Business

Why Every Lawyer Should Adopt An Innovation Mindset

Why Every Lawyer Should Adopt An Innovation MindsetPeople have often said to me, “You’re not a typical lawyer.”

They’re right.

My path has been nontraditional.  I’ve been an entrepreneur first for a very long time. As an entrepreneur, I operate in a constant state of chaos created by the unknown and with a high degree of risk at all times.

“Innovative” isn’t the first word we think of when describing the law and most lawyers. A personality analysis using the Myers-Briggs test found that the ideal personality for a lawyer is INTJ or introverted-intuitive-thinking-judging. INTJs tend be cerebral, fact-based, orderly and see larger patterns in data.

In contrast, the INTJ’s almost-polar opposite — ISFPs or introverted-sensing-feeling-perceiving — are pegged as artists. Compared with lawyer types, they are more spontaneous and focused on the current moment. They also put a higher value on feelings than facts and can live with a certain amount of disorder if it keeps their options open.

In other words, many of the tenets of the lawyerly personality are closed off to innovative thinking. That’s a major handicap in the age we’re living in – in which automation is picking up more and more routine work tasks. In such an environment, creativity will become more prized than cognitive firepower and a photographic memory, for instance.

While this means that these can be challenging times for lawyers, there are lots of things people in the legal profession can do to adapt. Our brains, after all, have proven to be highly plastic and receptive to creating new channels of thinking. That’s how we learn new skills and form habits.

Taking advantage of this plasticity requires a plan and a goal, though. If you’re a lawyer looking to adopt an innovation mindset, here is a way forward.

What is an innovation mindset?

Before we delve in, let’s look at what we mean by an innovation mindset in the first place. Researchers who have studied innovation, like Jacqueline Byrd, have found that the formula for innovative thinking is to combine creativity with risk-taking.

Creativity, meanwhile, is fomented by a tolerance for ambiguity, independent thinking and an appreciation for uniqueness. Those attributes can be at odds with the skills that make lawyers successful, like loyalty, consistency and goal-orientation.

As we embark on the the Fourth Industrial Revolution as a culture, creativity and humanities combined with the STEM fields are becoming an essential skill set for tomorrow’s innovators. Combining tech and data analytics with a healthy dose of creativity and artistic sensibility will bring about the most disruptive innovations.

Here’s how to do it:

 #1 Question the status quo.

To foster an innovation mindset, you need to question everything, including your acceptance of the status quo. A good place to start is to ask why your particular firm or department does things in a certain way.

To take a mundane example, if you have regularly scheduled weekly meetings, you might ask questions like: Why is the meeting 30 minutes? Is it possible to do it in 20? Are there alternatives to meeting face-to-face, like a chatroom? What do other firms do? Are there ways to make these meetings more efficient?

Often, what fuels challenging the status quo is what has been called “‘and’ thinking. For instance, director Peter Jackson wanted to shoot all three of The Lord of the Rings movies and he wanted to do it at the highest quality and lowest cost. Jackson’s solution was a departure from the way Hollywood usually shoots film series, one at at time. He shotall three films at once. That way sets were built and taken down once rather than three times.

Another technique is to pursue “blue-sky” opportunities — scientific and tech advances where the real-world application isn’t apparent. Uber, for example, was created by synthesizing the growth of smartphones and Google’s free Maps API to address the shortcomings of taxi services. Their technology, rolled up in an aesthetically pleasing user experience that fosters a human connection between driver and rider, is what catapulted Uber’s rise.

#2 Embrace automation.

It may sound paradoxical, but machines that do our thinking for us can make us more creative. In 2018, many legal functions such as discovery, research and preparing contracts can be automated. In addition to providing more time for “high touch” communication with clients, automation can free up time for creative thinking and problem-solving.

Of course, you might assume that automation will kill jobs. But, as Marc Andreessen pointed out, framing the issue that way undermines belief in human creativity. It assumes that there will be no new industries, jobs, businesses and ideas. Assuming that every job will be automated also ignores the seismic impact of smartphones, which give billions of people access to information and the global market.

#3 Look at the data.

 Another way to imbue an organization with an innovation mindset is to take an objective view of your current operations. For instance, data can show how much you’re spending on cases and look at common threads. Then you can ask how you can go about shrinking that spend or cutting the amount of time your team spends on those cases.

Data’s role in innovation is critical. In fact, some are now questioning whether innovation is less about those human “aha” moments of creativity and more about having access to huge amounts of data. In other words, when machines offer the superhuman ability to parse troves of data, they are likely to notice patterns and opportunities. As such data-driven innovation accelerates, large firms like Google and Amazon have a huge advantage. Smaller businesses need to become adept at harnessing data to keep up.

#4 Be open to inspiration.

 Being open to inspiration from many different sources and disciplines can provide fertile ground for new ideas to flourish. Years ago, researcher Sarnoff Mednick found that creativity was nothing more than a rich set of associations that your mind could access. By that logic, creativity hinges on exposure to disparate influences. That can mean attending different events, cultivating hobbies and outside interests or even browsing some trade magazines outside your industry.

Mostly, this means expanding yourself by leaving your comfort zone.

How to leverage your strengths

Amazon is an innovative company because CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos has created a culture in which innovative thinking is prized. If, on the other hand, you merely pay lip service to innovation and create an atmosphere where employees are afraid to float new ideas, then you will fall behind.

To implement an innovation mindset, lawyers need to leverage their strengths. Thomas Edison noted that innovation is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. Lawyers are generally adept at the latter. By opening up your mindset to more inspiration, you will be able to put ideas in motion that have an excellent chance of real-world success. And perhaps over time, “innovative” will become an appropriate attribute for lawyers after all.


Monica Zent is an experienced entrepreneur, investor, businesswoman and trusted legal advisor to leading global brands, over a period that spans decades. Her most recent venture is founder and CEO of Foxwordy Inc., the digital collaboration platform for the legal industry. She is also founder of ZentLaw, one of the nation’s top alternative law firms. Zent is an investor in real estate and start-ups. She dedicates much of her time and talent to various charitable causes. She is a diversity and inclusion advocate, inspiring all people to pursue their dreams. When she’s not running companies, Zent runs distance as an endurance athlete.@monicazent

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