“If you want to show up and be seen in your life, you’re going to get your ass kicked.”

Brene Brown

I recently finished a book by Jeremy Utley and Perry Klebahn entitled Ideaflow: The Only Business Metric that Matters. The book talks a lot about ideas and their power. The authors go to great lengths to explore ways to nurture ideas, how to work in teams to enhance ideas, and how to turn ideas into reality. They also talk about how organizations and leaders can act to nurture ideas instead of quashing them and the creativity that creates them. It’s that creativity that is essential to a vibrant, innovative enterprise.

I thought a lot about this book and its “ideas” while at the American Bar Association TechShow this past week. Lots of ideas flowing out of the exhibit floor and from an incredible array of thought-provoking speakers and commentators. As always, it’s a great show. It’s great because it’s powered by ideas and the wherewithal of idea makers to push their ideas often in the face of unrelenting pressure.


The truth is nothing happens without ideas. To solve any problem, you have to have ideas. In most cases, there needs to be a plethora of ideas, some you might think are good, some bad, some you think will work, and even some you think won’t. That’s part of the process of getting a good result. 

Utley and Klebahn make clear that you won’t get the best result without this kind of brainstorming process, either individually or as a group. I agree. I approach any problem by first writing down as many solutions (ideas) as possible. I try to take those ideas and work with a team to come up with more ideas and to create the best solution.

The Naysayers

That all sounds easy. But here’s the hard part and why Utley and Klebahn devote much of their book to ways to overcome a universal roadblock to ideas.

We all know the type. They say, “That will never work”. “It’s not practical”. “We tried that before, and it didn’t work.”

It’s the naysayers. We all know the type. They say, “That will never work”. “It’s not practical”. “We tried that before, and it didn’t work. “People won’t want that.” “We have always done things this way.” Or the worst from those with some authority: “We aren’t doing it that way, period.”

Nothing stifles ideas faster than a naysayer. In particular, those naysayers in leadership positions who don’t provide the opportunity for ideas to surface and who don’t listen to new ideas. They reject any ideas except their own and deprive those they lead with the atmosphere to come up with new ideas, ideas that could perhaps change everything. A leader who does this not only drives ideas away and silences creative thinking, they deprive the organization they lead with any hope of real innovation.

Of course, legal has more naysayers than any other business. Lawyers are notorious naysayers. We look for problems. We are trained to look for issues presented by any problem and solution. When we uncover issues, we turn them into difficulties and roadblocks, particularly when it comes to technology and innovation. That’s in large part why lawyers are the proverbial late adopters.

The Answer Is Yes 

But despite all this, when I wandered the exhibit hall and listened to the speakers at TechShow, I saw and heard ideas. I saw and heard from entrepreneurs and innovators who faced down the legal army of naysayers. And, through perseverance and grit, pushed their ideas to fruition. 

I saw and heard from people like Jack Newton, who 18 years ago, had the idea to create Clio, cloud-based practice management business when few people even knew what the cloud was. (Perhaps, fittingly, Newton launched Clio at TechShow). I saw and heard from people like Ed Walters who with Phil Rosenthal created FastCase, an online legal research tool when most lawyers still did their research in libraries using books.

I saw and heard from Pablo Arredondo, who founded Casetext and created CoCounsel, a generative AI model for lawyers even before most of us even heard of ChatGPT. I saw and heard from Ian O’Flaherty and Tara Cheever who co-founded LitSoftware which created among other things, TrialPad, a platform that enabled litigators to control the courtroom and revolutionized how we persuade judges and juries.

God only knows how many times these entrepreneurs had doors slammed in their faces. How many times they were told that will never work or that lawyers will never use that. Yet, despite all the negativity, they kept at it and created something worthwhile. Despite all the pain, they changed the legal world with the power of their ideas.

Jack Newton, Clio founder and CEO put it the best, “Success isn’t just about having great ideas, it’s about the tenacity to see them through. Perseverance is what turns ideas into impactful solutions. Every challenge we face is an opportunity to evolve and make our ideas better, which after 16 years at the frontier of legaltech has made us think differently.”

Don’t be afraid of ideas that fail

Lessons Learned: Idea Makers

If you are trying to solve a problem or work through a difficult situation—legal or otherwise–use the power of ideas. Create as many possible solutions as you can, even if some sound off the wall. It’s the off-the-wall ideas that sometimes end up working the best. I was told once: “Embry, you come up with 100 ideas every week and every once in a while you have a good one”. But one good idea can change the world. 

Don’t be afraid of ideas that fail. If you generate the right number of ideas, you will have some clunkers. But it’s the clunkers, the failed ideas, that help you get better at idea making.

Vet your ideas with as many people as you can, who are like-minded and not. Don’t be afraid or discouraged by what you hear. But don’t be afraid to tweak or change based on what you hear. 

Tara Cheever puts it pretty well, “All ideas, especially good ones, inevitably lead to more ideas. Together, they make up the flywheel of what we all see as innovation, and what drives efficiency and progress. It is one of the things that makes us human, and what allows us to do the once unimaginable.”

And this from Jack Newton: “Clio’s innovation mandate is so much more than generating bold ideas—while that’s certainly important—it’s about solving real problems and fulfilling the needs of our customers.”

Don’t give up, don’t ever give up

And once you get a good idea you believe will work, to quote the late Jim Valvano, “don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” We would never have heard of Clio if Jack Newton had listened to all the naysayers. There would be no FastCase. CoCounsel wouldn’t exist. TrialPad would still be a twinkle in Ian Flaherty’s eye. Persevere. Don’t let others define you or your ideas; define yourself.

Certainly, there will be times when you hit what may be insurmountable roadblocks. But learn from that and use your ideas to change where you are going or doing.

Create an atmosphere where ideas flow, can be heard, and flourish. Not one where ideas die on the vine. 

Lessons Learned: Leadership

If you are a leader, don’t be the naysayer that stifles ideas and creativity.Create an atmosphere where ideas flow, can be heard, and flourish. Not one where ideas die on the vine. It’s your responsibility.

Parting Shots

Ideas are everything. Be an idea maker. Be an idea enhancer. Says Jack Newton, “Innovation isn’t about following trends, it’s about setting them.”

There is no such thing as a bad idea.