Challenge The Process, Not The Problem: Effective Brainstorming For Innovation In Law Practice

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) Blog Network recently published a post titled, “The Biggest Obstacle to Innovation? You.”

Although the article focuses on start-up businesses, there is at least one point that should give pause to law firm managers.

Most businesses practice prediction reasoning when planning for the future. It involves, planning, optimizing, and then executing ideas.

Often, when a company is searching to innovate or even simply trying to anticipate market behavior in the short- or long-term, a board of directors will assemble for a brainstorming session.

There, a few innovative ideas will be put forward, voted on, and finally refined. After a few weeks (or months) of refinement and improvement, the honed plan will take action.

The process of prediction reasoning is standard, safe. But, the HBR post proposes:

“But thinking differently is difficult, especially since prediction reasoning is so ingrained. Let us give you two questions you can ask when you find your way of thinking blocking innovation:

  1. Instead of thinking some more, is there an action I can take right away?
  2. Can I make whatever action I just imagined cheap enough so that it lies within my affordable loss?”

Sometimes successful innovation depends most on immediate action.

Companies tend to spend time compiling data, and then ruminating on trends and comprehensive analysis of that data (“What can we expect in incremental sales from an add-on product;” “How should we go about creating next year’s budget, given this year’s success?”).

Overthinking, unfortunately, can inhibit true progress. Thus, the two questions posed above.

However, even the HBR recognizes that rash doesn’t always equal revenue.

“You may or may not actually take the action, depending on your ultimate judgment,” explains the HBR about its proposed “out-of-the-box” questions.

“But asking the questions interrupts and sheds light on your thinking habits and it will open you up to different way to ways of solving whatever challenge you face.”

On the micro-level, asking these two questions about a specific project at your firm may open up the kind of innovative thinking needed to solve a case matter.

Or, using these two questions as a mental exercise before beginning a “traditional” prediction reasoning session with law firm partners and administrators may help to unleash different, valuable ideas for change.

Consider asking these questions to clients to determine what they consider to be “affordable losses” in their case. This will help you to decided what kinds of risks (or not) they are willing to take.

The point is, whatever challenge you face, first question your way of thinking, then tackle the issue at hand. When law firms are stymied for a solution, more than likely it’s the process, not the actual problem, that stands in their way of success.



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