Innovation – of course, it’s what we all do, isn’t it?

December 30, 2013

It won’t be long and once again our thoughts will turn to what will be new in the next twelve months; what innovation will we see, what new gadgets and ideas will come forward, who will make a break-through with something that will astonish us all?

In legal services we have had a decade or more of predictions about innovation (or Armageddon depending on your personal glass half full/empty barometer). We may be rather unsure about what the future will bring, but we are certain that we must all be innovative, we must all be ready for change and we must all be revolutionaries.

Yet, what has actually changed so far? What do we look at and genuinely admire and want to emulate? What do we see in others that we wish for ourselves? I think if we are honest it is very little indeed. In fact some things which have changed are definitely not for the better. For example:

  1. There is now too much useless communication. We are saturated with it, drenched in email, drowning in noise. We have to fight for time to think, to retain perspective and to pause to reflect. This is not good. It is like trying to drink from a fire hose; we are soaked in water but stay thirsty.
  2. We have created a sort of pointless coin toss – “heads” we talk of change endlessly, but “tails” let’s defend the status quo. All this tossing about has resulted in two very irritating side-effects. The first is the rise of the “thought-leader” – a small self-appointed cohort of media savvy preeners, masticating the bleedin’ obvious and expectorating platitudes. The second irritant is the rank NIMBY-ism of so many lawyers; they sit, metaphorically arms folded across their chests, demanding that others impress them with innovative thinking failing which they conclude they must be doing just fine.
  3. Finally the endless chatter about change has paralysed our ability to think for ourselves. The epitome of this nonsense is the evermore flaccid agenda for over-hyped conferences on change/new thinking. These are empty vessels devoid of anything more compelling than half-hearted networking, but worse have become self-serving, self-aggrandising Pythonesque parodies. “Is this the five-minute MBA or the one day MBA?” We have sold to ourselves the mother of all Norwegian Blues.

The word “innovation” has itself become corrupted by its overuse. We no longer know what it means and have lost confidence in our ability to think what it might mean. Instead we look for quick fixes and snake oil solutions. May I suggest however that it is more than being articulate, knowing people, reading stuff and self-nominating for awards.

If you want to be innovative then change something, anything …Be prepared to fail, listen, care less what people think of you, have an opinion that you believe in not one you wear like a fashion label. If you want to innovate have an imagination, accept it is not an easy option, be determined and make sure you are good at implementation.

Above all if you want to innovate look at your own behaviour first because your credibility is key. If you protect yourself by living behind your own impenetrable asylum walls while exhorting others to dismantle theirs, one might suppose that the words you speak have the resonance only of din.

…Shame on all of us therefore for allowing ourselves to be seduced so dismally by our own fragile vanity. The legal profession risks becoming pantomime ugly sisters talking too much shrill nonsense, puffed-up on our own hot air and wearing cheap perfume to cover the smell of malodorous delusion.

So, if we are tempted to use the word, let us hold it close first, feel what it means, let discomfort rise and then be bold, quietly and determinedly. Frankly the profession needs us to succeed like never before.

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