Making Lawyers Behave Nicely With Each Other

Reading to the Kindergarten Students The Florida Supreme Court wants lawyers to behave nicely with respect to their opponents.  Here’s how the court’s recent action is described in a press release by the American Board of Trial Advocates:

Commenting that `concerns have grown about acts of incivility among members of the legal profession,’ the high court noted ABOTA’s efforts to stress the importance of civility in the practice of law.  The Supreme Court emphasized to Florida lawyers old and new that practicing law is an honor that comes with responsibilities, paramount among which is civility, an often overlooked cornerstone of the legal profession.  The Court added to the Oath of Admission the following: `To opposing parties and their counsel, I pledge fairness, integrity, and civility, not only in court, but also in all written and oral communications.’

It’s well and good that some lawyers will show their kinder and gentler sides to their opponents, but what about colleagues within their own firms?  The hard truth is that law firm knowledge management faces some rather particular challenges based on the population we serve.  If you doubt this, take a look a some of my earlier posts on lawyers and lawyer personalities:

Now, let’s consider some specific challenges that all knowledge managers face.  Jack Vinson has done a terrific job of gathering in one place some things we know to be true about how people share knowledge.  In Rules of Knowledge Management, Jack starts with a summary of Chris Collison’s amusing take on Tom Davenport’s “Kindergarten Rationale” for sharing:

  • You share with the friends you trust
  • You share when you’re sure you’ll get something in return
  • Your toys are more special than anyone else’s
  • You share when the teacher tells you to, until she turns her back
  • When toys are scarce, there’s less sharing
  • Once yours gets taken, you never share again

These observations of kindergarten children are entirely consistent with what we know about “mature adults” operating in a work context.  In fact, the lack of trust coupled with some nasty lessons learned about the downside of sharing can lead to an epidemic of information hoarding within an organization. If this is what happens in the general working adult population, what can you expect from a lawyer population? Given their natural skepticism, high degree of autonomy, low sociability and resilience, and adversarial natures (see What Makes Lawyers So Challenging?), this group may find it even harder to share than your typical kindergartener.  While I’m not sure it is possible to change anyone’s fundamental nature (and that certainly is well beyond the capabilities of a knowledge management group), we can work with senior management to change the environment in which lawyers operate. Taking guidance from Fighting the Knowledge Hiding Epidemic, I’d suggest the following strategies:

  • Build trust — emphasize positive relationships among employees
  • Demonstrate the mutual benefits that result when colleagues share information
  • Treat all workers fairly and respectfully, thereby reducing feelings of injustice and the need for retaliation

At the end of the day, perhaps we are really about trust management rather than knowledge management (to the extent either trust or knowledge can, in fact, be “managed.”) [Photo Credit: Kathy Cassidy]

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TMI

“It’s only a teaspoonful,” I overheard the six-year old girl say in all seriousness as she explained to a boy in her class the nature of the contribution the male of the species makes to procreation. The look of horror on the boy’s face was positively comical as he reacted viscerally with the expression “TMI! TMI!”

For those of you who haven’t heard it before, TMI is the acronym for “too much information.” It’s often used when people disclose private details that one would really rather not know about in the ordinary course.  I found myself saying “TMI” when I first read a terrific set of posts by Jim McGee, John Tropea and Jack Vinson regarding the benefits of information transparency among knowledge workers and the importance of making knowledge work more visible. Granted, I was “catastrophizing” as I imagined a workplace where every thought was expressed in writing before it could be edited for appropriateness or sense. I imagined my daily e-mail deluge multiplied many times over once I moved from messages directed at me to a stream messages directed to the entire firm.  I imagined a tsunami of triviality swamping me daily as I struggled to be productive. I imagined having to hide myself in a technology free cave in order to get any work done.

I will confess that I love Twitter and use it daily.  In learning to love it, I’ve come to understand that I cannot and should not try to read everything.   Rather, I dip my toe in and out of the stream when I can.  An important part of this behavior is learning to let go of the need to read it all, and trust instead that the important things will rise to the surface repeatedly and capture my attention in due course.  That’s easier to do in your leisure life than at the office, where I (at least) feel obliged to read everything that my colleagues send me.  What happens when I start receiving a general flow of information rather than the current more limited (albeit sometimes overwhelming) targeted flow of e-mail information?  How do I protect myself from missing the important stuff while suffocating under the irrelevant?

What’s your experience with activity streams work at work?  If you’re using them at your workplace, what can you tell us about how they improve or clog the arteries along which your information flows?  How do you find the important amongst the trivial?

[Photo Credit: Fredshome]

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Innovation Requires Time

Some things cannot be rushed. I was reminded of this truth when reading the description of Joseph Priestly in Jack Vinson’s book review of The Invention of Air:

The book is engagingly written, describing Priestly in both his positive and negative qualities and how his work fits into the greater context of what was happening in England and on the larger global stage.  One theme that was repeated throughout the story has to do with his deep interest in many areas: natural philosophy, religion, and politics being the primary areas.  He was deeply curious in all these areas with the best evidence being his prodigious talent for writing in all these areas.  The fact that he was interested in all these things was not enough to make him an important figure.  He had the opportunity to interact with many of the leading thinkers of his time from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to Antoine Lavoisier to the members of the Royal Society.  Along with this wonderful social network, Priestly’s vast interests also gave him an intellectual and idea network that was perfect for the age of amazing discoveries and thinking in this age.  And on top of these fantastic networks of people and ideas, Priestly (and many others of this age) had another key quality: he had the leisure to explore these things.

This snippet points to several important preconditions for innovation or paradigm shift:  (i) mastery of more than one subject, (ii) a social/professional network that allows the innovator to discuss and test ideas, and (iii) time.  Of these three, time is sometimes the most challenging.  In our world of hiring freezes where fewer are doing more, time is the rarest of commodities.  Yet, our minds need time to map one area of mastery on another and to elicit insights.  And, it takes time to find and engage the right people in your network to discuss  and test those ideas.  Finally, it takes time to bring an innovation to market and measure its impact.*

But leisure implies more than just time.  It also implies having the freedom to choose how to spend one’s time.  It isn’t enough for an employer to say “take a  day and innovate.”  What’s really needed is protected time in which you are free to follow your interests.  In doing so, you engage not only your intellect but your passion, which is another critical ingredient for innovation.  Passion leads you to the insight that others who are less engaged in the subject miss.

While necessity may be the mother of invention, time is the father of innovation.  And, in the case of innovation, perhaps lots of time is necessary.  So, how do you make the time for innovation?

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*Updated:  Thomas Vander Wal pointed me to a post of his that discusses a failure by Boeing to give innovation an opportunity to take root and show results:  Acceptance of Innovation Takes Time.  It seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same.

[Photo Credit:  Micky]

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Do They Give You Eggs for E2.0?

Be grateful for your insightful friends. Their wisdom can speed your path to learning. Accordingly, I’d like to thank Mark Gould and Jack Vinson, both of whom were kind enough to comment on my earlier post, The Four Chickens Problem.  In that post I discussed the challenges to adoption that organizations distributing bed nets face in their effort to eradicate malaria.  Using the example of the superb work of Nets for Life, I described one path we could take to effect behavioral change and expedite adoption:

  • Educate people as to the actual cause of the problem.
  • Educate people as to the theoretical benefits of the proposed solution.
  • Prove the solution in such an obvious way so that you make the theoretical real.
  • Include monitoring and evaluation to keep proving your case as you implement the solution in their community.

In his comment to that post, Jack Vinson dove a little deeper and pointed out that rather than just teaching people, it is far more effective to help them discover for themselves the benefits of the proposed solution.  When the solution comes from them, you don’t have to spend time winning their agreement.  Rather, you can spend your time and energy to support them in adopting the change they themselves have identified as beneficial.

Yesterday, Mark Gould wrote a wonderful review of Made to Stick, the work of Shawn Callahan (of Anecdote) and the power of storytelling.   In that context, he recounted The Four Chickens Problem and  Jack’s helpful advice, and then made the following observation:

These answers are fine, but they depend on ensuring that the message you are selling actually resonates with the audience. If there is a powerful story to tell, the education piece will follow.

He is right.  The team at Nets for Life have to powerful story to tell future recipients of bed nets and future underwriters of the bed net distribution program.  And, this story isn’t about statistics.  As told by Rob Radtke (President of Episcopal Relief & Development), it’s about lives and A Bowl of Eggs:

Last month when I was in northern Ghana, I visited about six different villages to assess our programs and to learn about some of the challenges facing the communities where we are working…. The particular villages that I was visiting on this trip are participating in the NetsforLife® program and so we were learning about the challenge that malaria poses to families with young children and pregnant women.  Virtually every family that we visited had lost a child to malaria and so the NetsforLife® program is making a huge impact here.

[…]

In the last village visit I made … the village headman came forward to say that he had a presentation to make to me on behalf of the entire village.  I was a bit taken aback. … As I sat down, the headman said that although they had a gift to give to me they were very embarrassed as it was such a small and poor gift.  He told me that they had wanted to give me an elephant as a gesture of thanks as that was the grandest gift they could imagine presenting to show how important the malaria nets were to their community.  However, they were too poor to give me an elephant.   (I was trying to imagine what I was going to do with an elephant!)

Instead all of the family heads of the village had met that morning to discuss what would be the most valuable thing that they could give me to show their gratitude for all that had happened in their village as a result of the net distribution.  They had decided to collect all of the eggs laid that day and present them to me in a bowl.

He explained that the eggs represented the entire village’s wealth for that day and while it wasn’t very much, it was everything they had.  [emphasis added]

Do we have anything comparable for our law firm knowledge management or Enterprise 2.0 implementations?

We have to be in the business of story gathering and storytelling.  In the world of knowledge management and Enterprise 2.0, it can be hard to find numbers that paint an accurate picture.  So, we have to find the stories that resonate and we need to develop the skill to tell those stories effectively.  Until that happens, it will be hard to persuade anyone to overcome their inertia to try something new.

[Photo Credit:  laurenipsum]

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Social Media Snake Oil

There are far too many snake oil salesmen in the social media business. If you believed their marketing claims, you might think that social media tools are the remedy for everything that ails you. Unfortunately, as more companies and individuals are finding out, that’s simply not true. Equally, there are far too many uneducated consumers and enterprises who hope that by throwing a social media tool at a problem they might get lucky.

Social media tools are nothing more than tools.  Just like a hammer is useless if you need a blender, social media tools won’t help if the functionality they provide is not what your situation requires.  In This is about that other thing, right? Jack Vinson recounts an incident in which his client had the epiphany and realized that the issue they needed to tackle wasn’t the project they had planned but rather inadequate communication within the enterprise.  If you have a foundational challenge like inadequate communication or few distinct, active internal social networks, you might find that implementing social media projects are more challenging than they should be.  While social media tools can be transformative in the right situation, Steve Radick notes that they often simply reflect your corporate culture and any of its inadequacies.  A command-and-control organization won’t turn into an open, emergent, dynamic enterprise overnight merely through the introduction of social media tools.

Don’t get me wrong — social media tools are fantastic and do open up new possibilities for education, innovation and growth.  However, they are just tools, not miracle workers.  And, they work best in the hands of educated, experienced craftsmen — not snake oil salesmen.

[Photo Credit:  OutlandArmour]

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