“The Best Innovation Tool is Continuous Learning”
Dennis Kennedy recently published a new book entitled Successful Innovation Outcomes in Law: A Practical Guide for Law Firms, Law Departments and Other Legal Organizations. In essence, it’s a primer and “how-to” on innovation in law and generally.
Kennedy is well known as an astute legal commentator and thinker. Perhaps that’s because he has worn so many hats during his career: in-house lawyer, technologist, author, and adjunct professor, to name a few. As he puts it, “innovation is a visible thread that runs through my career.” (By way of disclosure, I have known Dennis for several years and, like many others, turn to him often for advice and guidance. He never disappoints).
His new book is all about techniques and skills for innovating within organizations. Kennedy subtle and facilely moves from esoteric theory to practical advice. While the book sometimes dwells a bit on theory, particularly at the beginning (which may unfortunately drive away some lawyers who glaze over at anything that remotely resembles non legal theory), it is long on practical advice. Kennedy weaves the theory into the concrete and enables the practical-minded to skip over the theory without missing the actual lessons. (For those who want theory behind practical advice and to understand better where Kennedy is coming from, the theory is all there or well referenced). The book is mostly about what works.
He concludes this chapter with some blunt and very practical advice: “get to work on innovation however you define it, and let others talk.”
A good example: Kennedy starts his book by discussing the definition of innovation. Reading through the several theoretical concepts and definitions sometimes at odds with one another, Kennedy ignores the temptation to get lost in the theoretical and definitional weeds. He concludes this chapter with some blunt and very practical advice: “get to work on innovation however you define it, and let others talk.”
Kennedy also distinguishes between optimization–which focuses on minor improvements and ignores possible business model changes–and real innovation, which puts everything on the table. He makes the fundamental and perhaps controversial claim that without analyzing and considering a change to an overall business model, innovation is probably NOT going to happen. Focusing again on the practical, he offers tips on how to attack this issue and how to avoid un intentionally slipping into optimization.
Kennedy also makes the fundamental point in the book that the all-important “why” of all innovation efforts has to be the customer. Innovation can’t effectively occur, according to Kennedy, without first identifying who your customers, determining how to improve customer experience and addressing customer pain points. It was a point also recently and persuasively made by Mark Britton, founder of Avvo, in his talk entitled Lawyers Are From Mars, Business People From Venus at this year’s Clio conference in San Diego.
The book discusses the why, what, and how of innovation in an understandable and useable way. One observation: “it should not surprise you, the better you understand the why, the easier the how [and I would add the what] becomes”. Kennedy discusses the need for diversity, the typical constraints placed on innovation and how to overcome them, and the differences in people, processes, and technology in the innovation context. He offers a helpful guide on how to implement innovation projects and beyond that, provide various techniques to monitor innovation projects, and measure results. He even provides a chapter on how best to generally brainstorm and employ design thinking.
The book provides a useful roadmap of the methods for working through innovation projects, working in teams (it’s essential says Kennedy, for a leader to be an advocate or her team, for example), how to do business plans, how to deal with budgetary issues, how to get jump start innovation projects, and even how to sell innovation concepts internally and externally (including what visuals to use.)
Finally, Kennedy is not shy in offering his opinions, which is delightful since he is one of the few people actually well qualified to provide views on this subject.
Lawyers and Innovation: An Oxymoron?
Kennedy addresses whether lawyers are somehow different when it comes to innovation. And while he concludes that legal innovation is not any different from other innovation, he does note the practical difficulty in applying innovation concepts in a room full of lawyers
Kennedy recognizes that lawyers are trained to and enjoy spotting issues and raising problems. Lawyers have this belief in what Kennedy calls ‘legal exceptionalism” (a tactful term for what I would call arrogance), a belief that what they do is unique, can only be done by them and only they can deal with issues in the legal space. This inevitably leads to difficulties in developing and implementing innovation. As Kennedy puts it, “the negative body language of a room full of lawyers asked to ‘ideate’ can be something to behold.”
Again, sticking with the practical, Kennedy offers at least five practical solutions are on how to overcome this problem (my favorite: get all the lawyers out of the room) and techniques to avoid with lawyers. But he also cautions, “nothing can prepare you for the Byzantine politics of a legal organization.”.
The book is full of useful tips on, for lack of a better term, getting shit done from someone who has been getting legal shit done for years.
And There’s More
Besides offering advice on innovation, the book is full of useful tips on, for lack of a better term, getting shit done from someone who has been getting legal shit done for years. I’ve already incorporated several suggestions he pulled from various sources like assessing at my day’s end what I have or have not accomplished that day.
Another example: in an aside, Kennedy talks about what in-house counsel want from their lawyers. Since he served for several years in this role, his observations are important here, particularly for lawyers looking to improve their relationships with corporate counsel. He notes the most frequent answer to in house counsels’ question about what innovation outside counsel has brought to them: none. And that outside lawyers often just ignore what their clients ask them to do. Want to distinguish yourself as an outside lawyer: here’s two ways, says Kennedy.
Other things in house counsel want: simple dashboards, expert finders, and what Kennedy calls lightweight KM tools. The book provides tips on how to get the attention of in-house counsel and even how to sell ideas to them.
While Dennis recently noted in his podcast, the Kennedy-Mighell Report that the book, as it turned out, was more a resource for in-house counsel than law firms (mainly because clients are driving more innovation these days). I would agree but would add that if a law firm wants to look to the future and better position itself for what’s coming, it would be wise to read the book.
Buy the Book!
It’s tempting to label the book as Innovation for Dummies. Perhaps a more accurate way to describe it, though, is Innovation for Dummy Lawyers. ( Although those who are already familiar with innovation concepts stand to get a lot more out of the Book). Dennis himself calls the book a “guide to do innovation well.”
I used to have a partner who was fond of saying never identify a problem without offering a solution. The strength of the book is that it is true to this principle.
In keeping with this idea, Kennedy ends the book with 57 tips—one tip for each chapter. Having read the book, the tips are valuable summaries of the advice in the book designed for quick reference. This list alone is worth the price of the book ($34.99 for paperback, $19.99 for the digital version on Amazon).
Bottom line, the book is chock full of useful and practical tips based on Dennis’ years of experience as an actual in-house counsel. The strength of the book is that it combines Kennedy’s knowledge about technology and innovation with his real work experience.
I used to have a partner who was fond of saying never identify a problem without offering a solution. The strength of the book is that it is true to this principle. It is a comprehensive look at innovation in the legal space—and more broadly, how to better practice law now and in the future.