The Future of Search #ILTAG31 #ILTACON

Session Description:

What does the future hold for search in law firms? How far will legal knowledge management push the search envelope beyond documents, matters and expertise? Further than you think! Let’s explore the future of search, including integrating search-enabled applications, broadening the search scope available to the mobile professional, incorporating artificial intelligence, enhanced visualization and the use of predictive analytics, and the use of machine-generated metadata  to improve search results. See how search can fulfill its promise of making your lawyers more effective and firm-client relationships more collaborative.

Identify possible search functions
Visualize the future of search in your law firm
Learn how you can prepare for the future of search
Hear Case Studies from two law firms to improve search


  • Doug Freeman, Knowledge Systems Manager, White & Case
  • Peter Wallqvist, VP of Strategy, iManage/RAVN
  • Todd J. Friedlich, Senior Manager of KM Technology and Innovation, Ropes & Gray
  • Glenn LaForce, VP of Knowledge Management, Aderant

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2017 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • Drive User Adoption.
    • Maximize points of contact — Don’t put search under a separate tab. Instead, put a search box on every page of the intranet, on the laptop, on their desktop, on their Citrix desktop
    • Reduce user “click” – Enable type ahead so users don’t have to type too much
    • Understand Adoption Stats — look at content usage (are the lawyers looking for legal documents or specific tools?). Plus tie in other data sources. For example, combine financial stats with your user stats to see if there is a correlation between high users and profitability.
    • User adoption — is the “document” the primary container of knowledge? Lawyers and professionals don’t think only in “documents”. There are other containers of knowledge that are natural for users. So deconstruct documents into their constituent parts, such as clauses. Focus first on the business problem they are trying to solve in their search.
  • Provide an Intuitive Search Experience.
    • On the web, search seems intuitive. Unfortunately, it is too often a completely different experience inside the enterprise.
    • To improve the search experience, move from keyword counts to contextual understanding to determine relevance. Google did this by using hyperlinks to validate relevance. Because you may not have hyperlinks within the firm, you will need to bring other internal and external data to bear. (White & Case uses internal and external (from vendors) data to help determine relevance.)
    • Make it easier to find your content by increasing the refinement options beyond those provided by the system that is the source of your data. Ropes & Gray merges data from a variety of sources to provide more ways to refine/filter their search results.
    • Leverage search intent to provide customized refinement options/weighted results. For example, increase the weight of rankings based on the identity of the searcher.
  • Provide a More Complete Set of Information.
    • How to bring in more external sources to augment search results? Earlier, the only way was to use federated search. Then some external vendors (e.g., Practical Law Company) allowed firms to index PLC content, which drove much higher levels of PLC use. Now some external data sources are allowing firms to index on premises subsets of their vendor content (e.g., treatises).
    • When bringing in vendor data, also bring in snippets that allow the user to preview the content.
    • These techniques really drive higher levels of usage of vendor content.
  • Lowering the Cost of Custom Search-Based Applications.
    • A search platform is in the unique position of being a universal portal/repository of information. It can show data from disparate systems in a single interface.
    • New search systems should have a flexible API to enable creative uses of their search tool.
    • Repurpose existing system: For example, can you repurpose the custom macros or javascript you have already developed?
    • As vendors provide more flexible APIs, it will be possible to combine/recombine those APIs without a developer
    • Ropes & Gray is prototyping tools for non-developers/power users:
      • Data Dictionary and Custom Aggregation Tool to allow joining of data by end/power users
      • RAD tools such as SharePoint/ Nintext so power users can create workflow-enabled, dynamic forms to power search.
    • The more you can lowering these barriers, the more you lower the cost of development by enabling work by non-developers.
  • Trends for the Next Five Years.
    • Chat bots — for example, Do Not Pay is a chat bot for fighting tickets. It guides the user through a process online. Can we extend this to other operations? It allows the computer to figure out what you are looking for and then deliver it to you. It allows you to “go on a journey” just like you do when you speak with a person.
    • Cloud — if you have applications in the cloud, how can you access and index them efficiently in your on prem system? But going beyond this, should search be a cloud service? (Where the document is on prem but its text is “represented” and indexed/searched in the cloud.)
      • Search will have to “follow the data” where it lives. Then we will need appropriate policies/governance so clients are confident about security and confidentiality.
      • One day, clients may ask to search their documents on your system by using your index.
    • Time and Billing — use AI to determine key characteristics of time records, then use those results to enrich search. In the next five years, there will be a convergence between AI and search.
  • Security and Rights Management.
    • This has been a perennial challenge for search.
    • A proper enterprise search engine should respect your security rules. But the humans in charge need to specify those security rules for the search engine.
    • GDPR is an incredibly onerous data protection law that is coming into force in Europe. Now it is a criminal offense to expose data that should not be accessible. On the other hand, a properly-implemented search engine that respects security rules should help address this problem.
    • When a firm is required to lock content down on a need-to-know basis, you can still derive value from search because sometimes the metadata exposed by the search engine is as important (or more important) that the underlying hidden document.

What Uber Can Teach Us About Feedback #ILTAG21 #ILTACON

Session Description:

Contemporaneous customer feedback has become an integral component of the economic model for many service industries. From restaurants to ride shares, a wide array of companies leverage this feedback to improve their offerings, connecting them more meaningfully to what their customers value most. Why has law not implemented a similar feedback loop between firms and clients? Are there structural impediments to real time feedback? How might we go about constructing a system where such feedback is encouraged and used to improve legal services? Come hear a law department leader, an AmLaw executive, and an itinerant futurist share their thoughts on the availability of feedback in law today, the type of contemporaneous information we should be collecting, how it presents opportunities to firms and clients alike, and how organizations like ILTA can play a pivotal role in fostering the collaboration needed to develop a meaningful feedback system.


  • Understand the benefits of meaningful feedback for firms and clients
  • Generate ideas regarding the type of feedback valuable to improving the services firms offer
  • Identify how organizations such as ILTA can be pivotal in creating feedback standards


  • John Alber, ILTA Futurist
  • Michael Haven, Senior Director, AGC, and Head of Legal Operations at Gap Inc.
  • Jeffrey C. Schwartz, Head of Legal Operations Innovation at Hinshaw & Culbertson

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2017 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • Make sure you are requesting feedback for the right reasons. Initially, some firms undertook client feedback programs because they heard it “made the client relationship stickier.” This is not the best motivation. The better motivation is to elicit information that helps you provide better client service.
  • Make sure you are asking for the right kind of feedback.  It is tempting to ask for qualitative feedback: How responsive do you find us? How well do you think we understand the critical area of law? Rather, ask for quantitative feedback regarding efficiency. Clients invariably are more interested in the feedback that has a clear positive impact on service delivery.
  • Think about how clients prefer to evaluate. Some clients are developing internal tools to measure the service of their various external lawyers. Ask early what they are tracking, what is important to them.
  • Frequency. Don’t wait until the end of a matter before requesting feedback. Clients would prefer at least quarterly check-ins.
    • At Uber, every single touch with a customer gets rated.
    • No firm represented in the audience seeks feedback after every client interaction. There were very few in the audience who did it more frequently than annually.
    • As tempting as it might be to ramp up to requesting evaluations after every interaction, keep in mind that this may be more than the client wants or can handle. Ask for the client’s preference.
  • Granularity.
    • How granular should the feedback request be?
    • You need to calibrate this depending on (1) what’s important to the client and (2) the quality of service delivery.
    • The net effect of fairly granular and regular feedback it that it causes greater accountability and engagement on the part of the lawyers.
  • Metrics.
    • There are data science consequences and human behavior consequences to the type of metrics you track. So check the science as you are designing your system.
    • See the comments above about qualitative and quantitative metrics — and what clients care about.
  • Barriers.
    • Unlike your interaction with an Uber driver, this is an ongoing relationship rather than a transactional relationship. Therefore, if you give your lawyer a bad rating, it can be uncomfortable to work with that lawyer again. Does this lead to grade inflation. (Think about grade inflation for personal assistants in law firms.)
    • How do you create enough anonymity that allows people to provide bad feedback.
    • We need to learn how to have the “courageous conversation” in a professional, constructive way. A key to this is to make obvious that you are invested in the relationship and really want it to work well.
    • Increasing the frequency of feedback helps focus on small problems early rather than huge deferred problems. These small conversations are understood as “tweaking” a good relationship rather than upending it.
  • What if every member of the team was rated? Bryan Cave had experience with a client feedback system that was connected with a bonus structure.
  • Where to begin in your firm?
    • Michael Haven — Start by talking to your client. They probably already have an operations group that is measuring various things about your firm. So ask them at the beginning of an engagement what is important for them.
    • John Alber — Mine Your Own Data:
      • Begin by asking how sticky a client relationship is.
      • Then, ask why.
      • Then, discern the data that appear to correlate with high and low stickiness.
      • Then present these data to your firm in a way that intrigues them.
    • Jeffrey Schwartz — Increase transparency within the firm: Give the firm data that helps the lawyers ask productive questions about existing client relationships.
      • are we noticing a difference in the rate of bill payments?
      • are we noticing an increase/decrease in demand?
    • Collaborate with the Marketing group of your firm. They are voracious producers/consumers of data.
    • Pay attention to patterns of behavior in your document management system. What does this indicate about efficiency? About approaches by specific client teams?

Pablos Holman Keynote: Innovate or Die Trying #ILTAKEY1 #ILTACON

Session Title and Description: Innovate or Die Trying: From the Mind of a World-Renowned Hacker

“If you’ve been to an ILTACON keynote presentation before, you know we’ve featured futurists. To start off our 40th ILTACON, we’re turning up the dial with a futurist, inventor and notorious hacker who has a unique view into breaking and building new technologies, which leads to new approaches to solving world problems. Pablos works on projects that assimilate new technologies and make wild ideas more practical. What are computers yet to accomplish? What advancements will legal technology experience? ILTA members are concerned with disruption by legal startups and the need for innovation. Pablos will help us think differently about how we could solve some of our legal technology challenges. Katie DeBord, Chief Innovation Officer at Bryan Cave, LLP will join Pablos at the end of his talk to ask him some questions — her own and those the audience posts in the mobile app during the session. Then we’ll open the floor for live audience questions.”

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2017 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • Today’s objective.  To help us start thinking like hackers. In Holman’s view, “no one ever invented a technology by following directions.” What it takes is not just thinking outside the box, but actually taking the box AND its contents apart to figure out how they work and how they might work differently or better.
  • Computers are the key. The key to prescience is to look around the environment to find functions/areas that do not yet leverage computers. Then, find a way to apply computing logic/power to that. This is a great way to come up with fabulous new interventions.
  • Malaria is a great opportunity for hackers. Malaria is one of the greatest causes of death of children. And it is entirely preventable. The prior methods for dealing with malaria (e.g., DDT) are neither scalable or sustainable. So he hired hackers to hack the mosquito/malaria system. They “bought some junk” on eBay and then six weeks later, they were able to track bugs and show that tracking on a computer. Next, they developed a laser that can identify the characteristics of each mosquito tracked. Finally, they use a lethal laser to kill the malaria-carrying mosquito. This is an example of using hacking mindset + computing power + imagination to tackle a wicked problem.
  • Imagination Constrained. Holman says that for years we were technology constrained. (Just think about the processing power of early computers.) Now we have tremendous processing power in smartphones. Yet we use these phones to play games, make rude noises, exchange photos, etc. In his words, “we used to be resource constrained. Now we are imagination constrained.”
  • The Nuclear Challenge. Current nuclear reactors were designed in the era of the sliderule. They are only 7% efficient. The rest of the uranium is waste and generates tons of nuclear waste that is simply being stockpiled until our children can figure out what to do with it. Holman and his team ran Monte Carlo simulations to figure out every possible reaction inside a nuclear reactor. Then they redesigned the reactor to be 100% efficient. Plus, the genius part is that they use all that stockpiled nuclear waste as the fuel.
  • Rapid Iteration. Software is eating the world today because of rapid iteration. The tech sector continuously A/B tests critical aspects of the software and then upgrades on the fly. This continuous deployment is far faster than the 18-month production cycles in old-school manufacturing.
  • It’s a New Era. Biological evolution allowed the human species to survive and win. The name of the game was basic survival. Now, however, if we do not have to worry about mere survival, what should we do? We need to use our brains, our imaginations, our technology to evolve to the next level — beyond Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (at least with respect to the lower parts of the pyramid, the quantity of life issues). But, is technology really helping us with the higher levels of they pyramid? Social, Self-Esteem, Self-Actualization? Technology is not solving the problems related to these higher levels, the quality of life issues.
  • Humans must make choices. We have to make better choices about how we use our tools. And we need to make better choices about how we interact with those tools. Robots do only what we train them to do. Unfortunately, humans are very bad role models.
  • “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.”

Guiding the Goats in Your Firm

Continuing with my recent menagerie theme, today let’s think about goats. Goats? Yes, Moroccan domestic goats, to be specific. As you can see from the picture in this post, these goats are quite extraordinary; they have the ability to forage for food — in treetops. Why is this interesting? Because by nature goats know how to climb hilly terrain but they do not know how to climb trees. So what gives?

Here’s how Nicholas Bakalar, writing in the New York Times, tells their story:

These domestic goats live in southwestern Morocco, where the climate is dry and in some seasons the only available forage is in the trees. So the goats climb up to get it.

Goats are good climbers — some sure-footed species live happily on mountains, leaping from ledge to ledge. But these domestic goats are not born with an ability to climb trees. They learn the technique as kids.

Their keepers help them climb, and they trim the trees to make it easier for the kids. The goats eventually learn to do it themselves. In the autumn, when there is little food on the ground, they spend most of their time grazing the treetops.

Because the readers of this blog tend to be smarter than the average bear (sorry — I am obsessed with animals this summer!), you will probably have figured out exactly where I am headed. This story has some great lessons for knowledge management personnel:

  • The goats in your firm — and you can define who is a goat in your firm! — are not born with the natural ability to do most of the things you and your knowledge management colleagues know how to do.
  • To train goats properly, you must start by teaching them when they are kids — grab them when they are summer associates and help them learn how to work efficiently and effectively. Above all, teach them early to question “the way we’ve always done it around here.”
  • You will need to provide support for the kids until they master the necessary skills. This support is especially critical because some older billy goats will be dismissive of the value of the knowledge you have to impart. And, some of those billy goats will be worried that these new skills will reduce billable hours. So you will have to help the kids withstand the negative pressure from the goat gerontocracy.
  • You will need to trim the trees to make it easier for the goats.  This means creating sensible, frictionless systems and then removing any unforeseen roadblocks that might arise.
  • The goats must eventually learn to do things for themselves. You cannot hold their hooves forever.
  • This is a matter of survival — it will help them be productive in the lean seasons and the busy seasons.

So here are a couple of question for you: Can the goats in your firm graze in treetops yet? If not, when will you start guiding the goats in your firm so they can learn to do things they would otherwise never be able to do?


For more critical knowledge on goats and goatherds, see this extract from the greatest movie ever made 😉

[Photo Credit: Arnaud 25, Wikimedia]


Managing Your Monkey and Monster

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…”

If only. In fact, over the last few years, my summers have become increasingly busy. This is partly due to a terrific course I’m teaching at Columbia University called Collaboration at Scale. It’s also due to some speaking engagements on interesting and challenging topics like Thriving in Change (at the American Association of Law Libraries PLLIP Summit) and Sustainable KM (at ILTACON 2017). And it’s also because of some marvelous consulting clients who keep me busy and on my toes.

With this much happening, there’s a big premium on getting and staying productive. But high productivity does not happen by accident. It takes thought and planning. And, it takes careful management of your monkey and monster.

What monkey and monster?

Tim Urban (Wait But Why) brilliantly described the Instant Gratification Monkey and the Panic Monster in his hilarious TED talk: “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator.” (See below) Along with this monkey and monster, he also introduced the revered figure we wish actually ran our brains: the Rational Decision-Maker. However, for the average procrastinator, their Instant Gratification Monkey has an uncanny ability to hijack the Rational Decision-Maker’s careful plans. And then you drift until an imminent deadline wakes up your slumbering Panic Monster who puts you into a state of high anxiety. This allows your Rational Decision-Maker to take the reigns of control away from the Instant Gratification Monkey — at least until the immediate crisis has passed.

And so it goes. Until you exhaust yourself or encounter a deadline that you simply cannot meet using this pattern of behavior.

If this sounds at all familiar, you will know that you have to find ways to stay focused on the things that are more important than the things that interest your Instant Gratification Monkey. The problem is that many of those important things may actually not come due for quite a while, if at all. For example, studying now for a future career or laying the groundwork now for an interesting opportunity later.  Consequently, these important things for a hard-to-see future almost never cause your Panic Monster to wake up and scare away your Instant Gratification Monkey.  As a result, you almost never achieve these important things. So what to do?


According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to parse a sentence is to divide it into its parts and then identify those parts and their relationship to each other. Similarly, when you have a pile of things that must be done, break them down into their smallest meaningful parts, figure out which of these parts cause dependencies, and then tackle those first. The point of this exercise is to make the tasks so small that they pass under the radar of the Instant Gratification Monkey. Better still, if you can make those tasks fun (or mindless) the Instant Gratification Monkey might be fooled into thinking those tasks were its idea after all.


Stephen Covey once famously said “Don’t prioritize your schedule, schedule your priorities.” But that can be easier said than done — especially in a law firm environment where everything seems to be urgent and everyone feels overworked. S0 how do we manage this? Theoretically, your supervisor should be helping you prioritize. But there are times when your supervisor cannot see the forest for the trees and, let’s face it, there are time when you simply do not want to let your supervisor know exactly how lost you are. To help with these situations, consider developing a productivity partnership with a trusted colleague. To do this, make the following deal with each other: that you will act as each other’s lifeline in moments of stress to help the other identify which next action that would be most productive. You’ll soon discover that there will be many times where you don’t actually need someone else to tell you what to do next, you just need someone willing to listen to you for five minutes as you figure it out aloud.


Scrum software development has reminded us of the value of short sprints of work to get things done. You can use this principle to tackle the tasks you have identified through the parsing and prioritizing steps above. Take the small task you have identified and commit to working on it for a very short sprint. This is not a commitment to complete it — that might freak out your Instant Gratification Monkey, your Panic Monster, AND your Rational Decision-Maker. Rather, it is a commitment to move things forward in a meaningful way. The trick to keeping your Instant Gratification Monkey on hiatus is to make the time period of this commitment short, say 20 or 25 minutes. After all, this is such a short period of time that it’s hardly worth it for the Instant Gratification Monkey to get out of its hammock. What that monkey does not realize is that if you can build up some rhythm to these pulses, you will be able to create momentum to complete the larger tasks as well.


To create that desired rhythm to your pulses, consider using the Pomodoro technique. This gives you a structured way of doing a short sprint followed by a guaranteed rest period. Provided you honor the time commitments for both the sprint AND the rest period, you should be able focus and get a great deal done. (Admittedly, that proviso is a big one but it does get easier with practice.)


While all of this seems perfectly rational and even doable, you should be aware that this disruption of the natural order is likely to send your Instant Gratification Monkey into a tailspin. And your Panic Monster may feel a little underemployed. So you need to find a way to placate them so they are not motivated to disturb your productivity. You can help placate your Instant Gratification Monkey by ensuring that your Pomodoro breaks are spent on truly fun things or things that really make you feel better about life. And then, because you’ve had an insanely productive day, walk away at the end of the allotted time and really enjoy the leisure you have earned. As far as your Panic Monster goes, it is actually to useful to keep the monster around but on a highly reduced schedule. The monster can help keep the monkey at bay so that you can focus on getting to the end of each sprint. So while you won’t have a full-on panic attack, you will have that thrill of urgency that keeps you on your toes and focused.


If you’d love a fun and educational break from your productive streak, here are links to Tim Urban’s TED talk, as well as some terrific blog posts he wrote on the topic. Enjoy!

Why Procrastinators Procrastinate

How to Beat Procrastination

The Procrastination Matrix

[Photo Credit: Tim Urban]


Midyear Milestones

It’s the end of the second quarter. That means it’s a great opportunity to take stock of what you have accomplished thus far in 2017. Obviously, it is nice to be able to check items off your to-do list but that may not be the only, or even most appropriate, form of midyear assessment you should be doing. Applying our knowledge management training to enhance productivity and impact, here are some other questions you should be asking:

  1. What’s Working? And, why? Once you have identified your successes, see if you can also identify the reasons for your success. Are those reliable and repeatable reasons or will you need to take further action to ensure those conditions continue in place?
  2. What’s NOT Working? And, why? Once you have identified your failures, see if you can also identify the reasons for those failures. Remember, this is not about blame. And, it is also not about settling for the most obvious answer. Try digging a little more deeply to unearth entrenched conditions or patterns of behavior that undermine potential success.
  3. What needs to change? In other words, what do you need to do to increase what’s working and decrease what’s not working? Here again, don’t settle for the obvious or superficial answer. Push further to see if you can identify deeper or more widespread patterns that should be harnessed or disrupted.
  4. Am I prepared to make those changes? Is my team ready to make those changes? This is a tough one. It is not just a question of willingness to change, but also the ability to change.
  5. If yes, why? Once you know why you also know how to harness the positive energy of your team to continue on an upward trajectory.
  6. If no, why? Once you know why you also must determine what needs to be addressed to prevent a continuing downward spiral.
  7. What’s surprising? This is always a good question to ask — and ask often. This question engages all our senses in scanning the environment and reporting back. Sometimes the surprises we observe are weak signals initially but keep paying attention to them. They may well herald important upcoming changes.
  8. What have I learned? Life presents multiple (even daily) opportunities to learn. However, sometimes we allow ourselves to become so busy that we do not stop long enough to take note of the lesson. Or we are so set in our ways that we refuse to learn the lesson. In either case, we will find that the same issue comes up time and time again until we learn the needed lesson. There is no social promotion in life. Consequently, it pays to stop our striving momentarily so that we can take stock of our learning — or lack thereof.
  9. What do I need to learn? While you are focused on learning, celebrate what you have learned and then do an honest assessment of what you have left to learn. Paradoxically, it is as we learn more that we begin to understand how much more there is to learn. This is a good place to be — even in our areas of acknowledged expertise. The key is to develop intellectual humility so that we remain open to the possibility of the lesson when it arrives.
  10. How do I improve my rate of learning? For those of us working in the learning or knowledge management functions of an organization, we know that one of the key indicators of our success is whether we are improving the rate at which the entire organization learns. The same applies to us individually and to our teams. So keep looking for ways to improve your rate of learning. Inevitably, this will mean improving your observation skills and increasing the frequency of reflection. Then, take the critically important step of creating feedback loops to feed the results of that observation and reflection (i.e., the learning) back into your processes and work product. The faster you do this, the more useful your learning will be.

Armed with all this information, remember the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button:

For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.

[Photo Credit: Keith Evans]



Do You Have Moonshot Magic?

Buzz Aldrin: Apollo Flag

When you meet a person named Astro Teller, you know you are going to hear something interesting. Teller is the head of what he describes in his TED talk as the “Moonshot Factory.” We know it as X (formerly, Google X), the extraordinary innovation company. The impressive people at X call their goals “moonshots” because they are working on projects as audacious as the original moonshot proposed by President Kennedy. They also believe that they are working in a factory (rather than a lab or incubator) because they want to develop technologies that are both practical and replicable at a reasonable cost.

To achieve their moonshot innovations, the people of X have created a moonshot blueprint, a set of rules that govern their work:

  1. Focus on a huge problem that affects many millions of people.
  2. Propose a radical solution to that problem.
  3. Establish a credible belief that the technology necessary for that radical solution really can be built.

Putting this blueprint into action has resulted in an impressive array of innovations: self-driving cars, Makani energy kites that place portable wind turbines higher up in the stratosphere where the wind is faster and more consistent, and Project Loon (a balloon-powered Internet to provide connectivity to billions of people who live beyond cell tower access).

The moonshot blueprint has also resulted in some pretty spectacular failures. And that, paradoxically, is the secret of the Moonshot Factory’s success.  According to Teller, moonshot work is messy work so they have had to confront that reality:

But rather than avoid the mess, pretend it’s not there, we’ve tried to make that our strength. We spend most of our time breaking things and trying to prove that we’re wrong. That’s it, that’s the secret. Run at all the hardest parts of the problem first. Get excited and cheer, ‘Hey! How are we going to kill our project today?’

Obviously, this appetite for hunting down failure takes intestinal fortitude. After all, it’s quite natural for people to prefer the easy, safe path to success. Few want the disappointment or reputational risk that comes from being associated with a failed project. However, X needs its people to smoke out failures as soon as possible. It’s the best way to avoid truly expensive disasters later on.

So they put their money where their mouth is. In his TED talk, this is how Teller describes their winning approach:

We work hard at X to make it safe to fail. Teams kill their ideas as soon as the evidence is on the table because they’re rewarded for it. They get applause from their peers. Hugs and high fives from their manager, me in particular. They get promoted for it. We have bonused every single person on teams that ended their projects, from teams as small as two to teams of more than 30.

This is a radical approach to innovation that goes beyond Failure PartiesFailure Reports, Failure Targets, and even Safe-to-Fail experiments. Yet it is the secret to achieving moonshot magic.

What could you and your team accomplish if you developed moonshot magic?

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons]


Calculating the Cost of Collaboration — A World War I Lesson

All too often, we rush headlong into collaboration in the firm belief that all collaboration is good and must, therefore, have primarily an upside. We become excited by the anticipated benefits of collaboration: better innovation, better sales, greater client satisfaction, and better operations. The truth, however, can be quite different. Most of us have seen well-intentioned collaborations founder on the rocks of ignorance, insularity, and inexperience. Many of us carry the battle scars of failed collaboration efforts.

Professor Morten Hansen has studied scores of collaborations. As a result, he offers some sage advice in his book, Collaboration: Be disciplined. In particular, do not undertake any collaboration until you have investigated the proposed collaboration sufficiently to establish that “the net value of collaboration is greater than the return minus both opportunity costs and collaboration costs.” He calls this net value, the “collaboration premium.”

World War I and the Collaboration Premium

On April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I. The presenting issue was the German sinking of several American merchant ships. Given that tensions had been rising for months, there had been ample time for US political and military leaders to undertake the collaboration test: to determine beforehand if the net value of participating outweighed the foregoing of other projects (opportunity cost) and the extensive costs of getting involved in a war that was not universally popular at home.

With the benefit of hindsight it is easy to say that because the US and its allies won, it was worth the price the country paid to participate in the war. But is that fair? Yet, even if they had attempted a proper collaboration cost calculation, could US leaders ever have contemplated the true and horrifying scope of events like those that took place at Meuse-Argonne?

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive

In his article, Killing Machines at Meuse-Argonne, 1918, Alfred S. Bradford, Jr. describes the Meuse-Argonne offensive in the following way:

In late September 1918, some 600,000 American troops massed in a valley in northeastern France as part of the final major campaign of World War I, the Meuse-Argonne offensive. A newcomer to the Allied effort, the United States had begun sending large numbers of soldiers to Europe only months before. Many of these men were raw recruits who knew nothing of the horrors of machine guns, poison gas, combat aircraft, and other weapons born of the Industrial Revolution. More than a million U.S. soldiers would eventually join the assault of the well-entrenched Germans; American forces would suffer more than 120,000 casualties, including 26,277 dead.

The Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery

Many of these dead found their final resting place in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. According to the American Battle Monuments Commission, this cemetery “is the largest American military cemetery in Europe. Within these 130 acres are the remains of more than 14,200 American men and women who died in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.”

Admittedly, these numbers are large: one million soldiers, 120,000 casualties, 26,277 dead, over 14,200 graves, 130 acres. But it is hard to really wrap your mind around them without a visual.

Thanks to The Great War video series, we have a compelling visual. Take a look at the following video. It brings home the vast scale of suffering — all embodied in neat rows of crosses and stars that stretch across those 130 acres.

Calculating Your Collaboration Premium or Penalty

Would US political and military leaders have made a different choice on April 6, 1917, if they had known the true costs of collaboration in World War I? We will never know. Nonetheless, we should not ignore the lessons of their experience. It is vitally important that we think hard about true costs before we leap headlong into collaboration. This means honestly facing the possibility of a collaboration penalty rather than the desired collaboration premium.

After all, no decent organization wants its people to end up in a corporate version of the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery.


For a video overview of this week in World War I, see:

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia]


Wanted: A Disobedient Law Firm

On March 24, Reid Hoffman (co-founder of LinkedIn) reminded us that the deadline is fast approaching to apply for the MIT Media Lab’s Disobedience Award. Just the name of the award alone caught my attention. In a world of conformity, it was startling to see an award for nonconformity.

So what’s the rationale for it? Here’s what Hoffman had to say:

Progress comes from innovation, and innovation happens when inventors, entrepreneurs, activists, organizers, and others refuse to accept the status quo. Instead, they pursue new paths and new solutions – and sometimes bend or even break the rules in the process.

To be clear, this award is not intended to reward lunatic risk-taking. Rather, they are looking for something far more special, as Joi Ito (Director, MIT Media Lab) makes clear:

This prize is a one-time experiment that, if successful, we will consider repeating in the future. It will go to a person or group engaged in what we believe is excellent disobedience for the benefit of society. The disobedience that we would like to call out is the kind that seeks to change society in a positive way, and is consistent with a set of key principles. The principles include non-violence, creativity, courage, and taking responsibility for one’s actions. The disobedience can be in — but is not limited to — the fields of scientific research, civil rights, freedom of speech, human rights, and the freedom to innovate.

This notion of a one-time experiment is entirely in keeping with the ethos of the Media Lab. This is clear from the Hoffman’s description of the Media Lab:

It’s an institution that prioritizes methodical but untethered experimentation, where researchers with widely varying areas of expertise are encouraged to collaborate and improvise in ways that become not just multi-disciplinary but antidisciplinary – disobedient.

What a concept: “an institution that prioritizes methodical but untethered experimentation.” Does that sound like a law firm near you?

So here’s the question for you. Is there anything you are working on or your firm is working that, in its own context, might be an example of creative rule bending (or breaking) for a greater purpose? If Hoffman is correct that such behavior drives innovation, then I hope your answer is yes. On the other hand, if you and your colleagues are squarely in the conformity camp, you need not apply for the award. Worse still, you may be missing the amazing opportunities that result from the curiosity, experimentation, and intelligent risk-taking typical of the ethically disobedient. One thing is for sure — you are unlikely to innovate.

I’ll be very surprised if a law firm or even a single lawyer wins the award. But wouldn’t it be nice if such a thing really were more likely?


[Photo Credit: Leon Riskin]


How Innovative is Your Firm, Really?

Many businesses (including law firms) tout their innovation capacity. They use the right buzz words (agile, design thinking, rapid prototyping, etc.) and they display trendy props (innovation labs, informal gathering spaces, and lots and lots of post-it notes on walls). But is that enough to make a firm truly innovative?

Ideo says no. And Ideo should know.

Katharine Schwab, writing for Fast Company’s, reports that Ideo, the world-famous design firm, has studied its own 26-year old archive of client projects (as well as some external resources on innovation) to determine how best to measure innovation in an organization. For Ideo, “the most important element is the organization’s ability to adapt and respond to change.”

Through this research, Ideo “identified six basic vectors that it says are instrumental to an innovative, adaptive company”:

  1. Purpose: “A clear, inspiring reason for the company to exist — beyond just making money.” What is your law firm’s mission? You claim it is to serve the client. Is this actually borne out in the way the firm behaves internally and externally? Is it reflected in every decision the firm makes? Ideo has found that when leaders clearly articulate the company mission and then walk the talk, “projects and strategic solutions succeed 20.40% more often”.
  2. Experimentation: “Trying out new ideas and making evidence-based decisions about how to move forward.” Even if your firm is willing to experiment, does it have the discipline to make truly evidence-based decisions? (Note: many decisions that are described as evidence-based are actually pre-determined and then papered over with appropriate “evidence.”)
  3. Collaboration: “Working across business functions to approach opportunities and challenges from all angles.” In my report, Optimizing Law Firm Support Functions, I found that some of the most successful support functions were the ones that had learned to punch above their weight by collaborating productively with other administrative departments and with fee-earners. Is this type of collaboration the norm at your firm or is it unusual?
  4. Empowerment: “Providing a clear path to create change in all corners of the company by reducing unnecessary constraints.” How much change is your firm willing to tolerate? Can it handle the type of wholesale change contemplated by this vector?
  5. Looking out: “Looking beyond the company’s walls to understand customers, technologies, and cultural shifts.” How plugged in is your firm? Does your firm have the type of close relationships with clients that enable robust two-way communication about the things that matter to the client? Do you keep abreast of technological changes or is your firm a card-carrying technology laggard? Is your firm in tune with changes in the industry? Or is your firm fully occupied with its navel-gazing?
  6. Refinement: “Elegantly bridging vision and execution.” In other words, to what extent is your firm able to successfully execute new ideas? Do you have the right people with a bias toward action? Do you have the right methodology to support them as they transform ideas into reality? Do you have a robust change management approach?

Next, Ideo created a survey that clients can use to measure these vectors and the related behaviors.  Along with the survey results comes “feedback on tangible ways to become more innovative.” Ideo is finding that this self-reporting by teams, coupled with the feedback, demonstrably leads to better innovation performance.

Bonus: Ideo’s New Insights 

Thanks to the survey, Ideo “has definitive data to back up its hypotheses about what behavior actually drives” a team’s aptitude for innovation. Here are some insights from the data:

  • More is better: Do not limit your team to too narrow a range of innovation options at the beginning. “Instead, when teams iterate on five or more different solutions, they are 50% more likely to launch a product successfully.”
  • Command-and-Control systems squelch innovation success: “When a majority of team members who took the survey said that they felt comfortable challenging the status quo and acting with autonomy, the chances of a failed launch decreased by 16.67%.”
  • Your mission and underlying priorities must be in sync and stable: This alignment and stability provide a strong foundation that supports and cushions the naturally disruptive activities of innovation.

If your firm is ready to accelerate its innovation program, take a closer look at Ideo’s assessment and dashboard tool: Creative Difference. It might provide the data and insights your firm needs to truly become more innovative.

[Hat tip to Alessandra Lariu who pointed me to this article.]

[Photo Credit: Alexas Fotos]