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.

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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.)

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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 (2): You Had Me At The Creds

I met a friend for a beer last Thursday, and told him about my blog post that day about the future (actually the end) of the professions.

“I’ve got a story for you about that,” he said. “I thought now that I’m retired, I should get my affairs in order.”

I practiced estate planning, so my ears perked up. He told me about all the useful information, forms, and software he’d found online, also about the estate planning seminars he’d attended and the presenting lawyers’ “don’t try this at home” pitches. And his incredulous response to their fee quotes “for things I could do myself.”

He’s newly retired from an illustrious teaching career — an Ivy League grad, six published books, awards and accolades everywhere. He has a huge and healthy respect for the professions and professionalism. And he had more to say.

“In education, it’s gotten to the point where it’s, why even bother to go to school? It’s all available online. You can learn what you want, your own way.”

Then he paused. “But I still wouldn’t go to a surgeon who didn’t have the credentials.”

Ah, the credentials. Is that why people still go to law school, med school, get a CPA, a teaching certificate?

Yes, in part, but the world of professional credentials is changing. I talked about this in a post last March called Strange Bedfellows:  Commercial Law and Legal Ethics. Here’s an excerpt:

“Peer-to-peer is what’s driving the new sharing economy. Consider this from a recent article in Time Magazine:

“The key to [the sharing economy] was the discovery that while we totally distrust strangers, we totally trust people — significantly more than we trust corporations or governments. Many sharing-company founders have one thing in common:  they worked at eBay and, in bits and pieces, recreated that company’s trust and safety division. Rather than rely on insurance and background checks, its innovation was getting both the provider and the user to rate each other, usually with one to five stars. That eliminates the few bad actors who made everyone too nervous to deal with strangers.”

In that post, I made these two predictions (among others):

  • The peer-to-peer dynamic will prevail in significant economic sectors — including the professional service sector of which the legal profession is a part.
  • The resulting consumer satisfaction data will have a curious side effect as a new kind of legal ethics watchdog.

As for the latter, I said this:

“Peer-to-peer is the ultimate in self-policing, which makes its extension to legal ethics unlikely but logical. Rule 8.3 — the duty to report unethical behavior among our peers — has long been a part of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, but has been more honored in the breach than the observance. The new, democratized marketplace will take this matter into its own hands.”

In other words. the professional paradigm will shift — in fact, is already shifting — to include peer-to-peer review as an alternative form of professional credentialing.

True, the typical consumer still wants law school and bar admittance credentials for the legal equivalent of surgery, but for the rest, we’re seeing a major shift in consumer attitudes toward my friend’s — to the point where the consumer is more likely to buy from someone (lawyer or not, which is its own topic) who gets 20 five-star ratings for estate planning offered at a reasonable price (which my buddy gave as 10% of what the seminar lawyers were charging). They’ve got the creds the consumer wants… just a different kind.

Like it or not, it’s happening out there in the New Economy marketplace, and we’ll see more of it in our house. We’re not all the way to lawyers posting client ratings on a five-star scale yet, but one day… I’ll bet it happens. I also bet that day will come way sooner than most lawyers would care to predict.

For Bill Gates’ take on the value of a college education credentials, check out his post yesterday on LinkedIn Pulse.

And for a toe dip into the New Economy, take a look here and here.

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.