CURIOUS MINDS: A Conversation with Rochael Adranly, Partner & General Counsel at IDEO

Topics: Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Curious Minds, Legal Innovation, Legal Workforce, Networking, Process Management

Curious Minds

We continue our monthly column, “Curious Minds” which was created and written by Rose Ors to tap into the minds of legal innovators, disrupters, and out-of-the-box thinkers to learn what influences and inspires their work.

In this installment, Rose speaks with Rochael Adranly, Partner & General Counsel at IDEO, an international design and consulting firm with nine offices around the world, about her influences, the impact work has had on her life, and the value of the “beginner’s mind.”

Rose Ors: Who are the thinkers outside of the legal industry that have influenced your work?

Rochael Adranly: Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and professor at Wharton. In his WorkLife podcast, Grant explores what makes people thrive in organizations by exploring the science of making work, as he notes, “not suck.” Since I work with in-house legal teams and law firms to bring a new lens to why and how they work, WorkLife is hugely relevant and always inspires.

Another important influence is Pema Chodron, an American-born Tibetan Buddhist. Chodron has been part of both my personal and professional journey for over 16 years. She has taught me the importance and the benefits of trying to be mindful in every aspect of my life and appreciate how nuanced we humans are. Interestingly, these principles also inform the culture at IDEO.

Rose Ors: In her talks or teachings, Pema Chodron also speaks to the power of having an open, non-judgmental mind. Has this lesson also influenced your work?

Rochael Adranly: Absolutely, it is called “beginner’s mind.” It is part of our culture at IDEO. In practice, this means that we go into a new design challenge with an open mind and the discipline to fight the impulse to rush to a solution. Instead, we begin with curiosity and leave our expert hats behind.

Curious Minds

Rochael Adranly

This mindset means our design team goes out and talks to the people involved in whatever the challenge is and honors them as the experts. It takes humility to inhabit this mindset, but the rewards are boundless.

Rose Ors: Any other influences?

Rochael Adranly: Marshall Rosenberg, the pioneer of nonviolent communication. His premise is that words matter, how we speak to each other matters, what we call people matters. One example would be from the work we’ve done with Adam Foss of Prosecutor Impact. One of the shifts Adam is working to make is from referring to people as “victims” or “offenders” to acknowledging that many people in the criminal justice system are victims as well as offenders. It’s about recognizing that people are all part of one community.

Rose Ors: What books have influenced your work and your thinking?

Rochael Adranly: Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. The authors were part out of the Harvard Negotiation Project, and Difficult Conversations is my favorite book from a series of books the Project produced on effective communication.

Difficult Conversations is a primer on how to have productive conversations where emotions run high and offers ways of navigating these conversations successfully. One concept they discuss that resonated for me is the difference between intent and impact and how conversations are continually shifting between the two. For example, we often engage in conversations assuming that we know what the other’s intentions are. The assumptions are based not on facts but our feelings — if I feel hurt, then you must have meant to be hurtful. The authors advise: avoid leaping from impact to intent. Instead, ask the other person what his intention was. The book is full of these types of golden nuggets.

Another book is Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston, who became famous for her TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.” In the book, she continues the theme of vulnerability and stresses the positive impact of bringing our vulnerability and our humanity to our leadership. I love her profound insights, her practical advice, and her ability to make me laugh out loud.

Rose Ors: Where do you get your most creative ideas?

Rochael Adranly: I am an artist at heart, so quiet activities spark my creativity. Walking, reading, and writing are some of the things I do to nourish this part of me. That said, the highest level of creativity comes in conversations with others. For example, I have a colleague at work I call my work-husband. When we have a large-scale design challenge, our discussions inevitably lead to new insights that I would likely never have on my own.

Rose Ors: How has working at IDEO impacted you?

Rochael Adranly: It has given me the ability to think bigger than I ever thought I could. Sometimes it is a bit scary. But it is what allows me and those that work at IDEO to create large scale impact rather than just incremental change. Working at IDEO has given me a greater ability to accept being uncomfortable, give myself permission to be pushed, and to push other people to think bigger.

For example, being just one stakeholder among many when we designed how our own legal department would function at IDEO, I learned that the role of the in-house team could be way more integrated, cross-functional, impactful, and fulfilling than I had ever imagined, or than what I understand it is for the majority of lawyers who work in-house.

Rose Ors: What do you think is a key big-picture question facing the legal industry?

Rochael Adranly: It would be: How can the legal industry change its way of thinking so that it looks at the issues it confronts not as legal problems but as human problems that require patience and respect for all stakeholders involved? Or, as my colleague, IDEO partner Chris Domina, in 2011 termed “human-centered” lawyering?

For example, IDEO has convened its first In-House Innovation Academy where we bring in-house legal teams from many different industries and verticals together to both learn human-centered design and apply those learnings to the unique challenges of their organizations.

As in-house teams face more and greater challenges due to the fast pace of change in their organizations, shifts in the regulatory landscapes within which they operate, and pressures toward operational efficiency, learning to approach legal challenges as human challenges that are responsive to a human-centered design approach is a huge unlock for these teams.


This interview has been edited and condensed by Rose Ors.