Had enough of innovation? Just be curious

Last week we held our sixth Life With Law event, the latest of our series of talks aiming to help lawyers live happier and more fulfilling lives.  The topic – curiosity and risk-taking - resonated with me from a business perspective too.   Our inspiring speakers, authors Polly Morland and Ian Leslie, got me thinking about the link between curiosity and innovation.

Lawyers are often naturally curious people.  We’re taught to challenge, negotiate, and explore.  At law school we study thousands of cases (“stories” for the curious?) to gain a depth of expertise.  Our highest accolade is becoming a “subject matter expert” or a “specialist”.  We want to know everything we can about our field.

But Ian Leslie spoke about the importance of breadth of knowledge as well as depth of specialism.  It’s what IBM calls “the T-shaped person”.  They try to develop their employees to have not only deep skills in a particular discipline (the vertical axis of the T) but also have understanding of a broad range of associated areas (the horizontal axis).  The idea is that they can better see contextual linkages and better adapt to evolving conditions.  And that’s where many lawyers fall foul – we’re too busy being an expert that we forget to look at the bigger picture, to consider where our zoom into a specialism fits within a wide-angle business context or to think about the broader impact of our actions.  We recently collaborated with  legal consultant Jordan Furlong on a report that looks into this topic more.

In-house lawyers are sometimes criticised for being out of touch with the businesses they work for.  Private practice lawyers are accused of being immune to the needs of their clients.  And law in general, up until recently, has been lambasted for being overly traditional, too conservative and slow to innovate.

Maybe fostering curiosity can be a large part of the answer to these problems.  We’re all told that we should innovate – but what does that even mean nowadays?  Innovation sounds big, grand and intimidating.  But curiosity, on the other hand, well it’s a lot more manageable, more friendly and seemingly more possible.  As Ian Leslie said, “Curiosity is a muscle – use it or lose it.”

In fact LOD (Lawyers On Demand) first came about because of curiosity.  Curiosity  about how other industries do things, about how generational change affects the working world and about whether good design matters to lawyers.

So Ian reminded me that we should all keep up with curiosity.  We should ask more questions.  Be nosier.  Find out more about a subject just because you can, rather than because it’s within your chosen field.  Learn new skills.  Visit new places.  Try new stuff.

To adapt a well-known phrase: innovation is what happens when you’re busy being curious.

Simon Harper was recently named at the 2015 FT Innovative Lawyers awards as “Legal Innovator of the Year.”  He co-founded LOD (Lawyers On Demand) in 2007.

Filed Under: Practice of Law

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