We have a running joke in our household that my former work as an insurance lawyer leaves me predisposed to look upon any glass as not just being half-empty, but also potentially filled with toxic fluid, dangling precariously near a ledge, and likely predisposed to explosively shatter in a way that will send lethal shards through the eyes of my children and other innocent passersby (my wife just sees a refreshing glass of water).
But I am not alone in this world view. It’s a condition that many lawyers share, perhaps the by-product of years of legal training in issue spotting and considering the possible ramifications of various decisions on a client’s behalf. However, a new article from Margaret Hagen of Stanford Law School discusses this phenomenon in the context of research on how to better evaluate whether a new idea is worth pursuing in the legal context (e.g. implementing a new business development approach or client management process within the firm).
One of her recommendations is to have the decision-makers engage in a short 6-minute creative exercise to try and brainstorm new ideas for the challenges they are trying to address immediately before they begin their evaluation process of the ideas being presented. This apparently helps to switch one’s mindset into “creative” mode and lessens the inclination to rely on overly-dismissive “manager” mode. It’s a good reminder that while our issue-spotting, sky-is-falling analysis mode is a very useful skill set in many contexts, it’s not the right tool for the job every time – and especially so when trying to evaluate new ideas for innovation within your firm. Sometimes that glass really is a refreshing glass of water after all.
Whether it’s evaluating startup pitches, internal suggestions for how things could be different, propositions at conferences or in blogs — lawyers take relish in the bloodsport of figuring out why things will fail, and justifying why it’s not worth taking a chance on them.