10 Things I’ve Learned

Andrew McAfee’s Twitter list of “10 Things I’ve Learned from Teaching” is instructive for those of us who don’t teach for a living:

  1. Don’t be afraid of silence in the classroom.
  2. Ask clear questions.
  3. Trust your students.
  4. Be the person who most wants to be in the room.
  5. Start on time, end on time.
  6. Check your fly.
  7. Be more concerned with the destination than the journey.  (But see comments by @sengseng and @markgould13, with last word to @sengseng.)
  8. We get smarter via respectful disputation.
  9. It’s better to be well-rested than well-prepared.
  10. Most students appreciate being held to high standards.

This, of course, led me to muse about how these 10 Things apply to law firm knowledge management:

  1. Silence is Golden — lawyers are trained to spot issues (which is a nice way of saying that we can find fault with nearly anything).  If you aren’t  getting feedback, either they think you’re doing a fine job or they don’t know you exist.  Depending on the day, either may be perfectly acceptable.
  2. Be Clear — clarity of purpose and clarity of expectations go a long way to success.  Be sure you’re clear about what your KM program is supposed to deliver and be clear about what you’re able to do.  Further, be clear about what you need from the firm and its lawyers to be successful.  They can’t help you if you don’t ask — clearly.
  3. Trust — at the end of the day, law firm knowledge management exists to improve lawyer work and, ultimately, client service.  Trust the lawyers in the firm to know what they need and be sure to talk to them frequently about those needs.  Don’t assume they don’t know and don’t make the mistake of believing that you always know better.  Sometime you do (because you often have a wider institutional view), but don’t let that lead you into the trap of disdaining the lawyers you’re there to help.
  4. Your Enthusiasm Matters — if you aren’t the one who believes most in your KM program, it will be very hard to sell it to firm management or your users.
  5. Make a Commitment to Time — Although it is perhaps most challenging when you’re rolling out technology, set project deadlines in consultation with your users and then meet those deadlines.  Your commitment to time indicates your commitment to your KM program and to the firm.  This is particularly important when you realize that the lawyers in your firm are constantly working to meet the time commitments they’ve made to their clients.  When we let our internal deadlines slip, we give the impression that we aren’t supporting the client-facing work.
  6. Presentation Makes a Difference — as young lawyers we were reminded that typos tarnish an otherwise brilliant memo.  Since so many lawyers have OCD tendencies, this warning pushed us deeper into our neuroses.  Even if you take a more moderate approach, the reality is that sloppy presentation of your work undermines that work.  If you want to be taken seriously, be sure that the appearance of your work does credit to the work itself.  And, don’t forget to check your fly.
  7. Focus on Your Goals — If you want to have something to show for your time and effort, you need goals to work towards.  That said, I part company with Andy McAfee slightly on this since I believe that the journey is every bit as important as the destination.  How you reach your goal can have as big an impact as reaching the goal itself.
  8. Leverage the Talents of Your Colleagues — when you insist on tightly controlling how things are done or implementing your ideas without the benefit of input from your colleagues, you deprive your project of the creative talents of your team.  In addition, you deprive the firm of the value these employees bring to the table.  If you understand that much of what we do in KM is iterative, you’ll understand how essential it is to have colleagues who are willing to bring (and defend) a different perspective on your shared work.  Their contributions will help you improve your work product, provided you are open to little “respectful disputation.”
  9. Exhaustion is Not Conducive to Insight — since I have a woeful tendency to burn the candle at both ends AND have learned that there’s no substitution for good preparation in legal work, Andy McAfee’s suggestion that “it’s better to be well-rested than well-prepared” is a little challenging for me.  However, I do understand that when you’re exhausted or under stress, it’s very hard to glimpse those moments of insight that lead to breakthroughs.  Given current economic conditions and the stresses and strains they engender, it now is more important than ever before to remain rested enough to be innovative.
  10. High Standards are Your Insurance Policy — In carrying out our work, we need to ask if this is the best we can offer to the firm and to its clients.  In aiming high, we push ourselves and our colleagues into the mode of constantly seeking improvement.  That is a key to creativity and innovation.

Meanwhile, Mark Gould has posted a great list of his KM-related glosses on Andy McAfee’s list that is well worth a read.

What would you add to these lists?

[Photo Credit for “Einstein’s Blackboard”: rich_w]

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