[Ed. Note: We’ve talked a lot recently about innovation, design thinking, creativity, and curiosity. If you are wondering where you can go to do some hands-on learning, then the American Association of Law Libraries’ Innovation Bootcamp might be for you. I asked Celeste Smith from AALL to write up a description of the bootcamp so that I could share it here. – GL]

Creative problem solving is everybody’s business. New ways to address problems, create value,  and meet the demands of a changing information landscape is on the menu at your workplace, at every workplace.

American Association of Law Libraries is on the move and eager to share  a new wave of thinking. They’re looking to reach people with ideas—seasoned leaders and energetic newcomers alike–who are  ready to sharpen the skills that will take their organizations to a new level. AALL’s Innovation Bootcamp: Add+Venture Initiative  is designed specifically for legal information professionals.   Hear from experts in  design thinking, library service design, and technology on topics such as:

  • Design Thinking: A Strategy for Creative Problem Solving
  • Using Service Design to Connect and Innovate
    Access to Justice Tech in the Trenches

The Innovation Bootcamp will be held on April 25-26 in Chicago. Sign-up by April 2.

On our 25th episode of The Geek In Review, Marlene Gebauer and Greg Lambert sit down and talk with Ivy Grey, Director of Business Strategy for WordRake. Ivy’s recent Above the Law article, “Curiosity Is The Foundation For Innovation” discusses the disconnect between employers who think they promote creativity in their employees (80% think they do), versus employees who think that their bosses actually stifle creativity in the workplace (some 60%.) Ivy breaks down the nuances between creativity and innovation. Innovation has become a buzzword that is actually having a negative effect in the workplace. Instead of trying to drive innovation, law firms should look at encouraging the creativity and curiosity of their employees (not to be limited to the lawyers, mind you.) Ivy points to law firms like Reed Smith, who are actually giving their attorneys and others (approved) time to come up with creative processes, and letting the employees build upon these ideas. The key is to allow people to think and be creative, and imagine possibilities that don’t even exist.

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On that note, we’d like to point out that Baker McKenzie announced the hiring of a couple of creative and curious rock stars, fellow geek, Casey Flaherty as their new Director of Legal Project Management, and Geek in Review interviewee Jae Um, as their Director of Pricing Strategy. That’s a shed load of creativity coming Baker McKinzie’s way. Hope they are ready for long memos filled with emojis!

Greg flew through Dallas Love Field this week during a Herb Kelleher celebration. Southwest’s original CEO was well known for creative marketing, and Greg was a little disappointed that he didn’t get a free bottle of Chivas when we got off the plane. For a great story of how Southwest got its start, check out the Business War’s Podcast on Clearing the Runway.

Information Inspirations

Microsoft Assistant General Counsel, Jason Barnwell, wrote a timely piece called “Bricklayers and Architects.” His own experiences on being able to come up with a creative process to streamline and M&A deal back when he was an associate at a BigLaw firm, dovetails nicely with Ivy Grey’s discussion. That great idea which would have saved a lot of time in creating the closing binders???  Stifled. Why? You probably already guessed it. The billable hour. Continue Reading Episode 25: Ivy Grey on Curiosity and Creativity’s Role in Business

Image [cc] Vyperx1

We very often hear from bloggers on this site regarding the struggles associated with change and innovation.  Fear of failure, lack of inertia, protecting territories—all seem to be stumbling blocks that many firms face when initiating change.  It seems, however, some organizations have found a way to successfully encourage and nurture new ideas internally. 

I had the pleasure of speaking to Karl Florida, Managing Director of Small Law Firm Business Segments and Innovation Champion, at Thomson Reuters, about a new innovation program the company has instituted.

For many years (as many of us are well aware), the Thomson Reuters model has been to acquire business units and manage their growing portfolio.  More recently, the model has shifted, with a focus on knitting the units together to drive more organic growth between them. 

One way Thomson Reuters is accomplishing this is by establishing a cross-unit Innovation Task Force (ITF) and a Catalyst Fund to support new ideas.  Thomson is looking for great ideas from within and establishing a system that rewards creative thinking to further serve their business goals.  How it works is this:  On a monthly basis, ideas can be informally submitted across the company via a home-grown tracking system (no business plan is required, but there is a template to gather certain information).  There are a small number of administrators who collect the proposals and submit them to the ITF.  The ITF prioritizes the ideas, develops Proof of Concept (POCs) and sends the top 5 to a C-level suite of decision-makers. They, in turn, determine if any will move forward into the funding stage.   The appropriate business units and a business sponsor are chosen, and a prototype is created and tested in-house and in the market.  If successful, the product goes to market based on a timeline.  The entire process is tracked through each stage of the pipeline process. 

While the program is only a few months old, it is already gaining in popularity.  Some of the areas where ideas are being generated are Big Data analytics in relation to law, scientific, tax and financial sectors, data visualization tools, regulatory compliance and (wait for it), wearable tech! 

Karl tells me Thomson Reuters is finding the most opportunity in the space between units.  He compared this to the genius of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.  You have chocolate, which is awesome on its own, and you also have peanut butter, equally wonderful.  But put them together, and well, then that is where the magic happens. 

While Thomson Reuter’s program appears mostly devoted to product development, law firms could certainly take advantage of this sort of model to solicit and promote ideas from within regarding client service and delivery, along with development of administrative efficiencies.  The model, along with variations, allows and in fact, encourages a small, but safe space (with funding!) to experiment with new ideas without the associated pressure and demands to be “the right” solution out of the gate.

FYI, if you want to learn more about innovation tournaments, I highly recommend the book, Innovation Tournaments:  Creating and Selecting Exceptional Opportunities, by Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich (hat tip to CCH, for giving me the opportunity to see Karl Ulrich in action).  Because don’t we all need some more peanut butter cups?

As a general rule, we don’t mention many law firms by name on this
blog. On the rare occasions that we do, it’s usually because they’ve
done something stupid, or illegal, or they’ve gone out of business and
it’s plastered all over the main stream news sites and the rest of the
blawgosphere. As a very specific, and very self-preserving rule, we
NEVER mention our own firms by name. No one wants an irate CMO as their
mortal nemesis.

But once in a great while (never before
that I can recall), a firm does something so positive, so remarkable,
so worthy of praise, that to not acknowledge it publicly would be to
invite karmic retribution to rival the ire of any CMO. And when that
firm is my own, the sense of pride I feel is strong enough to empower
the breaking of even the most long-standing of taboos.

On Tuesday night, March 18th, the UK organization Music in Offices held
the finals of it’s biennial Office Choir of the Year competition. OCOTY
is the “March Madness” of office choir competitions. Beginning in early
February more than 20 office choirs compete in “heats” leading to a
semi-final performance in late February and ultimately the finals in
mid-March.  This year’s final four office choirs were from Deloitte, Dunnhumby, BNP Paribas, and Norton Rose Fulbright.

am extremely proud to report that Norton Rose Fulbright won the 2014
competition! Our choir, and the competition, is based in London and I’m
in New York, so sadly my contribution was limited to cheering on friends
and colleagues from afar and watching Twitter anxiously for the
results. While I am thrilled that NRF won the competition, and I am very
proud of my fellow NRF musicians, I am most excited to see professional
services organizations, including banks, accountants, marketing, and,
most happily, law firms supporting the arts within their organizations.
Large corporate donations to professional arts organizations are great,
but supporting your fellow employees who want to sing, or play, or
create together, is a potentially transformational act. We expect law
firms to have talented lawyers, but when employees are encouraged to
express their artistic talents it can give your firm a tremendous boost
to creativity and morale.

I have written before that The Arts Create Future Geeks,
which is my way of saying creative, intelligent, focused, and capable
people. Thank you to Music in Offices for surfacing the latent or  hidden artistic talents in the corporate world.

And congratulations to the Norton Rose Fulbright 2014 Office Choir of the Year!

(You can hear the NRF Choir at 2:00 & 3:27 in the video.  But watch the whole thing, it’s only 4 minutes!)

I don’t like meetings. I feel like meetings often fail to accomplish much beyond getting project team members into the same room once a week. We talk about the work we did the previous week, and we talk about the work we hope to do during the next week, but there are better ways to communicate that information.  I was thinking about this recently and became convinced there must be a better way to structure projects.

Just as Robert’s Rules of Order are intended to facilitate debate and deliberation among a large group of participants, Ryan’s Rules for Projects are intended to keep team projects moving quickly and  efficiently, and to give them the greatest chance for success.

Rule #1 – No more than 5 team members on any given project.

Too often we load up team members on projects in the mistaken belief that having more people involved will allow the team easy access to more information and allow more work to get done faster.  It doesn’t work that way.  Think about it in terms of team sports. (Sports Metaphors: The last refuge of lazy writers.) In team sports, the speed of the action is negatively correlated to the size of the team.  American football can move quickly in short bursts, but the 11 players have to huddle, regroup, choose a new plan and start over in a new spot after every play.  The most surprising event in football is when a team actually marches down the field quickly to score.  European football or Soccer, also 11 players per team, is only slightly better.  They don’t stop play every few seconds, but let’s face it, 90 minutes of play and you’re lucky if either team was able to score at all. Baseball, with 9 players (my personal favorite), has been described as “long periods of boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror.”  Contrast hockey (6), basketball (5), and tennis (2) and you begin to see a pattern emerge.  Smaller teams can communicate easier, move more quickly, reorganize, and change priorities on the fly, while larger teams lumber on slowly toward a goal.

Rule #2 – Team members devote 20% of working time to this one project.

Ideally you should have 4 team members who are able to devote at least 20 percent of their working time to the project.  The fifth member should be an interested senior manager who keeps an eye on the progress of the team, but only gets involved in the event that the team has a 50/50 split on a decision and needs a tie breaker.  The 20 percent minimum ensures that no person is on more than a few projects at once, leaving the rest of their time available for miscellaneous working activities, like the rest of their job.

A smaller team devoting the same total number of man-hours to a project, will always outperform a larger team.

Rule #3 – Team members must collaborate regularly.

Collaboration time differs from “meeting time”, in so far as it is time spent actually working together on a project.  Two or more team members may schedule time to collaborate, or they may spontaneously meet up, or call each other.  They may have a goal for their collaboration time, or a particular problem they wish to tackle, but they should never have an agenda of multiple items to be covered during a particular period.  Collaboration is directed, focused work, but it should be spontaneous, and never managed. During collaboration time, team members may work closely together on the same problem, or they may choose to tackle different problems in silence, together.  Being in proximity and thinking about the same project at the same time gives rise to serendipitous discoveries, and creative solutions, but it also ensures that team members stay focused on the project rather than being pulled away by other concerns.

Rule #4 – Meetings should be “nasty, brutish, and short.”

Okay, I’ll admit it, meetings are sometimes a necessary evil.  However, meetings should not be opportunities for the project team to communicate with each other, they are opportunities for the team to communicate with their fifth member, or with other senior management.  The team may call a meeting to get direction or a clarification of goals from management, to report progress, or to present new solutions and confirm they are on the right path.  Management may call a meeting to check in on the project, or to establish new goals or directives.   Meetings should be short, typically 15 minutes, and never more than 30.  They should be ad hoc, called only when necessary.  With fewer members devoting more time to the project, and meetings of shorter duration, ad hoc meetings should become fairly easy to schedule.  If you insist on holding regular meetings, they should be held at predetermined intervals along the project timeline, or when particular project milestones are achieved.

Why nasty and brutish? 

I really like the Hobbes quote, but it’s also relevant. While office interactions should always be professional and genial, good people can, and often do, disagree, especially in the midst of collaboration.  Disagreement can be very healthy and creative. In my experience, many people hold back in meetings, afraid to express opinions for fear of looking foolish or damaging another team member’s pride. Whether we enter meetings as C-level officers, plebeian peons, or something in between, we need to leave our egos, our job titles, and our inhibitions at the door.  For 15 minutes the meeting should be a free flow of brutally honest ideas and opinions. At the end of the meeting, managers give directions, team members return to their project, and, like Vegas, what happened in the meeting, stays in the meeting.

Rule #5 – Fail small, fail quickly, and fail often.

Back in February, I wrote an post titled “In Praise of Failure” where this final rule was the punchline.  As I said in that post, “Quick failures… are merely steps on the way to success.”   Part of the reason we continue with  pointless meetings, accomplishing little, is because even though they bring us no closer to success, they also move us no closer to failure.  Meetings, as we currently practice them, are the equivalent of treading water.  We’re not going anywhere, but we’re not drowning either, and that’s considered good enough.

Projects are inherently collaborative.  Collaboration is always messy.  Messy often leads to failure.  Failure with a little self-awareness gives rise to learning.  Learning creates new knowledge.  New knowledge is fed back into the project, and the process begins again.  Occasionally, “messy” takes a sharp left turn and leads to success, but only after several iterations of the process, and therefore, several failures.  Sadly, we are more afraid of failing, than we are driven to succeed, and we should be most afraid of standing still.

I have never had an opportunity to practice Ryan’s Rules for Projects.  I have attempted to implement some of the rules into existing projects and I’ve been overruled or outvoted each time.  Maybe these rules are a recipe for failure, or maybe they’re keys to success, but if you’re tired of treading water, you could do a lot worse than trying it my way.

Jeffrey Brandt at PinHawk suggests a few more rules and I wholeheartedly agree.  My list was never intended to be definitive or comprehensive.  If you have further suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

Brandt’s Addenda:  

Rule #6 – All team meetings must have an agenda. (ed. meetings not collaboration time)
Rule #7 – All projects must have a written definition of success.
Rule #8 – All projects must have links to one (or more) strategic business initiatives.

When I was in law school, some of my favorite classes where titled “Law and _____.” The blank was filled with things like “Economics” or “Religion” or “Psychology” or “Order.” The idea of taking two different concepts and seeing how they affected each other was absolutely fascinating to me. While each idea stood on its own, putting “Law” in front of the other concept made you take a different look at it, and in the end helped you better understand them both. In a time when it seems that we are all pushed into “specializing” in our professional lives, sometimes we need to step back and challenge ourselves to bring in something unusual to our routines to break our tunnel vision, and in the end, make ourselves better.

Over the past weekend, I saw something that reminded me of this idea. My youngest daughter (pictured above, top row, second from the left) competed in an Odyssey of the Mind competition and reminded me of how taking two or more unrelated ideas and making them work together, and create something that is better than its individual parts.

The Odyssey of the Mind competition was special because it asked students to do two very different things:

  1. Perform a task involving something you’ve engineered (my daughter’s task was to create a vehicle that someone could ride back and forth across a gym floor.)
  2. Tell a story and make the vehicle change emotions as you are telling the story (the vehicle had to go from happy to sad and then from envious to in love.)
Here’s the part of the description I love:

The emphases will be on the technical risk-taking and creativity of the vehicle’s engineering for travel and change of emotional appearance.

The kids had to come up with all the ideas on their own (I made the mistake of attempting to explain how a broken piece of the vehicle could be fixed, and before I could say anything the kids all started “shushing” me and telling me not to say anything because they could be disqualified… I took my cue and left the room at that point.) The process they took was pretty ingenious… they used a clear plastic dung beetle head and rigged up a mouth on a stick that they could manipulate to make it smile or frown. Same with the eyes to go from happy to sad. My favorite was when they threw in a green glow stick to represent being envious. All of this while telling a story of how a dung beetle fell in love with a can of RAID spray that was wearing an Elvis wig (I’m still confused about the Elvis reference… but, I’m perfectly fine with the love story.) Long story short… they won their division and get to travel to the State Competition, which is only about 5 miles away this year.

The thing that struck me most, however, wasn’t the actual eight minutes of competition that the students performed. What struck me was the excitement in the hallway as all of the different groups were preparing for the competition. The Principal of the school made a great comment to us as she looked up and down the hallway. “This is how school should be conducted everyday.” Meaning that instead of the traditional method of drilling for state sanctioned standardized testing, the kids should be challenged to think for themselves and apply what they are learning in ways beyond traditional test taking skills.

Here’s the reaction from the students when they heard they won their division (suggestion: turn your speakers down, cause it gets loud!!)

Now, you may think that only the winners screamed this loud. Not true. The schools that placed sixth in the competition screamed just as loud… actually I think the school that sat right behind me actually screamed a bit louder.

The whole thing just reminds me of how I get inspired when I bring in non-traditional concepts into my daily routine in a law firm. Applying IT concepts in a library project, or suggesting to others how a project they are working on would be better by adding something completely outside their normal ideas. Too often we get bogged down in hashing out the same old ideas and talking to others that think exactly as we do. From time to time get out of the “group think” and take a chance to see if you can find someone that can suggest throwing in a proverbial green glow stick into your project. You may not find yourself screaming down the aisle to accept your award, but you may find yourself feeling something that you haven’t felt in your profession in a while… a sense of excitement.