At the recent LegalTech 2009 conference, nearly every session I attended started with some variant of the words: “Doing more with less.” To be honest, even the session I spoke at spent some time on why a downturn is a good time to invest in social media tools. (Hint: Social media tools help you do more with less.)
In retrospect, we were all working from a glass-half-empty perspective. Given the tenor of the times, that is perfectly understandable. Nonetheless, I was very glad to be reminded today by Andrea Meyer that working from a glass-half-full perspective can be much more productive. In her post, Dr. Seuss: Innovating within Constraints, she tells the story of how Theodore Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) was asked to create a reading primer that was more compelling than the bland fare then available to children in the early 1950s. The catch was that he was limited to a vocabulary of just over 200 common words that were well within the abilities of beginning readers. Instead of railing against the constraint, he reveled in it. The result was The Cat in the Hat — and a revolution in children’s literature.
In this era of shrinking budgets and staff, law firm knowledge management is facing some real constraints. Creating something useful (and even innovative) is a great challenge — especially given the nearly overwhelming temptation to retrench or retreat. Yet, how you approach the constraints you face can have a great impact on what you can accomplish. As Andrea Meyer points out, one great benefit of a constraint is that it helps limit choices and frees you from distraction. She suggests working within your constraints by stripping a problem down to its basic elements and then putting those elements together in new and unusual combinations until you come upon a creative solution.
March 2 was the anniversary of Theodore Geisel’s birth. In honor of the occasion, I’d propose that we name him the Patron Saint of Recessionary KM and then take another look at our situation to see if we can follow his example by exploiting our constraints to innovate with verve.
[Photo Credit, Diane Cordell]