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Steps to Innovation

How can law firms or departments facilitate an innovative team? Innovation requires inspiration and teamwork, for starters, argues Gary Goodwin

Steps to Innovation
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Gary Goodwin

"Neo ... nobody has ever done this before."
"I know. That's why it's going to work."

The Matrix

People pursue innovation. Parts of the innovation process resembles chasing a puppy in the park. Other parts of the process require sitting quietly waiting for the puppy to come to you. Patience remains key. And bacon treats.

Innovation involves something new and affects society in a positive way. Innovations negatively impact society also, but this is the realm of tax lawyers and we will leave them to their planning.

An innovation includes new ideas, process, products or even improvements to all of these categories. Therefore, an innovation must be an improvement on what already exists and carry with it societal acceptance (although some law firms remain convinced that finding new fax solutions can be innovative).

The scholarly article “Thoughts on Improving Innovation” by V. Poirier et al that appeared in the journal Technology & Innovation in 2017 outlines some of the main steps for facilitating innovation. These steps include inspiration, creativity, motivation, entrepreneurship, and innovation: easily remembered by the mnemonic I C ME Innovating!

Legal Innovation Zone epitomizes this collection of concepts. Its website describes itself as “a co-working space and the first legal tech incubator with a focus on building better legal solutions for the consumers of legal services.”

Inspiration may be the most elusive. Psychologists Todd M. Thrash and Andrew J. Elliot have identified inspiration’s three main qualities as evocation (without intention), transcendence (rising above the mundane), and approach motivation (the desire to actualize this thought).

Brain-wise, firing neurons attempt to connect to other neurons, exploring adjacent connections. Random firings connect with one another. Eventually, one hopes. The puppy must come to you.

Approach motivation requires intrinsic drive. Extrinsic rewards, such as money, do not have the same effect. More money might attract a larger team of people capable of inspiration, but once you have them, even more money will not lead to even greater inspirations. Having a team of inspired people come together can cause a cascade of inspiration, while negative nellies (accountants, for example!) can damper the inspirational spirit. Accountants play an important role later on, however.

Inspiration requires privacy, downtime, and abstract thinking. Possessing the ability for abstract thought allows the individual to break down a problem or opportunity into its component parts and identify the patterns or themes giving rise to the problem or opportunity.

The second step of the process requires creativity. This involves looking at the world in a new way, unencumbered by the old ways. (Realities, such as gravity or law society rules on advertising, come into play a bit later.)

The third part of the process requires motivation. This motivation drives the inspired creativity to fruition.

The fourth part of the process requires entrepreneurship. This vital component appears lacking in most legal training since this involves risk-taking, which is anathema to lawyers. Law practice teaches us to identify risk and avoid it. Entrepreneurship involves identifying risk and embracing it.

A business background, or time spent in business, fleshes out this fourth component. Embracing risk requires a culture change in the individual, law firm or legal department. A small incremental change identifying business opportunities for the law firm would reduce client risk. Learn from failures, but learn not to invoke repercussions. Otherwise, that would be the end of the innovation process for a while.

Arriving at the final stage, innovation, involves other criteria. One is timing. Society does not accept an idea decades ahead of its time. And do not worry about consensus building; not everyone needs to be onboard.

How can law firms or departments facilitate an innovative team? Innovation requires teamwork. The days of Edison are past. The modern team requires proximity to one another. Real proximity still seems the best. Proxy proximity, Skype, Microsoft Teams all approximate this requirement. The benefits here include an even broader type of team scattered in different locations. The members should be independent in order to allow for collaboration. Having one’s independence allows for even greater actualization and intrinsic motivation for the individual.

Real proximity or proxy proximity still require privacy. Inspiration can occur in a coffee shop, but a quiet library or beach reduces distractions. Legal Innovation Zone requires start-ups to be located at the LIZ main office. New start-ups can rely upon a synergistic effect of other experienced innovators.

Finally, an innovation team requires leadership. Someone that can place the “why” at the centre of the innovation process to inspire the necessary passion within the team — then just get the hell out of the way.

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