus on past failure and regret
  • Present hedonistic: These people live for today — seek pleasure (avoid pain), sensation, novelty
  • Present fatalistic: These people believes that their future is a matter of fate so there is no point in planning
  • Future positive: These people work and plan for the future
  • Future negative: These people believe that life begins after death

According to Zimbardo, we all begin life as present hedonists. He believes that one key function of the family and, especially, of schools is “to take present oriented little beasts and to make them more future oriented.” (While this may be true in the US, he acknowledges that some cultures aim to make the child more past oriented).

But there’s more intriguing news about our relationship with time:

  • Geography affects your perspective on time: the closer you live to the equator, the more likely you are to be present oriented.
  • The pace of life differs from place to place and culture to culture. In the US, researchers have ranked 60 cities according to the pace of life in each city. They found that in the cities with the highest pace of life, men have the most coronary problems. (See The Geography of Time by Robert Levine.)
  • A recent study shows that by the time he is 21, a boy has spent 10,000 hours by himself playing video games. This means that he is used to a virtual world in which he has more control, action and excitement than he has in the real world.  And, since he has been alone at his computer, he hasn’t learned key social skills or developed emotional intelligence.  His brain is being digitally rewired and he won’t fit into an analog world or in an analog classroom that emphasizes passive learning.
  • All addictions are addictions of present hedonism. However, most public service messages are focused on future consequences.  This is a message that resonates with future-oriented people, not the present hedonists suffering with addictions.
  • There is a fundamental change occurring in our society with respect to how we view time. People now get angry while waiting for technology– especially when waiting for their computer to boot up or for something to download. This anger is disproportionate given that these functions usually occur in a matter of minutes. Even so, we consider waiting for even a short while to be a complete waste of time and we increasingly have a negative emotional response to waiting.

If a lawyer in your firm is oriented towards the present rather than the future, it will be difficult to convince that lawyer to work on a KM project that promises future rather than present benefits.  If a lawyer is future-oriented, they should be more inclined to invest in KM now for a future benefit. This suggests that you should target your KM program requests carefully so that you focus on future-oriented people.  The others most likely will not participate with enthusiasm.

I’ll give Dr. Zimbardo the closing word:

I think many of life’s puzzles can be solved by simply understanding our own time perspective and that of others. Lots of conflict we have with people is really a conflict in different time perspectives. Once you’re aware of that, you stop making negative attributions like you’re dumb or you’re childish or you’re pigheaded or you’re authoritarian. It’s really the most simple idea in the world.


See also, The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life.

[Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds]


Why Read the Book When You’ve Got the Cover?

We should have learned our lesson by now:  the lesson that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.  Nonetheless, time after time, we rush to judgment with precious little objective evidence to support our position.

I was reminded of this when a trail of links led me to some clips from Britain’s Got Talent.  In this instance, Simon Cowell could have been any one of us.  He clearly reached a negative conclusion based on appearances alone and then had to backtrack in the face of evidence that completely undermined his premature judgment.

For those of you who are devotees of this show, the encounter with Jonathan Antoine will remind you of Susan Boyle’s introduction to the world:

And there was Paul Potts as well:

In fairness, research indicates that we may not be able to help ourselves when it comes to judging faces:

…when we see a new face, our brains decide whether a person is attractive and trustworthy within a tenth of a second, according to recent Princeton research.

Princeton University psychologist Alex Todorov has found that people respond intuitively to faces so rapidly that our reasoning minds may not have time to influence the reaction — and that our intuitions about attraction and trust are among those we form the fastest.

“The link between facial features and character may be tenuous at best, but that doesn’t stop our minds from sizing other people up at a glance,” said Todorov, an assistant professor of psychology. `We decide very quickly whether a person possesses many of the traits we feel are important, such as likeability and competence, even though we have not exchanged a single word with them. It appears that we are hard-wired to draw these inferences in a fast, unreflective way.’

Nonetheless, we owe it to ourselves to try to be as rational as possible when making decisions.  We owe it to ourselves to be aware of the tendency to act without rational thought and then counteract it with an evenhanded search for evidence. If we aren’t always capable of rational thought, we should at a minimum be honest about that failing.

Lest you think it is only folks in the entertainment industry who persist in reaching judgments on the strength of the cover alone without bothering to read the book, consider how some folks in the legal industry reach their judgments on non-legal matters. Have you heard someone dismiss a technology out of hand without taking the time to try it properly?  Have you seen someone purchase a device or software without doing much due diligence beforehand? Have you heard anyone make a pronouncement about the adoption or usefulness of  “X”  without first looking at the relevant data? (You can replace X with the name of almost any law firm knowledge management system or IT system.)

Rapid cognition may be supremely helpful in a life-or-death situation where quick reflexes and decisions can mean survival. But, for all the other circumstances in life, what do we lose when we make snap decisions?




Your Values Proposition

True Value As the economy forces more belt-tightening on law firms, it’s tempting to make decisions based strictly on metrics — of profitability, productivity, efficiency.  For the record, I’m completely in favor of profitability, productivity and efficiency.  But I firmly believe there is more we should be paying attention to and tracking.  What more?  Our Values Proposition, not just our value proposition.

Value proposition is a basic concept of business. [Note: this is “value” without a final “s.”]  Wikipedia describes value proposition as “a promise of value to be delivered and a belief from the customer of value that will be experienced.” It’s the benefit delivered to the customer (from KM personnel, services and systems, for example), after taking into effect the cost of those personnel, services and systems. Once we know our value proposition, we use it to explain to our internal customers why they should be using our services or to explain to management why they should be funding yet another KM project. Perhaps your KM value proposition is based on the efficiency your systems bring to the practice of law. Perhaps your KM value proposition is derived from costs you demonstrably reduce.

Amber Naslund takes it one step further by reminding us that a value proposition isn’t just a business school exercise or a marketing gimmick:

Delivering something worthwhile is not achieved in a board room with big flip charts and spreadsheets and ideation sessions. It’s not delivered with a slick brochure or well-written copy, or a stack of press hits in the Wall Street Journal. It’s not delivered in key messages or brand attributes, even. It’s delivered in the work that you do with and for your customers, each and every day. The hard stuff, where you roll up your sleeves and show what you’re made of. Solving real problems for real people.

While a value proposition is useful, I’m beginning to think that a values proposition is critical. Bill Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company and author of Practically Radical, used the phrase in a recent HBR blog post to suggest a better way to differentiate yourself from the competition:

There is a temptation, amidst the turmoil, for pundits to conclude that the only sensible response is to make bold bets — new business models that challenge the logic of an industry, products that aim to be `category killers’ and obsolete the competition. But I’ve come to believe that a better way to respond to uncertainty is with small gestures that send big signals about what you care about and stand for. In a world defined by crisis, acts of generosity and reassurance take on outsized importance.

He goes on to describe interactions with service providers who were competent but left the customer dissatisfied because the delivery of services lacked humanity.  He then contrasts that with service providers whose values helped them understand in the critical moment what really matters.  As a result, they provided “not-so-random acts of kindness that humanize companies and offer an uplifting alternative to a demoralizing status quo.”

This raises an interesting question: what’s the values proposition of your department?

  • What’s the quality of your service?
  • Do you love what you are doing? If so, does it show?
  • What’s the tone of your interactions with colleagues and customers?
  • To what extent do kindness and consideration color your actions?
  • What intangibles about your service do your clients value?
  • What intangibles about your department make your colleagues glad to be part of your team?

Bill Taylor quotes Mother Theresa who once told her followers: “We cannot do great things, only small things with great love.”

What do your small everyday actions say about your values?

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[Photo Credit: Jonathan]




Momento Mori

10-07 Store Shrines  005 Remember your mortality. That’s what the Latin phrase “momento mori” means.  It’s also the message behind  some significant art produced over the centuries.  In earlier times, the artists were not always subtle about their message regarding the inevitability of death.  They simply added a skull or another example of decaying nature to the portrait or still life they were painting.  Over the years, we’ve come to understand this symbolism when we see it.  However, nothing in art history prepared me for the symbolism of the post-it note.

We were walking to dinner late Friday night when I saw something odd on a nearby storefront:  post-it notes plastered on the store’s windows.  Below, some candles and flowers.  It was only when I got closer that I realized the store was an Apple store and the post-it notes were a tribute to Steve Jobs. Some of the sentiments expressed were trite, but all were heartfelt. The body language of the people gathered outside the store was telling as well — quiet, thoughtful, somber — they were trying to assess the scope of the loss.

Steve Jobs wasn’t coy about death.  In his famous Stanford commencement speech he told us that death had been a constant companion since he was 17-years old and read a life-altering quotation:  “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.”  Jobs continues:

It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: `If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been `No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

In Jobs’ view, it was vitally important to love what you do:

You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

Stephen Wolfram wrote a very personal tribute to Jobs in which he made the following observation about his friend:

In my life, I have had the good fortune to interact with all sorts of talented people. To me, Steve Jobs stands out most for his clarity of thought. Over and over again he took complex situations, understood their essence, and used that understanding to make a bold definitive move, often in a completely unexpected direction.

Clarity of thought, doing what he loved, being passionately committed to excellence.  These are the hallmarks of this influential man.

It’s easy to think about this now and then shove it away in a drawer until another public figure dies too young.  However, that would be to do great disservice to the man and to the message.  For myself, I suspect that whenever I see a post-it note, I’ll be reminded of why it’s important to do great work, to do work that I love.

The post-it note is designed to adhere and re-adhere without leaving a residue.  It is used to capture the ephemeral.  It is not meant to last forever. It’s meant for now.  On reflection, perhaps it is a very suitable medium for momento mori in the modern age.


You owe it to yourself to take a few minutes and watch this video of Steve Jobs’ commencement speech.  (His remarks start at the 7:30 minute mark.) I’ve also provided links below to the text of his speech and some additional materials.



Text:  (courtesy of National Public Radio)



[Photo Credit: Pelcinary]





Poetry and Passwords

Collection of PoetryWe were enjoying a leisurely lunch with some retired friends when the conversation turned to the indignities of aging.  The older folks around the table complained about how hard it was now to remember the things that they had in their younger days retrieved effortlessly.  One proudly spoke of the many poems he had memorized as a boy.  Another had committed significant portions of the Bible to memory.  Half joking, I said that the only things I memorized nowadays were … passwords.

What a sad commentary on modern life!

There was a time when I took great delight in finding whimsical passwords as the spirit moved.  However, that casual approach often won’t fly any longer. When every password has to have a particular combination of upper and lower case letters, plus at least one number and one character (and you aren’t allowed to repeat passwords too frequently), the hunt for an acceptable password becomes even more challenging.  Now, it requires careful planning. (Having a slightly twisted mind doesn’t hurt either.)

Even if you’re tempted to ignore the recent security breaches, chances are that your employer is insisting that you use more discipline and care in choosing passwords.  For that matter, your online bank, your email service, your preferred shopping websites and your favorite social media platforms probably require stronger passwords too.

If you’d rather memorize poetry than passwords, consider turning to Leet to help you devise passwords that pass muster.  Jesse Friedman’s recent post, Leet Speaking Passwords, helps explain how to use this technique.  By swapping some of the letters in your password for similar numbers and characters, you can create a unique and memorable password that is strong enough to make a hacker cry. For example, using leet the name “Jesse” becomes “J3$$3.”

So if you’d rather spend your precious grey matter on poetry instead of passwords, consider adopting Friedman’s leet speaking approach.  I can promise you that the poetry you read will bring far more joy than any list of passwords.


For additional advice on passwords, see my earlier post Safe Passwords.

[Photo Credit: Vintage Cat]




The Purpose-Driven Organization

What’s the purpose of your organization? (No, that’s not a trick question.) Deb Lavoy and her colleagues at OpenText believe that answering that question is the first critical step every organization must take.

Putting their money where their mouth is, OpenText hosted on July 11 the first of what promises to be a thought-provoking series of conversations about the purpose-driven organization. The speaker at the event* was Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why. Drawing on examples as diverse as the civil rights movement, Navy SEALS, the Wright brothers, Apple and Disney, he explained that the primary role of a leader is to have a vision of the world as it can be, and then to articulate that purpose with enough clarity and energy so as to inspire others to work towards that purpose.

Granted it’s promotional material, but here’s a synopsis provided by his publishers:

In studying the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world, Simon Sinek discovered that they all think, act, and communicate in the exact same way — and it’s the complete opposite of what everyone else does. Sinek calls this powerful idea The Golden Circle, and it provides a framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be lead, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with WHY.

Any organization can explain what it does; some can explain how they do it; but very few can clearly articulate why. WHY is not money or profit– those are always results. WHY does your organization exist? WHY does it do the things it does? WHY do customers really buy from one company or another? WHY are people loyal to some leaders, but not others?

Starting with WHY works in big business and small business, in the nonprofit world and in politics. Those who start with WHY never manipulate, they inspire. And the people who follow them don’t do so because they have to; they follow because they want to.

Why does your organization need a well-articulated purpose? Simon Sinek believes that without a clear and compelling purpose, you cannot recruit, retain and inspire the highly motivated people who are so committed to a shared sense of purpose that they will move mountains to achieve it. It’s this willingness to go above and beyond that sets them, and ultimately their organization, apart.

For my readers in the legal industry, don’t assume that this conversation about purpose is only for our clients.  Bruce MacEwen writing at Adam Smith Esq covered some of this territory in Thoughts on IBM’s 100th: Idea or Product, where he attributes IBM’s nimbleness and longevity to its view of itself “not as an organization creating products but as an organization loyal to an idea.”  He then summarizes a list from The Economist of companies that are animated by ideas versus those focused on products:

  • IBM:  Package technology for use by business
  • Apple:  Package the latest technoology in simple, elegant form and sell it at a premium
  • Amazon:  Make it easy for people to buy stuff
  • Facebook:  Help people share things with friends easily
  • Dell:  Building PCs very very efficiently
  • Cisco:  Routers
  • Microsoft:  Windows

Taking this dichotomy straight to the door of law firms, he asks: “Are there firms premised on fealty to ideas and firms premised on selling products (practice areas)?” After naming a couple of firms that might be “idea” firms, and one sad example of a “product” firm, he reaches a sobering conclusion:

Alas, I suspect that law firms premised on a widely recognized idea are rare.   Many would insist they are idea-based, but dig under the surface and I bet you’ll find a mutating assemblage of practice areas and geographies without–in most cases–an overarching idea that all the partners could tell you in their sleep motivates the firm.

If he is right about this, how will firms recruit, retain and motivate excellent people? How can firms ensure their own longevity? Is it really just about paying market salaries?  I suspect it has a great deal more to do with the type of culture a firm nurtures, and the quality of the clients and work a firm attracts.

As we continue in this period of economic uncertainty, it’s worth considering whether your law firm, company, business unit, department, school or nonprofit has what it takes for the long haul.  You should start by asking WHY.


If you’d like to hear more about the importance of knowing your purpose, here’s Simon Sinek’s very popular TED Talk:


*Disclosure: This event was sponsored by OpenText and free to the public.

[Photo Credit: Godserv]


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]