Above and Beyond KM

A discussion of knowledge management that goes above and beyond technology.

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This publication contains my personal views and not necessarily those of my clients. Since I am a lawyer, I do need to tell you that this publication is not intended as legal advice or as an advertisement for legal services.
  • We marked a major milestone in the life of our family by having dinner at an extraordinary restaurant this evening. The restaurant was Blue Hill at Stone Barns. This restaurant is exceptional in many ways: it’s located in Pocantico Hills, in the beautifully renovated old barns of the Rockefeller estate outside New York City; it acquires many of its delicious ingredients from the organic farm on the estate; and it is blessed with a truly gifted chef and staff.

    Now, you might reasonably expect a memorable meal in a restaurant like this, and you would be right. However, it was the menu that made this restaurant unusual. What was so special about the menu? There is no menu. Every night is culinary improvisation. Instead of a menu, the restaurant provides you with a list of some of the fantastic ingredients available in the kitchen and then asks you if you have any food allergies or aversions.  Once you’ve provided the necessary information, the chef tailor makes a menu for you based on the best available ingredients.  Your only decision concerns the number of courses you’d like in your meal. That’s it.

    Having given the chef our minimal requirements, we sat back and enjoyed the meal as it unfolded.  Every dish was a work of art, every mouthful a revelation. But beyond the food, much of the fun was in watching the delight on the faces of all around as various courses were presented and tasted.  No two tables received the same dinner, but every diner was patently happy.

    On the way home from dinner, I found myself wondering what it would be like if we approached law firm technology and law firm knowledge management in the same way as the chef at Blue Hill? What would we need in place in order to offer this level of personalized service?  What would be required to provide a comparable level of user delight? As we move towards user-selected tools and user-defined services, law firm IT and KM departments will be pushed to provide customized work environments and support.  In fact, we may well be approaching the end of a one-size-fits-all approach to law firm IT and KM. If this is so, the challenge will be to stretch beyond the bare minimums to a level of personalized service, care, consideration and user delight comparable to that of Blue Hill. Are you ready?

    [Photo Credit: Alexandra Moss]

    6 Comments
  • We’ll be hosting 15 friends and family for Easter Dinner so I’m deep in the throes of menu planning. Since we always serve lamb, much of the recipe exploration has focused on side dishes. This search led me to a traditional companion to roast lamb: ratatouille. For those of you who have never sampled this dish, it’s a wonderful vegetable stew that tastes of summer.  A less lyrical description would be a mess of chopped of vegetables with Mediterranean seasonings.

    While some recipes call for dumping everything in the pot and letting it simmer, there are other cooks that believe that the order and manner in which you cook each component vegetable makes a huge difference in the taste.  I’m not here to give advice on  the best ratatouille recipe,  but I did want to point out an interesting recipe I found that could have useful applications for matter management and practice management. Cooking for Engineers provides a good basic ratatouille recipe, complete with pictures.  The best part for me, however, is at the bottom of the page, where they have presented a detailed time line of the steps you need to take to make this dish efficiently. Perhaps I’ve led a sheltered life, but I thought the chart was brilliant.  If you don’t need wordy descriptions of what you are making, this chart provides a quick and effective way of analyzing the ingredients, the method, the effort and the time required to make a decent ratatouille.

    Now imagine what would happen if you had to make a chart like this for every stock offering, asset acquisition or trademark registration your law firm undertook.  Would you be able to identify the ingredients, the method, the effort and the time required to provide great client service?  If you can’t make this kind of chart (or a functional equivalent), you haven’t thought hard enough about how you practice law and you aren’t anywhere near the starting gate for making intelligent decisions with respect to alternative fee arrangements.  Without this kind of analysis, your client services are little more than an undifferentiated mess of chopped vegetables with local seasoning.  In these days of billing pressures, that’s just not good enough.  Clients need to know that you know exactly what you do, and how to do it most efficiently and effectively.

    Having the right recipe matters a lot.  What’s yours?

    [Photo Credit:  Merlene]

    4 Comments
  • If you are a traditionalist you’ll know that January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany in the Western Church, is the day for giving up and giving away. It is the day to give up your Christmas finery, packing it away until next December. It also is the Day of the Three Kings, when people give away gifts to commemorate the gifts offered by the kings. In Louisiana, today is the beginning of the Mardi Gras season — a time of fun and frivolity before the somberness of Lent.

    A favorite food during this period of celebration in Louisiana is the King Cake.  For those of you who haven’t sampled this delicacy before, Wikipedia provides the following description:

    In southern U.S.A., the tradition was brought to the area by colonists from France and Spain. King cake parties in New Orleans are documented back to the eighteenth century.It has become customary in the New Orleans culture that whoever finds the trinket must provide the next king cake.The king cake of the New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition comes in a number of styles. The most simple, said to be the most traditional, is a ring of twisted bread similar to that used in brioche topped with icing or sugar, usually colored purple, green, and gold (the traditional Carnival colors) with food coloring. Some varieties have filling inside, the most common being cream cheese followed by praline. Popular bakeries such as Gambino’s, Haydel, and Randazzo, feature original recipes and types of king cakes.

    The King Cake is a wonderful metaphor for pragmatic knowledge management.  Just yesterday I thanked a colleague for his contribution to one of our knowledge management systems and in response he told me that his team had been able to complete their project in record time because another colleague had made an earlier helpful contribution to the same knowledge management system.  In other words, the first contribution was the trinket in the King Cake.  The lawyer who found it then stepped up to make a contribution of his own.  When things work this way, knowledge sharing increases exponentially and knowledge managers have to spend less time helping skeptical lawyers understand “what’s in it for me.”

    Best wishes for a great season of Epiphany.  I hope you and your colleagues enter into the generous spirit of the season.

    5 Comments
  • Have you ever been to the Burger Joint in New York City? If you do go there you won’t find a large menu. You won’t find expensive decor. You won’t find a fancy staff with attitude.  Rather, it’s what you might call a “well-edited” offering:

    • Hamburger or cheeseburger.
    • Soft drinks or beer (but only one kind of beer).
    • Chocolate brownie or no dessert.
    • Cash only, no credit cards accepted.

    What’s the other thing you’ll find there?  A long line to get inside the door.

    Now contrast that with most offerings to law firms by technology vendors.  In some cases, they offer so many bells and whistles (accompanied by complicated variations in pricing) that it can be extraordinarily difficult to reach what seems like the right decision.  Even if you’ve read The Paradox of Choice and understand that there may not be an optimal choice, law firm high standards of performance can make us feel that we have to be the exception to the Paradox of Choice — we have to be the ones who identify the optimal choice.  As a result, we spend a lot of time looking at options, discussing angles, considering more complicated implementations than may strictly be justified, and then we plan justifications.  The natural consequence of this is that we often end up trying to offer too many choices to the lawyers who want a simple, elegant and easy solution to their law firm knowledge management needs.  Perhaps it’s time we took a leaf out of the Burger Joint’s play book and started offering instead fewer (but excellent) choices.

    [Photo Credit:  The Malones]

    2 Comments