Why Your Firm Does Not Innovate

barrier roadsign-30907_640What is holding your law firm back?

You hear about exciting things happening in other industries. You hear about exciting things happening in other law firms. Meanwhile you and your colleagues are told to keep your heads down and just work harder. Do what is expected. Don’t rock the boat.

Innovation is not on the menu.

What is keeping innovation off your firm’s menu? In 2008 I wrote about Claudia Kotchka, an extraordinary business executive who helped lead the revitalization of Procter & Gamble. She did it by using design principles to understand better how P&G’s customers lived their lives and how P&G’s products could make those lives better. In my earlier post, Why KM Needs Good Design, I borrowed from Kotchka’s work to suggest ways in which law firm knowledge management professionals could use design thinking to improve their products and services.

Clearly my focus was too circumscribed. In fact, not just KM departments, but also the businesses that house them can benefit from this approach to innovation. None of this is news. So why don’t more firms try it?

In Kotchka’s view, there are three major barriers to innovation:

  • Complacency. Success makes a company very resistant to trying new things;

  • Risk-aversion. Many big companies have what Roger Martin calls a tension between validity and reliability. The punch line is that companies are very reluctant to take any risks that would upset the profit that flows from reliably making a high quality product that lots of people want to buy; and

  • Functional silos. Kotchka observes that when required to work in cross-functional teams, different functions — such as marketing, finance, and manufacturing — look at problems only from their functional perspectives. However, she noticed that when those team members take off their functional hats and take responsibility for solving the business problem — as start-up teams do – the results are much better.

Chances are you will find at least one of these (or, more likely, all three of them) in your law firm. That is why your firm does not innovate.

Which leaves me with one question: what will you do about this?

[Photo Credit: Nemo]


A Guide to Innovation

Good looking and ubiquitous. Who am I talking about?  The Old Spice guy, of course!  While I doubt that I’m in their target market, even I couldn’t resist watching some of the videos that Old Spice posted on YouTube.  [If you’ve been in a cave or off the grid this week, you may not have seen the recent Old Spice ad campaign that has taken the internet by storm.  To help bring you up to speed, I’ve posted a few of the videos below — strictly as a public service, of course!]*

Eye candy aside, I was struck by some of the reaction to the ad campaign.  Even the most jaded of  the commentators had to admit that the rapid-fire interactive nature of the marketing effort was innovative.  As I thought about this further, I wasn’t altogether surprised to learn that the parent company of Old Spice is Procter & Gamble.  Those of you who are long-term readers of this blog may remember a post I did on the use of design at P&G entitled Why KM Needs Good Design.  As it turns out, good design is just part of P&G’s approach to innovation, which is described by their legendary former CEO, A.G. Lafley in this Harvard Business Publishing video:

While I commend the entire 14-minute video to you, I do want to draw your attention to a few points A.G.Lafley made:

  • Innovation isn’t just about product or technology.  At P&G, they try to “integrate innovation into everything [they] do” — from their product design to the design of their internal business processes.
  • They start and end with the customer. This means that they take concepts and prototypes to customers early to ensure customer views are reflected in product development.  They aim to “co-create and co-design” with target prospective customers.
  • Starting at the 3:20 minute mark, A.G.Lafley describes P&G’s innovation review process.  As you listen to him, consider how a similar approach would affect your organization.
  • They have a business strategy and an innovation strategy.  Their job is to ensure that the two are aligned and support each other.
  • A.G. Lafley is aware of the human tendency to do the easy thing first.  Therefore, part of his role is to focus his team on the biggest, most critical issue that must be resolved in order to ensure the success of an innovation.
  • Basic rules for an innovation process:
    • Know your customer. Know what their needs and wants are.
    • Bring the right team together, set the direction and some simple goals, then make some choices.  (Making choices is how he describes strategy.)
    • Have a simple process for gathering ideas, converting those ideas into basic prototypes and exposing those prototypes to your customers so that they can provide feedback.
    • Have a development and qualification process to evaluate innovation.
  • While grassroots innovation is good and to be encouraged, enterprise-wide innovation is difficult without the full engagement and support of the CEO.   In addition to assuming responsibility for innovation, the CEO must create an innovation culture within the enterprise.
  • An innovation culture requires
    • being open and open-minded
    • connecting ideas and people
    • working collaboratively
  • What keeps the team engaged and motivated during long-term innovation projects? “It’s not the boss flogging you.” It’s the positive feedback you get from your customers along the development path.

This holistic, customer-focused approach to innovation is something we all should consider  in our knowledge management efforts, Enterprise 2.0 deployments, law firms or other places of work.  While we may not achieve the viral success of the Old Spice guy, the resulting innovation is bound to have an impact.


*As promised, here’s the remedial course on Old Spice ads. (This is just a small selection of the large number available on YouTube.)  Enjoy!

In response to Gillette:

In response to Alyssa Milano (4th in a series of videos):

[Photo Credit: Umpqua]