Innovation Nation

Holy crap, it’s everywhere and I’m not talking 50 Shades of Grey.

I’m talking about the ‘I’ word: INN-O-VA-TION.

Maybe it’s me but is the use of the word ‘innovation’ to 2012 what ‘boutique’ was to 2011?

“ …blah, blah, blah we are innovative.. blah, blah, blah our innovative legal practice…blah, blah, blah…our innovative lawyers…leading to our firm winning  ‘Innovative Law Firm of the Year’ in 2010..blah, blah, blah.”

Everyone is talking about it but if we’re an innovation nation of lawyers everything would look different already surely? For me, just like those naughty little ‘f’ and ‘c’ words when used too often or out of context the impact is lost.

In simple terms innovation is the act of introducing new things or methods.  Within a sea of uncertainty, when business planning for greater than 12 months presents a challenge people with big ideas get headlines.  New ideas, new concepts, different approaches and strategy statements can educate us all although of course it is very easy to take the ideas of others and shoot them to pieces.  It’s a far greater challenge to take the energy of others and turn the light on one’s own behaviours.

If your business does the I-word then I’d profess an opinion:  you’re probably not shouting about it because you don’t need to.  Your business speaks for itself.  It’s ‘doing’ innovation as part of its evolution and it isn’t going to stop.

Already you’ll have created a culture of ideas and a culture of listening; one that says that not all great ideas come from the top, ideas can come from anywhere and from anyone.  You’ve recognised that some ideas come at cost whilst some are gifted for free and that the some solutions may not sit within the walls of your business.   Everybody within the business has the freedom to behave as a critical friend, questioning the process, challenging the rationale for behaviour and is focused on core values.

Maybe you’ve appointed an Innovation Specialist, a company cheerleader for change but, even better, will have appointed every single member of the team into the role.  You’ll have identified the ‘what and who’ that will create a threat to the new environment.  Fixed ideas and ways of working, intransigence, apathy or a culture of entitlement will have been considered and a strategy created.  Hierarchy based on outdated assumptions, silo-working and emotional investment into historic processes are hurdles to be jumped but you’ll have created a sporting analogy and turned the blinkered 100 meter dash for the finishing line into the 110 meter hurdles.  Multi-talented, in this process of change you can run fast AND  jump.

Innovation doesn’t have to be about the light-bulb moment; the mind blowing sensation mid-way through your morning shower when you stumble on to the legal services equivalent of the ipad experience (although that might be nice, maybe change your shower gel).  It is also about the small incremental steps of moving your business from place A to place B.  Not innovating the legal world but innovating your business and your people from old order to new order.  Doing it through simple questioning: What do we want to achieve? Why do we do it this way? What are the things we cannot change? Could we do it differently?  Could we do it better?

While some are talking others are busy doing. They’ve already been through the Gok-style process, stripped their business down to its undies and turned on the strip lighting in front of a 3 way head to toe mirror.  They might not have liked what was shining back at them but they’ve seen the bits they’d really rather not see again, recognized the bits that are great and demand focus and the bits that have potential.  They see the reflection but they can also ‘image’.  Every step from that point on, every change is with that image in mind.

The client experience of these firms may not be a gasp of breath and a staggering look of wonder.  It’ll probably be far more subtle than that.  An experience of legal services that feels different, feels easier, feels right.  I hope so.

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