Ideas and Economics

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Yes, ideas matter. In economics, they matter a lot.

Three key economics ideas have shaped academic debates and national policies about economics for the past 240 years. Communism was the latecomer:  Karl Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto in 1848 and Das Kapital in 1867, and his ideas took their place in the triumvirate in the 20th Century. Meanwhile, Scotsman Adam Smith articulated capitalistic economics in The Wealth of Nations (1776), which subsequently split into two key versions.

The first was championed by the Fabian Society, formed in London in 1884 in part as a counter to the growing interest in Marxism. The Fabians’ ranks included H. G. Wells and  George Bernard Shaw, and their agenda was democratic socialism, which became Europe’s dominant model. The Fabians advocated nationalized industry, centralized banking, and social welfare through “state-protected trade unionism and other state interventions such as social security and unemployment insurance. And [they] did so by claiming that capitalism worsens inequality and exploitation, that it is rife with robber barons and virtueless inheritors.” A History of the Mont Pelerin Society (1996), The Foundation for Economic Education.[1]

The second major version of capitalism got its most significant boost in 1947 when Austrian-British economist and philosopher F. A. Hayek invited a group of intellectuals to meet in Mont Pèlerin, Switzerland to chart the Western world’s recovery from WWII, and specifically to counter Marxism  and Keynesian economics. The group became known as the Mount Pelerin Society. Its original gathering included luminaries such as Hayek, Karl Popper, and Lionel Robbins of the London School of Economics, and Milton Friedman and George Stigler of the University of Chicago. The MPS agenda came to be known as neoliberalism, and advocated private enterprise and limits on government regulation of the kind that — despite the word “liberalism” in its label — have become associated with conservative politics.

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Thus the lines between economic ideas were drawn, and debates among them persist to this day. Of the three, Communism’s Soviet version tanked in the late 80’s. but persists in China, albeit in vastly altered form. Meanwhile allegiances to the competing schools of capitalism are today more polarized than ever.

But do any of these models support current realities? A whole new generation of economists don’t think so, and believe it’s time policy-makers heeded some advice articulated by John Maynard Keynes:

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Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig wrote this in The Future of Ideas:  The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World (2001):

“A time is marked not so much by ideas argued about as by ideas that are taken for granted. The character of an era hangs upon what needs no defense. Power runs with ideas that only the crazy would draw into doubt. The “taken for granted” is the test of sanity, “what everyone knows” is the line between us and them.

“This means that sometimes a society gets stuck. Sometimes these unquestioned ideas interfere, as the cost of questioning becomes too great. In these times, the hardest task for social or political activists is to find a way to get people to wonder again about what we all believe is true. The challenge is to sow doubt.”

Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman and journalist Carolyn Gregoire expressed a similar sentiment in Wired To Create (2015):

“While experience is an important aspect of excellence in any creative discipline, one risk of being a seasoned pro is that we become so entrenched in our own point of view that we have trouble seeing other solutions. Experts may have trouble being flexible and adapting to change because they are so highly accustomed to seeing things in a particular way. For this reason, the newcomers to a field are sometimes the ones who come up with the ideas that truly innovate and shift paradigms.”

In the coming posts, we’ll examine some of today’s paradigm-shifting economic ideas and their impact on the contemporary working world.

[1] For another excellent review of this history lesson, see The Mont Pèlerin Society: The ultimate neoliberal Trojan horse (2012), The Daily Knell.

Professional Paradigms New and Old (Part 6): Traumatic Transformation, and What do You do When Your Paradigm is Done Shifting?

Professional paradigm shifts require transformation not just for the profession’s culture, but for the individuals in it.

wired to createIn their book Wired to Create:  Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, authors Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire identify several ways individual paradigm-shifting transformation gets started. One is inspiration, which they say comes in three stages:

The first stage is that unsolicited moment when we feel inspired, “by a role model, teacher, experience, or subject matter.”

“Next comes transcendent awakening — a moment of clarity and an awareness of new possibilities.

“Which leads to  the third hallmark feature of inspiration:  a striving to transmit, express, or actualize a new idea, insight, or vision.” (Emphasis in original.)

Individual paradigm shifts are also prompted by traumatic life events, resulting in what psychologists call “posttraumatic growth.” Again from Wired to Create:

“After a traumatic event, such as a serious illness or loss of a loved one, individuals intensely process the event–they’re constantly thinking about what happened, and usually with strong emotional reactions.

“[T]his kind of repetitive thinking is a critical step toward thriving in the wake of a challenge… we’re working hard to make sense of it and to find a place for it in our lives that still allows us to have a strong sense of meaning and purpose.”

I have personal experience with both inspiration and trauma. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, “I have a personal, real-time, vested interest in change because I’ve been on a steep personal transformation learning curve for nearly a decade — for all sorts of reasons I’ve written about in my books, my personal blog, and sometimes in this column.” Learning, writing, and conducting workshops about the psychological and neurological dynamics of transformation has been has been my way of being proactive about something I’ve come to call “traumatic transformation.”

Apocalypse 2 33%In fact, I just finished a new book that completes my decade-long intensive on personal transformation. As always, I’ve learned a lot writing it, but the most startling discovery is that paradigm shifts don’t go on forever:  a time actually comes when the new fully replaces the old. Now that I’ve finished it, I can see that writing the book was in part a way for me to bring closure to my years of personal paradigm shifting.

That being the case, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to set aside my transformation journey and let its lessons play out for awhile. Which is why, after today’s post, I’m going to take an indefinite vacation from writing this column. At this point, I have no fresh thoughts to add to what I’ve been writing about for the past several years. Instead of repeating myself, I want to take a break and see if anything new comes up. If so, I’ll come back and share it.

In the meantime, my endless thanks to the Colorado Bar Association (where these blog posts first began) and to my fabulous editor Susan Hoyt for getting me started out developing my research and theories and personal revelations in this forum. And equally many thanks to those of you who’ve read and thought about and sometimes even taken some of these ideas to heart and put them into practice.

On the wall above the desk where I write, I have a dry-mounted copy of the very last Sunday Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, which I cut out of the newspaper the morning it ran. (Speaking of paradigm shifts, remember newspapers?) There’s a fresh snow, and our two heroes hop on their sled and go bouncing down a hill as Calvin exults, “It’s a magical world, Hobbes ol’ buddy… Let’s go exploring!”

I suspect Calvin and Hobbes are still out there, exploring. I plan to join them.

You?

Apocalypse:  Life On The Other Side Of Over was just published yesterday. It’s a free download from the publisher, like my other books. Or click on this link or the book cover for details.

Professional Paradigms New and Old (5): Why change if we don’t have to?

Why change if we don’t have to?

Good question. I Googled it. The most hits were about the hazards of not changing your car’s oil, plus a few along the same lines about furnace filters or the water filter on the fridge. There was one about changing your underwear, and a few about lifestyle changes related to health issues. All of those are maintenance issues — mechanical, hygiene, health — which we would generally consider have to’s.

What about changing to keep up with the competitive pressures of the marketplace? There’s a lot of keep up with the Joneses thinking out there, but in my observation, making yourself afraid of what the competition might do rarely results in anything other than drama. No have to in that.

Recently, at a CLE workshop in South Carolina, a participant  asked, “Aren’t there some things we don’t need to change?” The question brought me up short, reminded me why we were investing a whole day talking about change:  we were there to enhance professionalism, help us do our work better, keep us ethical, and maybe even help us to be happy practicing law — or find the courage to get out. That’s why we needed to talk about things like law school inflicted brain damage, lawyer substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and suicide, and the value of personal happiness in supporting ethical behavior. Some things are broken and need to be fixed, and some things we do to keep our edge — both are necessary maintenance, part of our professional have to’s.

But there was a second part to my answer. Beyond those maintenance issues, I agree:  let’s not change if we don’t want to. I’m not sure it’s even possible. I do know that grudging change never seems to work.

I say that even though I think and write a lot about change — particularly the psychological and neurological dynamics of personal transformation. (You may have noticed.) If I were still in law practice, I would no doubt be incorporating the not-so-futuristic practice developments into my firm, and otherwise actively engaging with the huge paradigm shift happening in our profession.

But that’s not everybody’s choice, and I get that. They’re content to let those developments play out by the process of cultural evolution. If a day comes that threatens obsolescence beyond mere fear-mongering, it will become a shared maintenance issue, and we’ll take care of it together… but probably not before.

All that went into my answer to the question in South Carolina. Which made me ask myself once again what’s behind my own commitment to change. Bottom line is, I have a personal, real-time, vested interest in change because I’ve been on a steep personal transformation learning curve for nearly a decade — for all sorts of reasons I’ve written about in my books, my personal blog, and sometimes in this column. Thinking and writing about it is my way of being proactive about my own best interests.

More next time on why that’s relevant to this blog.

Professional Paradigms New and Old (4): Failure As A Virtue

As we saw last week, one way to engage with a paradigm shift is to “walk in stupid every day.” That won’t be easy for professionals,:  our job is to be smart; our brains are culturally wired with that expectation. Being “stupid” turns that cultural expectation on its ear, makes our brain circuits fritz.

So does another powerful paradigm-busting tool:  learning to embrace failure. Professional cultural paradigms include conventional wisdom about how to succeed; flying in the face of them is a set up for failure.

In their book Wired to Create (which we looked at last time), Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire cite the work of psychologist Robert J. Sternberg, who identified several key attributes of people who are “willing to generate and promote ideas that are novel and even strange and out of fashion” — i.e., who would embrace a paradigm shift. According to Dr. Sternberg, that kind of person:

  • Tries to do what others think is impossible;
  • Is a noncomformist;
  • Is unorthodox;
  • Questions societal norms, truisms, and assumptions.

Life is risky for nonconformists. According to Kaufman and Gregoire:

“Sternberg found that artists [who participated in his study] said that a creative person is one who takes risks and is willing to follow through on the consequences of those risks. Businesspeople, meanwhile, responded that a creative person in the business world is one who steers clear of the pitfalls of conventional ways of thinking.”

The inherent risks of unconventional thinking require a willingness to fail — so says organizational psychologist Adam Grant in his TED talk on “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers”:

“The greatest originals are the ones who fail the most,
because they’re the ones who try the most.
You need a lot of bad ideas in order to get a few good ones.”

No wonder W+K — the uber-creative ad agency we looked at last time — has a Fail Harder Wall.

Then what about our professional obligation to be smart, and steer clear of risk and failure? David P Barash, evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology and biology at the University of Washington, tackles that conundrum in an article entitled Paradigms Lost, that begins this way:

“Science is not a ‘body of knowledge’ – it’s a dynamic, ongoing reconfiguration of knowledge and must be free to change.

“The capacity for self-correction is the source of science’s immense strength, but the public is unnerved by the fact that scientific wisdom isn’t immutable. Scientific knowledge changes with great speed and frequency – as it should – yet public opinion drags with reluctance to be modified once established. And the rapid ebb and flow of scientific ‘wisdom’ has left many people feeling jerked around, confused, and increasingly resistant to science itself.”

Unlike science, the law profession’s conventional cultural paradigm does not embrace change “with great speed and frequency.” On the other hand, the new paradigm/technology-driven legal practice developments do precisely that — which, according to the existing paradigm, makes them a high risk, fast road to failure.

Those who choose to innovate in the face of this risk need creativity and courage. Once again, this is from Wired to Create:

“The history of creative thought and social progress is littered with similar stories of banned books, culture wars, persecuted artist, and paradigm-shifting innovations that change the way we look at the world.

“In choosing to do things differently, [creative people] accept the possibility of failure — but it is precisely this risk that opens up the possibility of true innovation.”

But can a professional paradigm truly embrace failure? More next time.

The Legal Times They Are A Changin 4  33%

 

Check out this collection of last year’s Future of Law blog posts. It’s a FREE download. Also included is the Culture of Law series from the second half of 2015. Click this link or the cover for downloading details.

Professional Paradigms New and Old (3): “Walk in Stupid Everyday”

 

We looked last year at physicist Thomas Kuhn’s model for how paradigms shift, and also explored another scientist’s exhortation “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

The Future of the Professions

Good, quotable advice, but how do you create what you can’t see? Richard and Daniel Susskind say often in their book The Future of the Professions that, as they travel the world delivering their message, many professionals agree that there’s a massive paradigm shift currently happening in the professions, just not their own.

Why this paradigm shift blindness?

 

Reason 1:  Too Much Expertise

wired to createAuthors Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire describe this phenomenon in their marvelous book Wired to Create:  Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind:

“While experience is an important aspect of excellence in any creative discipline, one risk of being a seasoned pro is that we become so entrenched in our own point of view that we have trouble seeing other solutions. Experts may have trouble being flexible and adapting to change because they are so highly accustomed to seeing things in a particular way.”

Reason 2:  Cultural Blindness

In each of the past two years (here and here), we’ve also looked at research from the emerging field of cultural neurology cultural neurology that suggests our brains’ observation and cognitive faculties are so linked to our cultural context that we simply can’t see paradigm shifts when they happen. Our cultural bias blinds us — it determines what we see and don’t see, and can literally blind us to new developments happening in our midst.

Reason 3:  Not Being a Newcomer

Again from Wired to Create:  “the newcomers to a field are sometimes the ones who come up with the ideas that truly innovate and shift paradigms.” In the law, the newcomers are responsible for the wave of new practice models and technologies. As I said last year, “By the time the new paradigm’s opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it, the paradigm we can’t see now will be the only one the new generation has ever known.”

A Cure for Paradigm Shift Blindness:  Get Stupid

MavericksDan Wieden is imminently quotable. He ought to be:  he’s one of the namesakes of legendary ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, and personally created Nike’s “Just Do it” slogan.

W+K has offices all over the world and bills over a billion dollars annually. Their website is a creative trip all its own — you might enjoy cruising it, if you have a moment. The firm was profiled in a 2006 business bestseller, Mavericks at Work:  Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win, where Wieden was famously quoted as saying this about his approach to keeping W+K at the top of its game:

“Whatever day it is, something in the world changed overnight,
and you better figure out what it is and what it means.
You have to forget what you just did and what you just learned
You have to walk in stupid every day.”

Lawyers aren’t the only professionals who will have trouble following that advice. People pay us to be smart; their benefit and our livelihood depend on it. True, but there’s a whole lot of shaking goin’ on around us. We might want to get stupid enough to see it.

Next time, we’ll look at another paradigm shifting skill that won’t come easy:  embracing failure.

Mavericks at Work may be the best business book I’ve ever read. If you like that kind of thing, you owe it to yourself.

And Wired to Create is the best I’ve ever read on its topic. Author Scott Barry Kaufman is the scientific director of the Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania, and Carolyn Gregoire is a senior writer at the Huffington Post, covering psychology, mental health, and neuroscience. And that’s just the first sentence of each of their author bios. Talk about creds.)

The Legal Times They Are A Changin 4  33%

 

Check out this collection of last year’s Future of Law blog posts. It’s a FREE download. Also included is the Culture of Law series from the second half of 2015. Click this link or the cover for downloading details.

The Legal Times They Are A-Changin’ (Part One)

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The following is taken from the Preface to a just-published collection of my blog posts from the past year.

Killing Them Softly 

Law enlightenment 2nd edition 33%My book Law, Enlightenment, and Other States of Mind (now available in a revised second edition) collected several years of my blog posts for the Legal Connection. It ended with a series called Killing Them Softly, featuring the work of University of Denver Law professor Debra S. Austin. (See Killing Them Softly: Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die From Law School Stress And How Neural Self-Hacking Can Optimize Cognitive Performance. See also her article Drink Like a Lawyer.)

Research studies and media stories about lawyer depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide are legion, but Prof. Austin’s Killing Them Softly sounded a new kind of alarm through its application of neuroscience to the chronic stresses of law school and legal practice and its depiction of how law students and lawyers suffer cognitive brain damage that impairs them from doing precisely what their studies and practices require.

How’s that working for you, if you’re a client? Or an educator? Or a spouse? Or any number of other people with vested interests in law student and lawyer health and performance?

The more I blogged about Killing Them Softly, the more I wondered:

If we know we’re hurting ourselves, then why don’t we stop it?

We Are The Borg

Resistance-is-futile-Picard-BorgI’d blogged before about the legal world’s confounding indifference to its own welfare. This time, I broached the topic in a short series called Saving Ourselves From Ourselves, using Star Trek’s bad guys The Borg to lighten the inquiry. I mean, it was the end of the year (2014) and holiday time, after all. My attempt at levity didn’t help. Not really. The topic was too disturbing and the Borg “you will be assimilated” metaphor too appropriate. The law profession’s entrenched willingness to tolerate and continue unhealthy and performance-impairing practices wasn’t going away that easily.

Meanwhile, I’d noticed that an emerging subset of the legal profession seemed to be having a more upbeat experience. These were the new legal entrepreneurs, who seemed to have cornered the market on inspired action and were busy creating a bold new future for law practice. And yet, from what I could tell, the mainstream of lawyers remained unaware of the seismic shift in the legal profession happening right under their feet. They simply didn’t have ears to hear or eyes to see; they didn’t and apparently couldn’t feel the tremors. Once again I wondered:  Why not?

The Future of Law

I had written about trends in law practice before as well, but armed with new research, I launched a new series at the start of the new year (2015) on The Future of Law. And then, for some reason I couldn’t articulate then and still can’t, I decided to play like a futurist and predict where the future of law was going. The predictions flowed easily once I focused on the larger trends driving the entrepreneurial initiatives, such as globalization, commoditization, democratization, and big data. Those trends were mostly finding expression in new legal practice models and technologies, and in hindsight my predictions in that arena frankly weren’t all that remarkable, although they certainly seemed so to me when I wrote them.

No surprise, then, that one week I would predict something, only to discover within short order an example of it. No, I hadn’t developed a new gift of clairvoyance, I was only tapping into what was already happening. In fact, I was fast being left behind:  not only were the legal entrepreneurs busy creating a new future for law practice, but both legal and popular media were equally busy covering it. I had just come late to the party.

I helped myself liberally to the news as I wrote my blog, but then a more stunning realization about the future of law began to dawn in my awareness. This realization came to me in a series of waves, each amplifying the others:

  • The new practice models and technologies wouldn’t only change how law is practiced, they would invariably re-create lawyers themselves — who they are, and what they do.
  • As a result, a new kind of lawyer would engage in a new kind of law practice, alongside a new kind of legal expert who wouldn’t even qualify to be called a lawyer in today’s regulatory environment.
  • Alongside both of them, consumers (no longer “clients”) would themselves also practice law in a wave of legal DIY aided by artificial intelligence algorithms engineered by cyber geeks and served up online.
  • The combined impetus of all these developments would create a new kind of law— new in both substantive content and in how it is created, shaped, communicated, and applied.
  • In particular, this new kind of law would be created and disseminated, and would grow and change, by processes other than the historical reliance on legislation and appellate precedent and lawyer-to-client communication.
  • Finally, the advent of a new kind of law would transform the law’s role as a foundational institution in the larger cultural context in which it lives and moves and has its being.

Seismic change, indeed.

Continued next time.

The Legal Times They Are A Changin 4 33%The Legal Times They Are A-Changin’ is the second collection of Kevin’s blog posts focuses on the future and culture of law, including insights on technology, innovation, neuro-culture, and entrepreneurship. Extensively researched, visionary, and written in a crisp, conversational style by a man on a mission to bring wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law.

 

The Culture of Law (1): Peace of Mind

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Dennis Gabor, Nobel Prize Winner in Physics

Since the first of the year, we’ve been talking about the future of law. We’ve seen how the practice of law is undergoing a massive paradigm shift, mostly driven by technology, entrepreneurship, and worldwide trends such as democratization and commoditization. We’ve looked at how these forces are changing law practice and lawyers, and we’ve speculated about how all this will ultimately change the law itself.

We’ve seen that the future of law isn’t out there somewhere, waiting to descend on us, but that paradigms shift if and when we embrace them, and that the new normal of the future is ours to shape and own to the extent we choose to engage with it. We can make the future happen, or we can let it happen to us. The former is challenging but rewarding; the latter is a quick trip to curmudgeon status.

I.e., we’ve seen the future, and it is us. Which is why it’s time to talk about the culture of law. The law of the future requires the law culture of the future. Culture is the context in which the future will occur. If we understand what culture is and where it comes from, we can most effectively shape both the law and its future — again, if we choose to do so.

Why would we want to? For our own peace of mind, for one thing. Quite literally. As we’ll see, culture is a brain thing. Culture takes shape in our brains, our brains then shape our minds, our minds shape our behavior, and — voilà! — culture happens. When we’re out of sync with this process, the result is disruption and dissonance in our brains. We become cognitively impaired in a profession that requires all the cognition we can give it.

Peace of mind isn’t a luxury, it’s enlightened self-interest. Cognitive wellness thrives on it. We need it to think, learn, analyze, decide, make sound judgments. We need it to be ethically competent. Successfully engaging with change instead of avoiding and resisting it brings emotional clearing and cognitive clarity, provides a still point from which to view a world apparently spinning out of control. It’s an essential trait of “supersurvivors” — something I’ll talk about in a short series later this summer.

We’ll tend to our peace of mind if we know what’s good for us, and we  usually do.

Before we go on, we need a working definition of “culture.” We’re familiar with the notion of company or firm culture. This is from Simon D’Arcy, founder of Next Level Culture:

“Think of a culture code as the DNA of an organization, carrying within it a code that defines the character and proficiency of the entire organism. Instead of physical traits, tendencies and aptitudes, it influences how people behave with each other, shaping how they work together as well as the results they produce.”

He’s speaking of organizational culture, which we find in individual firms. Expand that idea to the collective, over-arching culture of the profession within which all those individual firms operate, and now you’re at the level of culture we’re talking about in this series.

Culture on this level isn’t just for BigBox and BigLaw, and it’s not about firm outings and casual Fridays. It’s The X Factor — the difference between creating and sustaining the future we envision vs. waking up one day to just another unfulfilling status quo.

Starting next time, we’ll look at how culture is created from the inside out.