Yearly Archives: 2013

Focus on Existing Clients First

A simple question to ask while planning for 2014:

Does your firm fight even half as hard to keep your existing clients’ loyalty as it does to win new business from new prospects?

Don’t Dismiss Unhappy Clients

Seth Godin nails it:

The complaining customer doesn’t want a refund.  He wants a connection, an apology and some understanding. He wants to know why you made him feel stupid or ripped off or disrespected, and why it’s not going to happen again.

How do you deal with the complaining customer?  You can start by learning how to apologize.

 

(Image from Hugh MacLeod’s series of “Business Greeting Cards“)

Super Secret Project: Preview 1

Wouldn’t it be cool to have a bunch of legal-related images you could use to create visual explanations (replacing text-heavy, multi-page letters) of the legal process for your clients ?  I thought so too.

Stay tuned.  Lots more to come…

Legal Images

The (Auto)Complete Lawyer

I ran across a funny list of Google Autocomplete “Fails” and thought I’d see how Google would autocomplete a few legal-related queries.

Sadly, the results aren’t very promising for lawyers.  Here are just a few of the results:

My lawyer is …

My lawyer is

 Lawyers are …

Lawyers are

 My Lawyer Won’t …

My Lawyer Won't

Perhaps none of this comes as a surprise to you, but it is important to recognize just how little our clients are prepared to think of us.  It isn’t good enough to do what your peers are doing, you must do more and be better.

And next time you are deciding whether to return that client call tonight or put it off until tomorrow morning, go ahead and read some of the 72,000,000 Google results for “My lawyer won’t return my calls.”  My guess is you’ll be picking up the phone before you head home for dinner.

Website Bio Advice for Accountants

Accounting Bio Venn Diagram

After my Attorney Website Bio Venn Diagram went viral yesterday, Joel Ungar asked me to do one for accountants.  With his help, here it is:

 

Your clients still don’t care where you went to law school.

Lawyer Bio Website DiagramThis is an update to this post from a few years ago.

What Clients Want

What Clients Want

 

Creative Capacity

Lawyers are among the most creative, innovative professionals so long as they’re doing client work.  When the time comes to solve their own business challenges, they never seem to take the time they should.

Here’s why:  it is hard to take the time required to achieve creative, game-changing innovation when there’s “real” billable work to be done — and the higher your hourly rate, the bigger the innovation penalty feels:

 

CREATIVE CAPACITY

 

Here’s the important thing:  while sitting a a desk (or a park, or a museum) asking open-ended “How might we…” questions might not feel like work, it is one of the few things you can do to make certain you’ll still be lawyering in five years or more.

There’s big change coming to the legal biz and only those putting in the time and effort today to prepare for the future will be ready when it arrives.

I’d Be More Creative, But …

From a recent presentation on becoming a more “creative” counsel:

Creative Lawyer Chart

 

Are Your Clients Really Stupid?

withstupid

Self-described “Tech/Business Geek” Jason Crawford gives us some great questions to ask ourselves before we (usually mistakenly) think of the people we work with as “stupid.”   He reminds us that “[d]ifferences in judgement are rarely due to stupidity,” and suggests we instead work to understand others’ thinking process, biases and emotions.  I’ve found that lawyers are particularly susceptible to mis-diagnosing their non-lawyer* clients this way.

Here are some of my favorite questions he suggests we ask ourselves before playing the “stupid” card:

  • Are you answering the same question? Maybe each of you is answering a different angle on the question (e.g., “what’s our next step?” vs. “what’s the long-term solution?”)
  • Are you talking completely in abstractions? Give examples, and ask them for examples, to get clear and concrete.
  • Are you both being clear and precise in your formulations? Sometimes people phrase things loosely or talk in metaphors that aren’t meant to be taken literally.
  • Have you seen important data that they haven’t? Maybe they missed a key fact, or they just haven’t seen the breadth or depth of data that you have. Inform them and see if they come around.
  • Do you have relevant experience that they don’t? Tell them the observations or lessons learned that lead you to your conclusion (without being didactic or condescending).
  • Are you guided by different goals and values? If so, you’ll reach different solutions to a problem. Get aligned on goals before arguing about problems and solutions.

And a few particularly relevant to lawyers:

  • Are they afraid of the conclusion? Maybe it threatens their work, their reputation, or their self-esteem. There’s no excuse for this, but it happens to everyone sometimes. Good people recognize it sooner or later and let their emotions go. Sometimes a close friend or co-worker can get them to see what’s going on by asking sympathetic questions. (Be sure to ask this question of yourself as well.)
  • Are environmental stresses degrading their judgment? Time pressure or having your career on the line can make it hard to do your best work.
  • Are they intimidated by you? If you really are smarter or better-spoken, they may be swamped by emotions of insecurity that make it hard to think. You may be unwittingly shutting them down, which begins a vicious cycle. Tone it down.

Next time you are tempted to think of a client as “stupid,” you should look in the mirror first.  Your failure to ask yourself these questions about your clients may make you the stupid one.

 

* Stop calling the talented, committed professionals in your office who were smart enough to avoid law school  “non-lawyers.”  It demeans them and makes you look like a smug, self-important ass.

Some New Reading from Jordan Furlong

I’m a big fan (and friend) of Jordan Furlong, the author of the Law21 blog and a consultant with Edge International and Stem Legal.  When Jordan writes about something, I read it, think about it and then try to pass off his ideas and insights as my own (mostly kidding).
He’s got a new e-book out on the future of law practice that I’ve had the pleasure of reading.  I say “pleasure” because I’m no longer practicing law.  If I were still in practice, I might not have enjoyed reading what he has to say about where the legal industry is heading and the bumpy road ahead.  Nevertheless, it is a necessary read for lawyers who expect to practice beyond 2017, and I highly recommend it.
Here are the details from Jordan:
Evolutionary Road: A Strategic Guide to Your Law Firm’s Future (published by Attorney At Work). It’s a 40-page e-book that provides lawyers and law firms with a strategic guide to the future of the legal market and where they fit into that future. I set out five stages of current and future developments in the marketplace, through the year 2020 and beyond, and supplement those forecasts with tools and recommendations with which firms can build strategic plans and embark upon retreats to chart their own course forward. It retails for $US19.
Read it and be prepared to think differently about the future of this profession.

Saying “No” to Potential Clients

I really liked these practical tips from designer Mark Busse teaching us when to say “no” to clients.  I’ve taken the liberty of replacing “designers” with “lawyers” and find the advice not only relevant, but spot-on:

The fact is that [lawyers] are defined by the very work we produce and by the clients we work for, so if you want to excel and be highly successful, you need to be thoughtful, strategic and diligent in deciding what opportunities you accept.

On working for “crazy” clients:

Nobody wants to work with crazy people, right? It’s just not worth it. And as your reputation will be linked to those you work for, it’s important not to rush into opportunities just because you need the experience or money. Remember that you should be evaluating clients and projects as much as they are you. Ask questions. You owe it to your own sanity to poke around first.

A few of his six practical tips:

2. Consider your long-term goals in terms of the kind and calibre of projects you’d like to do and be known for. If an opportunity won’t attract the kind of clients you seek, or the project may serve as a distraction or inhibit you from taking other work, consider declining.

4. Practice talking openly about money up front. Ask what the budget allocated for the project is. If they refuse to divulge that information, that’s a red flag. If you are forced to be the first to offer an estimated budget before real scope is established, resist the urge to offer a low price to win them over—do the opposite and offer a higher budget range. You’d be surprised how often this positions you as a confident expert in the minds of the buyer and increases appeal.

What are your tips for declining client work?  Do you have your own Client Worthiness Index?

 

New Client Strategery

I’m often amazed at how little strategic thinking lawyers give to new client selection.  It is one of the reasons I created the Client Worthiness Index, and is also why I’m sharing my New Client Strategy Plan (.pdf).

Client Strategy Plan

 

The New Client Strategy Plan is a worksheet that I’ve been using in law firm retreats for a few months.  It is loosely based on the wonderful Business Model Generation Canvas, and is designed to get lawyers ask client-focused questions of themselves and their peers before signing (or even targeting) a new client.

It is divided into nine areas, each which asks a series of client-focused questions.  The areas (and supplemental questions) are:

Who will do their work?

  • What is the work and who will do it?
  • What support do they need to get it done?
  • Will they need additional lawyers or staff?

What else can we do for them?

  • What other opportunities are there for new work?
  • Are there additional legal services they may need?
  • Who else in the firm should meet with them?

 Where do they need us?

  • Are we in a location that serves them well?
  • Should we be located elsewhere?

What technology do they demand?

What must we get better at?

  • What legal and non-legal skills must we improve?
  • How will we learn those skills?
  • How might we measure our improvement?

How do they pay for it?

  • Do they want to be billed by the hour?
  • Can we price our services differently?
  • How would they design our pricing?

Who are their key decision makers?

  • Who must we convince to hire us? 
  • How will we find them? 
  • What do they want to know about us?

Why won’t they hire us?

  • What are the roadblocks to hiring us? 
  • Who will be our key competitors? 
  • What should we worry most about?

What must we change?

  • What things in our firm must we change?
  • Will our firm structure support their needs?
  •  Does our compensation plan reward the behaviors that serve them best?

If there are additional (or better) questions you think I should be asking, let me know.

And the next time you’re strategizing about serving a new client, print out a New Client Strategy Plan (.pdf) and fill it out.  Even better, complete one with your best, existing client in mind.  You might be shocked to find you don’t have all the answers you thought you did.

What’s Your Big Number?

Bar Chart

This one comes from way back in 2009, but Paul Graham’s advice on starting a new business is as solid as ever — and contains useful tips for long-time business owners well.

He begins by reminding us that “it’s better to make a few people really happy than to make a lot of people semi-happy.” and then shares 13 things every startup should know.  Among his gems are these:

Better to make a few users love you than a lot ambivalent.

Ideally you want to make large numbers of users love you, but you can’t expect to hit that right away. Initially you have to choose between satisfying all the needs of a subset of potential users, or satisfying a subset of the needs of all potential users. Take the first. It’s easier to expand userwise than satisfactionwise. And perhaps more importantly, it’s harder to lie to yourself. If you think you’re 85% of the way to a great product, how do you know it’s not 70%? Or 10%? Whereas it’s easy to know how many users you have.

Offer surprisingly good customer service.

Customers are used to being maltreated. Most of the companies they deal with are quasi-monopolies that get away with atrocious customer service. Your own ideas about what’s possible have been unconsciously lowered by such experiences. Try making your customer service not merely good, but surprisingly good. Go out of your way to make people happy. They’ll be overwhelmed; you’ll see. In the earliest stages of a startup, it pays to offer customer service on a level that wouldn’t scale, because it’s a way of learning about your users.

And this one that explains much of clients’ dissatisfaction with lawyers:

You make what you measure.

Merely measuring something has an uncanny tendency to improve it. If you want to make your user numbers go up, put a big piece of paper on your wall and every day plot the number of users. You’ll be delighted when it goes up and disappointed when it goes down. Pretty soon you’ll start noticing what makes the number go up, and you’ll start to do more of that. Corollary: be careful what you measure.

Though most firms don’t put a big piece of paper on the wall, that billable hour number is the one measure everyone pays attention to.  And what happens when all firms measure is time?  Lawyers make more of it.

What if the firm’s “big number on the wall” was something different?  How might that firm’s behavior change?

What if the “big number” was:

  • Number of cases referred/shared among the firm’s lawyers? 
  • The percentage of clients who stayed clients of the firm over the last 1, 5 and 10 years?
  • The number of “very satisfied” clients derived from a randomly-surveyed sample?

You get the idea.  Try measuring something different for a few months and see what happens.

Introducing Kendeo

Over the last 12 months, I have been building a company called Kendeo.  Kendeo’s mission is to leverage great design and creative facilitation to help people think, meet and learn together better.

Kendeo Logo Web 2

Instead of me telling you, let me show you what we do:

Create Engaging Visual Learning Tools

communication_02

Design Better Communication Methods 

strategy_02

 Build Collaborative Conferences

event_design

Facilitate More Engaging Meetings

facilitation_02 (1)

 

But why Kendeo?

As my friends and colleagues know, over the last three years, I’ve been doing lots more work outside of the legal industry.  While I’d originally used LexThink (my legal innovation consultancy) as the “bucket” for that work, I found it increasingly difficult  to explain away LexThink’s legal focus to my non-legal prospects.  I also was wary of diluting the LexThink “brand” by repositioning the company as a generic strategy firm “that also worked with lawyers.”  When Kendeo came along, I jumped at the opportunity to acquire a business with some cool clients and an even cooler story.

Since last May, I’ve been merging the design and learning work (Kendeo’s previous focus) with my passion for building better in-person experiences.  Thus far, it has been a very nice fit.  I have also been having a tremendous amount of fun bringing Kendeo’s capabilities to bear on LexThink’s work with lawyers and firms.

What’s next?

Over the next nine months, both Kendeo and LexThink have a lot up their sleeves, including:

  • Launching a dedicated 8000 square foot conference, retreat and creative collaboration space in St. Louis.
  • Offering turn-key retreats and meetings for up to 100 attendees, which include facilitation, video, and creative workshops.
  • Delivering quarterly Solo Retreats — a big-firm retreat experience for 10-20 small-firm lawyers at a time.
  • Creating a visual “library” of legal-specific images and process maps to support better lawyer-client communication.
  • Hosting a LexThink Innovation Conference utilizing Kendeo’s “Perfect Conference” model.

Stay tuned.  I’ve never been more excited about the work I’m doing professionally, and hope you’ll stick around for the ride.  As always, thanks for your continued support of the blog and the work I do.  I really do appreciate it.

 

Clio Cloud (Un)Conference

Clio Cloud Small 2

I’m excited to be partnering with Clio for their Cloud Conference in Chicago on September 23 & 24, 2013.  The kind folks at Clio have given me an entire “UnConference” track to host/curate/play with, and I will be developing two days worth of unique and fun ways for attendees to think, meet and learn together better during those times when they’ve decided to take a break from the rest of the amazing content.

I’ll have more here (and on the Clio Blog) in the next few months.  Please join us.  Early-bird pricing ends on July 1.

A Manifesto Worth Investing In

I’m constantly running across great books written for non-legal audiences that contain amazing advice for lawyers.  Blair Enns’ new book The Win Without Pitching Manifesto (which you can buy or read online for free) is one of those books.  Some examples:

We will not solve problems before we are paid:

Our thinking is our highest value product; we will not part with it without appropriate compensation. If we demonstrate that we do not value our thinking, our clients and prospects will not. Our paying clients can rest assured that our best minds remain focused on solving their problems and not the problems of those who have yet to hire us.

We will charge more:

As our expertise deepens and our impact on our clients’ businesses grows, we will increase our pricing to reflect that impact. We will recognize that, to our clients, the smallest invoices are the most annoying. Through charging more we will create more time to think on behalf of our clients and we will eliminate the need to invoice for changes and other surprises.

There’s also some great advice  about being selective:

Instead of seeking clients, we will selectively and respectfully pursue perfect fits—those targeted organizations that we can best help. We will say no early and often, and as such, weed out those that would be better served by others and those that cannot afford us. By saying no we will give power and credibility to our yes.

And the best one?  Time or Thinking, What Are We Selling?

We sell our thinking but we do ourselves a gross disservice in selling it by the hour. The surest way to commoditize our own thinking is to sell it in units of doing: time. Later in the engagement, when the strategy work has been done and we are deep into implementation work, the client buys our time. It is our thinking, however, that separates us from our competition and forms the basis of our ability to premium price. When we charge for this thinking by the hour we undo much of the work of the previous proclamations. “How much an hour?” we hear the client think. “How many hours?” When we employ commodity pricing we invite commodity comparisons, regardless of the value we deliver. The defining characteristic of a commodity is an inability to support any price premium. If we cannot win while charging more, then we must face the reality that we are selling a commodity. 

I’ve already bought my copy — even though I’ve read the entire Manifesto online — because I expect to open it up again and again.  I hope you do the same.

LexThink.1 Disruption Edition

Front Page with Produced Info

 

The 2013 Edition of LexThink.1 is in the books.  We had another standing-room-only crowd who heard some great ideas about “disruption” in the legal industry.  Thanks to JoAnna Forshee and Jobst Elster of InsideLegal for making this another great event!

You can check out all the videos here, and my talk on the future of CLE  — titled “The Decline of the Machines, What the Unabomber Can Teach Us About Legal Learning” — is below.  Let me know what you think.

Your Firm’s Culture Club

In a thought-provoking essay titled What Your Culture Really Says, Shanley Kane calls B.S. on phrases organizations use to describe their  company’s “culture.”  Though her post is primarily focused on the startup scene, Shanley explores how the terms we use are often unintentional code words for something far different.

The hardest hitting phrase — and incidentally the one I hear most often from firms — is:

“We make sure to hire people who are a cultural fit.”

What your culture might actually be saying is… We have implemented a loosely coordinated social policy to ensure homogeneity in our workforce. We are able to reject qualified, diverse candidates on the grounds that they “aren’t a culture fit” while not having to examine what that means – and it might mean that we’re all white, mostly male, mostly college-educated, mostly young/unmarried, mostly binge drinkers, mostly from a similar work background. We tend to hire within our employees’ friend and social groups. Because everyone we work with is a great culture fit, which is code for “able to fit in without friction,” we are all friends and have an unhealthy blur between social and work life. Because everyone is a “great culture fit,” we don’t have to acknowledge employee alienation and friction between individuals or groups. The desire to continue being a “culture fit” means it is harder for employees to raise meaningful critique and criticism of the culture itself.

Look around your firm.  Next time you talk about your its “culture,” what are you really saying?  Are you rejecting people because they don’t “fit” your culture for the right reasons, or the wrong ones?

Plan Then Do

Jack Vinson, who writes about project management (among other things) shares something he often sees in his work:  a failure to separate planning from doing.

I see a familiar theme come up over and over again.  People have a difficult time separating the creation of an idea from starting to work on that idea.

Why does this matter?  It’s the classic vicious cycle for projects: Get an idea. Start doing something about it. Realize you are missing some pieces. Go retrieve the missing elements. Start going again. Get stuck again. Start again. Stop. Start. Stop. Start.  

And of course, while you are “stuck,” you don’t just sit there. You pick up one of those other great ideas and start marching along until it gets stuck. And again. And again.

Sound familiar, lawyers?  Next time a client dumps a hot, gotta-be-done-by-tomorrow matter on your desk, ask yourself if you’ll have time to plan your attack?  If not, you’ll likely get stuck in Jack’s start/stuck/stop/start-over cycle.

Give yourself time — if only a day — to separate the “plan” from the “do.”  They are not one in the same and when you treat them as such, you and your clients will likely suffer.

Vote for your favorite LexThink.1 Proposal

Voting Screen

Voting on the LexThink.1 speaker proposals is live.  You can check all 15 submissions out and vote for your favorites here.

LexThink.1 is Back for 2013!

Title Screen

Annual LexThink.1 Event to Focus on ‘Market Disrupters’ in 2013

Producers Matt Homann & JoAnna Forshee to hold 4th edition of legal innovation event eve of ABA TECHSHOW

Atlanta, GA and St. Louis, MO – February 19, 2013 – Matt Homann of LexThink LLC, a legal innovation consultancy, and JoAnna Forshee of InsideLegal, the insider’s guide to thought leadership and business in legal technology, today announced the fourth edition of LexThink.1 (LexThink Point One), an interactive and mind-sharing event that allows presenters (chosen by the community) six minutes to speak with slides automatically forwarded every 18 seconds. LexThink.1 2013 has a theme of “market disruption” and what that means and will mean to the legal community. LexThink.1, named to reflect the way lawyers bill, in 1/10 hour increments, will again take place the eve of ABA TECHSHOW, April 3rd, at the Chicago Hilton starting at 8pm.

 

As in past years, LexThink.1 speakers will be chosen by public online voting, and share their most creative and fresh ideas focused on market disruption and market disrupters within legal and beyond. Anyone interested in speaking at LexThink.1 can submit their ideas and topics for consideration. Speaking proposals must be submitted via the LexThink.1 site (www.PointOneLaw.com) between February 20 and March 1 and online voting will begin soon after. Anyone interested in topic submissions, voting or other 2013 event details can visit PointOneLaw.com and follow the associated twitter handles @LexThink and @InsideLegal and hashtag #LexThink.

The ABA Law Practice Management Section, which produces the annual ABA TECHSHOW, remains a main event sponsor, and will again provide the evening’s venue at the Hilton.

“LexThink has always been about legal innovation and changing the practice of law in ways to benefit lawyers and their clients. LexThink.1 is a natural extension of this philosophy,” stated Matthew Homann, LexThink founder. “The format of sharing clever and innovative ideas in short twenty-slide presentations is very engaging and this year’s ‘market disrupters’ theme is bound to keep audience members engaged and alert. LexThink.1 2013 will feature 10 legal thought leaders posing their questions following this six-minute presentation format. We look forward to seeing what topics are offered this year.”

According to JoAnna Forshee, LexThink.1 co-producer and InsideLegal CEO, LexThink.1’s unique presentation format, high caliber of speakers and content as well as overwhelming audience interest, have put the event in a category of its own. We are making sure 2013 will be no different and are confident the chosen ‘market disruption’ theme will help fuel the enthusiasm and interactivity between speakers and LexThink.1 attendees. This topic dovetails nicely with what has long been our focus at InsideLegal … spotlighting movers and shakers in our legal thought leaders program and giving them and their ideas a platform to share their ideas, trends and thought leadership.”

 

LexThink.1 2013 will tweak its previous format to enable more interaction during the event as well as before and after. The producers will look to fill a total of 10 speaker slots this year and will not be recording the talks for later release. Instead, the 2013 event will engage industry bloggers, commentators and leverage vibrant social media channels to not only create buzz but extend the conversation, beyond a 6 minute video clip.

 

Staying true to the spirit of past events, LexThink.1 2013 will be open to the public, on a first come first serve basis and complimentary tickets to the event can be ordered via the website leading up to the event. Anyone interested in event sponsorships, should contact Matt at matt@lexthink.com or JoAnna Forshee atjf@InsideLegal.com.

 

# # #

 

About InsideLegal
InsideLegal.com is the insider’s guide to doing business in legal technology – both in the US and internationally – for legal technology and law practice management thought leaders, vendors, consultants/technologists and law firm innovators. In addition to information on industry events, publications and personalities, InsideLegal.com focuses on legal technology industry market research and trends. InsideLegal.com was founded by JoAnna Forshee.

About LexThink/LexThink.1
LexThink LLC is the world’s first legal innovation consultancy.  Founder Matthew Homann works with lawyers, law firms and legal vendors as a speaker, coach, consultant and facilitator, and uses out-of-the-box methodologies to help them find new and better ways to serve their customers and make more money. Formerly called “Ignite Law,” LexThink.1 gives speakers each six minutes and twenty slides to share their vision of the future of law practice. This year’s theme is “market distrupters.”

You’re Always a Replacement for Something

A simple, yet profound question from Jason Fried at 37 Signals:

What are people going to stop doing once they start using your product?

What does your product replace? What are they switching from? How did they do the job before your product came along?

Habit, momentum, familiarity, anxiety of the unknown – these are incredibly hard bonds to break. When you try to sell someone something, you have to overcome those bonds. You have to break the grip of that gravity.

So, when you’re thinking about your product, think about what it replaces, not just what it offers. What are you asking people to leave behind when they move forward with you? How hard will that be for them? How can you help them overcome everything that’s tugging them in the opposite direction?

When you are selling services, stop focusing on the “benefits” you offer for a moment and think seriously about the changes you’re asking your clients to make in their day-to-day routines.  If they’re moving to you from another competing service provider, contemplate the difficult conversation they’ll have firing your predecessor.

By focusing on Jason’s question, you’ll have a far better understanding of your clients’ real “cost” of hiring you, and be better prepared to address those concerns as you ease their pains of change.

 

Keep On Innovating

Some “Machiavellian” inspiration for those trying new stuff:

“And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.”

– Nicolo Machiavelli c.1505 (trans. W. K. Marriott)

Nine Years of Blogging

Today begins my tenth year of blogging here on the [non]billable hour, and what a ride it has been.  My first post, titled “I Hate Billing by the Hour,” started me on an amazing journey — both personally and professionally — that I wouldn’t trade for anything.  Thanks for reading along!

Idea Garage Sale: Inbetweenity Edition 2

Several years ago, I used to publish a series of semi-regular Idea Garage Sale posts where I’d share the miscellaneous stuff I’d collected that didn’t seem to merit a full blog post.

Today, Twitter and Tumblr are my outlet for the interesting links, ideas and random thoughts I find everyday.  However, every once in a while, I’ve got some stuff that fits somewhere in between Twitter’s 140 Characters and a full post on this blog.

Here’s some more of that “in-between” stuff:

The most impressive employee handbooks ever from Valve (.pdf).  Here’s a video pulling our some key lessons from the handbook:

Jeff Bezos on giving ideas time to work:

“If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people,” Bezos told Wired in 2011. “But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that.”

The Fixer’s Manifesto:

If it is broken, fix it!  Because everyday practical problem solving is the most beautiful form of creativity there is.

Treat clients as team members:

From the initial stage of the project, it is a good idea to make it clear to the clients that you see them as a team member of the project and expect cooperation and support during the entire project. 

Designing Contracts for the XXI Century:

There are many reasons the core rules of contracts are still in place two millennia after the fall of Rome. But there are other elements that we can, and should, take to the twenty-first century.

If we want to address the readability problems unique to our era—and improve communication with our clients—then it’s time we fix the language, layout, and typesetting of our contracts. And who better than designers to do it?

The fewer the tools, the greater the imagination.” – Ben Orki

Seventy Great Critical Thinking Questions

Are lawyers among the screwed?  From Jason Lanier book You Are Not a Gadget:

The people who are perhaps the most screwed by open culture are the middle classes of intellectual and cultural creation.  The freelance studio musician, the stringer selling reports to newspapers from warzones are both crucial contributors to culture. Each pays dues and devotes years to honing a craft. They used to live off the trickle down effects of the old system, and like the middle class at large, they are precious. They get nothing from the new system.

Oblique Strategies is still a go-to place when I need to put my creative thinking hat on.

It’s easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things that are not urgent, like thinking.” – John Cleese

Disrupt or Be Disrupted.  Pick One.

 “Give me a couple of billion dollars and I can set up a bunch of start-ups in just about every industry that will come in and eat the lunch of the incumbents, and not one of them will be able to change in time to do anything about it.”

So how many of us are worried about that? How many of us are working on our internal capacity to respond to disruption, or even our ability to move in and disrupt other parts of our environment? Not enough, I think. Of course, I understand why: our organizations are run like machines, and machines were never designed with disruption in mind.

If law firms’ compensation worked like W.L. Gore’s:

Everyone is ranked by their peers, people who know what they’ve done and how they’ve interacted with others on a daily basis; and their compensation will be based on that. That’s a powerful motivator to contribute. Here’s how Gore’s performance evaluation and compensation system works:

  • No specific criteria are provided; people are just asked to indicate who’s making the biggest contribution to Gore’s success.
  • An associate typically is evaluated by 20-30 peers and will, in turn, evaluate 20-30 peers. They are forced rankings, from top to bottom, and only for people you know.
  • A cross-functional committees of individuals with leadership roles discuss the results, and develop an overall ranking from 1-20 of these particular associates.
  • In setting compensation, they make sure the pay curve is aligned with contributions.

The most powerful manifestation of “we’re all in the same boat” is that all associates are part owners of the company through the associate stock plan. Gore believe that it not only allows everyone to share in the risks and rewards of the company, but also gives them an added incentive to stay committed to its long term success, and always consider what’s in the best interest of the company when making decisions.

Ping Fu on the importance of clarity:

[I]t is better to be clear than to be right. A lot of times, I find leaders want to be right and they think being right is what gains respect. I find being clear is what gains respect–if you’re clearly wrong, people can correct you, and if you’re clearly right, people can follow you.

Are you working with your introverted clients as well as you can?

Transform a Tablet Into an Affordable Kiosk for Clients or, you can use Reception Manager

Also true of CLE?

“There are only two things wrong with education: 1) What we teach; 2) How we teach it.” – Roger Schank

More Women = Better Creative Problem Solving:

Evidence suggests that the number of women on a given team drastically increases that team’s ability to solve complex problems.

What is the “One Metric that Matters” for your business?

That doesn’t mean there’s only one metric you care about from the day you wake up with an idea to the day you sell your company. It does, however, mean that at any given time, there’s one metric you should care about above all else. Communicating this focus to your employees, investors, and even the media will really help you concentrate your efforts.

Do your employees understand your business model?  Using the Business Model Generation Canvas for a Puppy Rental Business:

My goal is that any new employee working to make the awesomeness of puppies available to everyone will be able to walk into my office and understand the business model at a glance.

You shouldn’t use a client survey if …

Great overview on using personas to understand your clients better.

Instead of arguing back and forth whether or not these problems exist, it’s very easy to identify particular types of people for whom these problems MIGHT exist and then do some simple qualitative research to see if you’re right.

A great question when thinking about changes to your firm:

“What is the fastest, cheapest way to validate the idea?”

That’s it for now.  See you again, soon!

Price Check in Aisle 5

I love this advice on pricing from Jason Fried at 37Signals:

The good news about pricing is that you can guess, be wrong, but still be right enough to build a great sustainable business. Maybe you’re leaving some money on the table, but, like my dad always says, no one ever went broke making a profit.

However, you are not allowed to ask people:

  • “What would you pay for this?”
  • “Would you buy this for $20?”
  • “How much do you think this is worth?”
  • “What’s the most you’d pay?”

And these are the questions I hear people asking over and over. You can’t ask people who haven’t paid how much they’re willing to pay. Their answers don’t matter because there’s no cost to saying “yes” ”$20” “no” ”$100”. They all cost the same – nothing.

The only answers that matter are dollars spent. People answer when they pay for something. That’s the only answer that really matters.

So put a price on it and put it up for sale. If people buy that’s a yes. Change the price. If people buy, that’s a yes. If people stop buying, that’s a no. Crude? Maybe. But it’s real.

Too often we are afraid to change our prices (or experiment with flat fees) because we’re afraid we’ll get it wrong — and either scare clients away or leave money on the table.  Of course we will.  More than once, in all likelihood.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t keep trying.  Let’s start small, try lots of prices for similar things, and let the marketplace be our ultimate guide for whether we’ve got it right or not.  Ultimately, we’ll figure it out.

Or, we could just stick with the billable hour …

It Isn’t About the Bathrooms

Seth Godin on clean bathrooms:

It turns out that just about everything we do involves cleaning the bathrooms. Creating an environment where care and trust are expressed. If you take a lot of time to ask, “how will this pay off,” you’re probably asking the wrong question. When you are trusted because you care, it’s quite likely the revenue will take care of itself.

In your office (or in your correspondence, or your procedures, or your staff, or …), what can you do to show your clients you care?

Idea Garage Sale: Inbetweenity Edition 1

Several years ago, I used to publish a series of semi-regular Idea Garage Sale posts where I’d share the miscellaneous stuff I’d collected that didn’t seem to merit a full blog post.

Today, Twitter and Tumblr are my outlet for the interesting links, ideas and random thoughts I find everyday.  However, every once in a while, I’ve got some stuff that fits somewhere in between Twitter’s 140 Characters and a full post on this blog.

Here’s some of that “in-between” stuff:

To Increase Innovation, Take the Sting Out of Failure:

Start by defining a smart failure. Everyone in your organization knows what success is. It’s the things you put on a resume: increased revenues, decreased costs, delivered a product etc. Far fewer know what a smart failure is — i.e. the type of failures that should be congratulated. These are the thoughtful and well planned projects that for some reason didn’t work. Define them so people know the acceptable boundaries within which to fail. If you don’t define them, all failure looks risky and it will kill creativity and innovation.

 How to Generate Good Ideas (Video):

What one book could give you a new, useful superpower?

Big Customers, Who Need ‘Em?

[C]omplexity is like a leak in your roof. It starts small. But over time, it does real damage. And once that damage has begun, it’s hard to stop. Best not to let it in in the first place.

On Valve’s Design Process and Advocating for “Great” Ideas:

Not all ideas are good. These include yours. If you have a “great idea” that everyone thinks is stupid, don’t push it. The others will also have stupid ideas. If you’re pushy about yours, they’ll be pushy about theirs and you’re just going to get into an impasse. If the idea is really good, maybe it’s just in the wrong place. Bring it up later…. Maybe they’ll like it next month.

Tips on Getting “Engaged” to Clients:

Don’t simply pursue what you think you deserve. Earn your projects. Earn your clients, and let them earn your expertise in the engagement period.

Advertising guru David Ogilvy’s tips for writing:

7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.

8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.

9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.

10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

Placeit is a pretty cool way to make it look like your website is on a mobile device.  Great for presentations.

If you’re tired of all-male panels at conferences, do something:

Have you noticed that a lot of the time it just seems like, gosh, there are a lot of dudes speaking at this conference? Perhaps you’ve been on a panel and you’ve looked around and seen man after man after man. Maybe you’ve thought, it’s too bad the organizers didn’t think to balance this out a bit more and ask some women to speak too.

I love that this has bothered you. And I am happy to tell you about a simple step you can take to help change this: Refuse to speak on all male-panels. Just say no.

Improve collaboration at work by banning lunching alone (.pdf).

Some great Creative Thinking Ideas rounded up from Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business:

If you’re facing creative detractors, how can you create creative baby steps they’ll find more acceptable for getting started?  – Maelle Gavet – CEO, Ozon Holdings (#10)

Apply design and pleasing aesthetic principles to the most necessary, thankless, and joyless tasks humans have to do to raise the creative energy from them.  – Jessica Alba – Cofounder, The Honest Company (#17)

Innovate with only things that already exist in your business. Put together new combinations from pre-existing elements.  – Adam Brotman – Chief Digital Officer, Starbucks (#3)

What would an experience look like that is destined to “disturb the universe”?  – Ross Martin – Executive VP, MTV Scratch (#46)

How can you use your creativity to add more serenity to your customers’ lives?  – Leah Busque – Founder, TaskRabbit (#42)

What happens when machines can do 80% of the things lawyers do (like they can for doctors)?

Over time, doctors will increase their reliance on technology for triage, diagnosis, and decision-making. Eventually, we’ll need fewer doctors, and every patient will receive the best care. Diagnosis and treatment planning will be done by a computer, used in concert with empathetic support from medical personnel selected more for their caring personalities than for their diagnostic abilities. No brilliant diagnostician with bad manners, a la “Dr. House,” will be needed in direct patient contact. Instead, we’ll use “Dr. Algorithm” to provide the diagnosis, while the most humane humans provide the care.

Where will all this innovation come from? Some believe we have to work within the constraints of the medical establishment. I disagree.

Innovation seldom happens from the inside because existing incentives are usually set up to discourage disruption.

Well, that’s all for now.  Look for some more items in the Garage Sale next week.  Thanks for shopping!

Pigs Fly on the Internet All the Time

Kevin Kelly hits on something I’ve been struggling to put into words:  The Improbable is the New Normal.  The essay is beautiful, and the most thought-provoking thing I’ve read so far in the new year.  Here are just a few bits:

Cops, emergency room doctors, and insurance actuarists all know it. They realize how many crazy impossible things happen all the time. A burglar gets stuck in a chimney, a truck driver in a head on collision is thrown out the front window and lands on his feet, walks away; a wild antelope knocks a man off his bike; a candle at a wedding sets the bride’s hair on fire; someone fishing off a backyard dock catches a huge man-size shark. In former times these unlikely events would be private, known only as rumors, stories a friend of a friend told, easily doubted and not really believed.

But today they are on YouTube, and they fill our vision. You can see them yourself. Each of these weird freakish events just mentioned can be found on YouTube, seen by millions.

Every minute a new impossible thing is uploaded to the internet and that improbable event becomes just one of hundreds of extraordinary events that we’ll see or hear about today. The internet is like a lens which focuses the extraordinary into a beam, and that beam has become our illumination. It compresses the unlikely into a small viewable band of everyday-ness. As long as we are online – which is almost all day many days — we are illuminated by this compressed extraordinariness. It is the new normal.

I am unsure of what this intimacy with the improbable does to us. What happens if we spend all day exposed to the extremes of life, to a steady stream of the most improbable events, and try to run ordinary lives in a background hum of superlatives? What happens when the extraordinary becomes ordinary?

Please read the whole thing.  You’ll thank me for it.