Giving Thanks

Although gratitude is a “soft” topic, always remember that everyone likes to be appreciated: clients, staff, and colleagues especially included. Have you said thank you recently?

As for me, I’m grateful for the opportunity to “talk with” you every week via this newsletter. I don’t take the privilege for granted. Is there a topic you’d like me to address in a future issue?  Leave a comment and let me know!

“I’ve learned that though people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
–Maya Angelou

Opening the Vault


Five of the most useful articles I’ve read this month.

1. Five Secrets to Successful Rainmaking. In addition to five great tips, this article briefly explores why rainmaking matters especially for woman and those interested in working flex-time. (Gentlemen, this article is good for you, too.)

2. How to Adopt a Sales Mindset. A short article with 13 reasonably obvious (but easy-to-forget) tips; qualifies as one of the week’s best reads because of the final sentence: “A salesperson tells, a good salesperson explains… and a sales superstar demonstrates.”

3. Rituals – how leaders can get things done(Leadership Frame #2) I frequently talk with clients about creating systems, and this article hit home with this passage: “[I]t is wrong to think that to get things done we must constantly or consciously think about them. The opposite is true – we should instead increase the number of things we do without thinking about them. So the counter-intuitive secret to getting things done is to make them more automatic, so they require less energy. Develop rituals — highly specific behaviors, done at precise times, so they eventually become automatic and no longer require conscious will or discipline.” Read and apply.

4. Communicating with Clients through Invoices. I’ve yet to talk to anyone who enjoys timesheets. This article, which explains how invoicing is actually a written conversation about what you’re doing for your clients, might just change your mind.

5. Finally, from my “to watch” list, a short video from my friend and colleague Carolyn Herfurth on how to handle that moment when you recognize that the potential client you’re talking with isn’t your ideal client.

Little Bets

Book Review: Little Bets by Peter Sims

I discovered Little Bets through an Amazon announcement, and as soon as I read the promotional copy, I hurried to purchase the book:

What do Apple CEO Steve Jobs, comedian Chris Rock, prize-winning architect Frank Gehry, the story developers at Pixar films, and the Army Chief of Strategic Plans all have in common? Bestselling author Peter Sims found that all of them have achieved breakthrough results by methodically taking small, experimental steps in order to discover and develop new ideas. Rather than believing they have to start with a big idea or plan a whole project out in advance, trying to foresee the final outcome, they make a series of little bets about what might be a good direction, learning from lots of little failures and from small but highly significant wins that allow them to happen upon unexpected avenues and arrive at extraordinary outcomes.

The good news? Little Bets absolutely delivers on that tantalizing introduction.

Peter Sims has identified two types of innovators: conceptual innovators, who make the big, bold leaps with groundbreaking new ideas (and, according to Sims, often achieve their success early) and experimental innovators, who “use experimental, iterative, trial-and-error approaches to gradually build up to breakthroughs.” Experimental innovators are persistent and willing to accept failure and setbacks because they understand that those events are learning opportunities. Rather than perceiving failure to reflect self-worth, experimental innovators use failure as feedback.

One example of experimental innovation comes through Starbucks. Sims recounts Howard Schultz’s initial ideas: bow-tied baristas dispensing coffee from a menu written in Italian with a background of opera music. This did not work.Rather than declaring failure and moving on to a new project (or simply getting a job implementing others’ ideas), Schultz began to make adjustments, tweaking aspects of Starbucks over time. And now, the Starbucks concept has come to define not just how we order, purchase, and drink coffee, but it’s come to represent (to some extent) where and how we gather in community. Whether you like or detest Starbucks, it is innovation in action.

Through examples drawn from a wide variety of industries, Little Betsexplains the characteristics of experimental innovators, who

  • Experiment. These innovators “[l]earn by doing [and] [f]ail quickly to learn fast.”
  • Play. Improvisation and a light, humorous approach quiets inhibitions and allows innovation to flourish. Compare a brainstorming session in which every idea, no matter how objectively ridiculous, is considered with one that includes the naysayer who punctuates every idea with “that won’t work!”
  • Always seek new input. Experimental innovators leave their workspace in search of fresh ideas and insights, and they aim to understand people’s motivations and desires. Consider the feedback on Siri, the new voice assistant built into the iPhone 4S, which answers voice commands and questions with human-like responses. Wouldn’t you imagine that Siri came about in response to the desire to have a pocket genie?
  • Redefine. Experimental innovators use the insights they gather to define problems and needs before seeking to create a solution. Compare the Segway with smartphones. We needed a way to be connected on the go (and the level of connection has continued to evolve), but most of us didn’t really need a new way to get around.
  • Reorient. Experimental innovators keep their larger goals in view while remaining flexible so that they can make good use of each small win that occurs.
  • Iterate. Experimental innovators “[r]epeat, refine, and test frequently armed with better insights, information, and assumptions as time goes on[.]”

Why should you consider the Little Bets approach? No one wants to fail, and there’s no credible way to redefine failure itself as a positive. However, I’ve often observed lawyers and business owners who fail, take that failure as a reflection not of a faulty plan or faulty efforts but rather as an indicator that they cannot succeed. (This is especially prevalent with the would-be rainmaker who makes a few attempts, doesn’t get any business, and concludes that they just don’t have what it takes.)

And yet, we all fail. The question is what we do with that failure. Using the Little Bets approach recognizes that failure isn’t fatal when it’s a step toward success.Determine what you can afford to lose (a key lesson taught through Steve Jobs’ experience in growing Pixar) and then get to testing. Don’t lose more than you can afford, and find ways to grow from each failure.

Finally, experimental innovation is not an all-or-nothing proposition. “To be sure, experimental innovation should not entirely replace linear thinking in our regular work processes. Engaging in discovery and making little bets is a way to complement more linear, procedural thinking.” Use experimental innovation to guide your approach, to road-test the ideas and assumptions that come through rational, strategic thinking.

Change Your Mind, Change Your Practice(s)

We cannot solve  problems with the same level of
consciousness that created them.
~Albert Einstein

Einstein’s quote, one of my all-time favorites, is a touchpoint for our times. We hear about “out of the box” thinking, we know that innovation is a requirement in today’s world, and the only way to produce either is to adjust how we think about whatever we’re facing.

In the context of practicing law, changing how we think about practice (and building a practice) is usually the first step to making a change. For example, if you’re aiming for success in a law firm by being a reliable, industrious, somewhat reserved workerbee but you notice that you keep getting passed over for the big cases you’d like to work on, continuing to work harder and harder without more is unlikely to lead to change.

If you’re constantly running ragged, wondering how you can connect with your spouse and/or children in an hour or so at the beginning or end of each day, it’s a safe bet that you won’t shift your actions until and unless you shift your perspective.  Want a new job?  You’ll have to pull some time and attention away from what you’re doing now to make the time to launch a job search.

And if you believe that business development is something that you’ll begin “later”, you likely won’t recognize business development opportunities that may come your way — because chance favors the prepared mind.

Making a change often requires stepping outside a situation long enough to identify a problem and then making a mental shift that will help in solving that problem. How the shift happens is individual to each person.  But creating and then using a shift relies on several basic principles.

  1. The shift must be authentic. If your partner, your supervisor, your doctor, or anybody else tells you to make a change and you don’t buy into it, there will be no shift.  Remember the punchline to the joke asking how many psychiatrists are needed to change a lightbulb?  One, but the lightbulb has to really, really want to change.  No psychiatry here, but if you don’t really, really want to change (or at least really, really, really believe you need to change), chances are good that you’ll keep on doing the same old, same old.
  2. Maintaining the shift means keeping it in the forefront of your mind. If you’re trying to make a habit of arranging lunch with one key contact a week, put a reminder on your calendar where you see it daily.  If you want to improve your efficiency in the office, use time management tools that keep your eye on efficiency.  Holding onto a shift in a perspective means keeping it in front of you in some way, because it’s often all too easy to slide back to the old, familiar approach.
  3. Reaping the benefit of the shift requires action. While it’s important to recognize a problem or a situation that can be improved, that’s empty if it’s merely recognition without follow-through.  If you want more balance in your life, take some action, even if it’s a small one.  Claiming a 15-minute walk for yourself in the afternoon will not only provide some balance but also will remind you that you’re seeking balance.  (Put it in your calendar and keep that commitment, too!)
  4. It’s easier to maintain a shift, and to design and implement the actions that the shift calls for, when you have support. Tell your spouse that you need to set aside 3 hours on Saturday morning to catch up on work.  Tell your assistant that you plan to eat lunch away from your desk one day this week.  Work with a coach to provide accountability as you set out on your business development plans.  According to a study conducted by the American Society for Training and Development, “consciously deciding” to complete a goal usually yields about a 25% success rate.  Deciding to make a change, telling someone what that change is, and committing to completing it by a certain deadline, raises the chances of success to about 95%.

What do you need to shift in the way you see your practice?