While listening to a podcast about "Designing Invincible Companies" with Alex Osterwalder (a leading expert on innovation and entrepreneurship) and Barry O'Reilly (a business advisor, author and entrepreneur), I jotted down some of the concepts they talked about as being essential for innovation to flourish and for a business to continue to be successful:
Failure – they talked about this a lot and as key to learning and progressing.
Humility – in the sense that businesses that don't believe they are invincible are the ones that are going to stay ahead.
Unlearning – they said that businesses (through their people) need to "unlearn" to reinvent themselves despite positive feedback indicating all is OK with things as they are right now.
Accountability – owning outcomes and not blaming someone else when something goes wrong.
Treating innovation as a profession - innovation is a discipline requiring knowledge skills, and people who innovate get better at it with experience.
Harmony – the need for balance between teams that innovate and teams that execute to enable each other. It's all about the conditions for innovation. Osterwalder says, “As a leader, you don’t pick the winning ideas; you create the conditions for the winning ideas and the winning teams to emerge”.
The Amazon Day 1 mentality – a culture and operating model that puts customers at the centre of everything, maintaining a long-term focus and bold innovation. Day 1 can be contrasted with a Day 2 mentality where decision-making slows, the business becomes less agile and focus turns inwards, away from the customers. Jeff Bezos famously described Day 2 as stasis and is followed by irrelevance and then excruciating, painful decline and death!
Are law firms well placed for innovation?
I started to worry I was in the wrong job! I work on legal tech innovation from within a large law firm. Law firms and lawyers aren't generally known for failure, humility, "unlearning" (they've spent so much time learning their job) or being ready to let go of traditions.
However, on closer examination, I think many law firms are very well placed for innovation:
Failure: I know that at the law firms I've worked at (or with), there's likely to have been a few missteps behind the scenes in getting the legal work product across the finish line. It's a natural consequence of dealing with complex matters requiring input across specialisations and geographies at speed. But there are processes in place to prevent any mistakes from getting out the door. Despite the fact it's nearly 20 years since I practised as a lawyer, my red pen is always poised to correct typos in other people's work! The built-in processes which pick up on mistakes (and the associated learning) are just part of the process and go by almost unnoticed. It's just part of the culture.
Humility: while on the outside, some lawyers may appear arrogant, underneath many experiences the imposter phenomenon, which drives them to improve themselves constantly. They have inner humility. And from time to time, lawyers will reflect that they are part of the wider system of justice that has a long history and that in itself brings a degree of humility.
Unlearning: the law and practice of law is constantly changing, requiring a degree of unlearning. As someone who trained and qualified in the late 1980s, I came to know and love the Companies Act 1985 and well-known sections like s. 151. And then came the Companies Act 2006. I had to unlearn all the section numbers and learn new ones!! "Unlearning" and re-inventing yourself is just how it is as a lawyer.
Owning outcomes: I think most lawyers have a very high sense of ownership and responsibility. Speaking as an ex-lawyer, I wish I had let go a bit more and listened more to other lawyers and professionals in other fields when working on deals.
Treating innovation as a profession: This is happening - many firms now support their innovation activities with professional innovators and provide training for all members of staff to up-skill them. At Clifford Chance, we have an Innovation Academy (which has been developed out of our Automation Academy).
Harmony: I usually hear people talk about collaboration when it comes to working across teams and disciplines. Lawyers who work in partnerships, especially large ones, are well versed in collaboration, given the nature of partnerships. It goes with the territory. Whether the collaboration is harmonious, I don't know, but I will target harmony, not just collaboration in the future.
Day 1: This is a tricky one. Clients are always at the top of mind within a law firm. Saying something for a client's means it gets top priority, but I suspect Jeff Bezos had a more empathetic approach.
Overall, the very fact that the legal profession has survived for many hundreds of years and has not died an excruciating death indicates that it has reinvented itself and does have these attributes. So I think I am OK, I am in the right job. My challenge is perhaps not on the innovation side; instead, it's on bringing harmony with the technology side of things...
“As a leader you don’t pick the winning ideas; you create the conditions for the winning ideas and the winning teams to emerge,”