Have You Eaten a Child Lately?

knife-fork-1498188Regular readers of this blog will know that I am extremely interested in productivity. Along with my interest in productivity, however, is an even greater interest in impact. At the end of the day, if what we do does not make a difference, then why bother?

So why do we repeatedly allow ourselves to work on too many projects in the face of too little available time? The predictable result of this diffusion of energy and attention is diminished impact.

It was in this vein that I began to consider cannibalism. To be clear, I am not literally suggesting that each reader give expression to their inner Hannibal Lecter. Rather, the type of cannibalism I had in mind was product cannibalism.

Consider Apple. In a 60 Minutes interview with Charlie Rose, Phil Schiller (Apple’s head of marketing) admitted that Apple often pits one of its products against another:

Charlie Rose: Is there danger of one product cannibalizing the other product?

Phil Schiller: It’s not a danger, it’s almost by design. You need each of these products to try to fight for their space, their time with you. The iPhone has to become so great that you don’t know why you want an iPad. The iPad has to be so great that you don’t know why you why you want a notebook. The notebook has to be so great, you don’t know why you want a desktop. Each one’s job is to compete with the other ones.

On the other hand, consider Bausch & Lomb. According to The Economist’s overview of cannibalisation,

Bausch & Lomb invented the soft contact lens but failed to launch it because the firm did not want to lose the lucrative business of selling the drops that hard lenses require. As a result, Johnson & Johnson swept into soft lenses, and the market for hard lenses (and their drops) disappeared.

The uncomfortable truth of strategic product cannibalization is that you have to be willing to grow some children at the expense of others. Bausch & Lomb responded to this discomfort by trying to protect their eye drop business. I’m sure it seemed like a rational decision at the time. By contrast, Apple deliberately refuses to protect its products. Instead of wrapping their products in cotton wool, Apple insists that each product earn its place by being strong enough and excellent enough to fight off the competition — including internal competition.

Each law firm support function offers a range of products and services. Does your support function demand such excellence from each product and service that you do not have to waste time worrying about competition from within your group, from other parts of your firm or from an outside vendor? If your product or service is not best in class, then the smart thing to do is engage in a little strategic cannibalization.  If you are not willing to do it, someone else will do it for you. And, if you abdicate this responsibility to someone else, I can almost guarantee that you will not be happy with the results.

So be sure to ask your team this question regularly: Have you eaten a child lately?

[Photo Credit: Simon McEldowney]

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A Law Firm Lesson from Apple

Apple_gray_logoOkay. I’ll admit to a fangirl moment (or three) as I watched the much-anticipated Apple announcement. Apple had lots of good news for device junkies: bigger and better phones and a gorgeous new watch.

Wedged between the announcements about new devices, however, was an interesting introduction to an innovative service: Apple Pay. In brief, Apple deploys near-field communication technology to allow us to use phones and watches to make contactless payments. Apple’s vision is to replace the wallet altogether, beginning with payments.

According to Apple CEO, Tim Cook, credit and debit payments are a huge business in themselves — 200 million transactions each day totalling $12 billion per day and $4 trillion each year, just in the United States. However, this business is built on a precarious foundation: thin pieces of plastic that use magnetic strip technology that is five-decades old and security codes that are not terribly secure.

None of this is news. In fact, we’ve known for some time that this business was ripe for disruption, yet that disruption never materialized — despite the evident dangers of the current system.

Enter Apple and Apple Pay. Granted, Apple has the technology, reach and audacity to reform a business so different from its core business. (After all, we’ve seen Apple make this move before in the music industry and the telecoms industry.) Yet, what made it possible for Apple to take on the financial services industry when others have tried and failed? Here’s the answer in Tim Cook’s words:

It’s no wonder that people have dreamed of replacing [credit cards] for years. But they’ve all failed. … Why is this? It’s because…most people that have worked on this have started by focusing on creating a business model that was centered around their self-interest instead of focusing on the user experience.

We love this kind of problem. This is exactly what Apple does best. So we’ve created an entirely new payment process and we call it Apple Pay.

In case you missed it, here are the critical words: “most people that have worked on this have started by focusing on creating a business model that was centered around their self-interest instead of focusing on the user experience.” When I heard these words, I sat up and took notice. I couldn’t help but wonder: was he talking about law firms? How many firms are built on a business model that privileges the self-interest of partners instead of focusing on the client experience?

While every law firm claims to put its clients first, does it really? Does your firm?

If you’re wondering what the client-first approach would look like in practice, consider Riverview Law. This firm claims to have built its business model “from the client up” as opposed to “from the partner down.” According to Karl Chapman, Riverview’s CEO, putting the client first has a direct impact on the type of people they recruit, the systems they use, and the way they reward and compensate people. Above all, it means developing a firm culture that is markedly different from that of most firms you know.

Apple is considered the most valuable company in the world. Riverview Law is tiny compared to Apple, but it shares Apple’s focus on the client experience. And, like Apple, it has created an entirely new process to serve that client focus. How does your law firm stack up?

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia.org]

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