There’s a reason so many attorneys and legal executives struggle to stay innovative. The modern practice of law involves relentless stress, complex bureaucracy, extreme time pressure, and urgent client demands.
Innovation, by contrast, requires mental space, clarity, and the ability to step back and see the bigger picture. Put simply, the demands of the modern legal profession make it almost impossible to work from a mindset of innovation.
A recent online survey conducted by Ron Friedmann at Prism Legal and Jean O’Grady at DLA Piper found that attorneys confront a number of external challenges to innovation and that firm culture and incentives make the adoption of innovations difficult. The survey also found that attorneys struggle both to find time for innovation and to get buy-in from management.
These external barriers to innovation are important. And yet they overlook one of the most significant roadblocks to innovation in law — the lack of inner, mental, space for working from a mindset of innovation.
This is the problem that CEO coach and bestselling author Gay Hendricks has helped high-profile executives like Michael Dell, executives at eBay, and others solve. His big insight is that the problem of innovation isn’t just rooted in the frantic pace of modern life or the high demands and formidable external barriers to innovation found in the legal industry. The problem cuts deeper. The problem of innovation is also rooted in the mind itself.
Our ordinary mental habits, after all, leave little room for big ideas and innovative insights. Most of us go through our day lost in worries and irritation. Our ability to think creatively is often hijacked by unproductive obsessions. We worry about what others think of us. We fixate on that deal that is about to close. We can’t stop thinking about recent drama with our co-workers.
Hendricks’ insight is that, when you cut to the core if it, one of the biggest barriers to innovation in law is simply this: Trying to mentally control things that are uncontrollable.
How to Open the Mental Gates of Creative Insight
In his book The Joy of Genius, Hendricks outlines a three-step process called the Genius Move, a tool you can use anytime, anywhere to break out of these unproductive obsessions and open up more space for innovation.
Step 1: Notice when you get lost in unproductive mental obsessions
This first step is all about noticing. Notice when you get caught in the seductive and energy-draining state of ruminating about the past and future. Notice when you’re physically sitting at your desk but mentally lost in worries about your manager, that proposal you need to write, or that conversation you’re dreading.
Noticing these moments is essential. Without noticing, it’s like you are in a daydream. You’re not even aware that you’re caught in this state.
Step 2: Identify what you are trying to control
Once you become aware of getting lost in these unproductive mental fixations, you will begin to see the drain of time and energy that arises from living in this state of “mind wandering.”
You can also begin to take action by identifying the source of your mental unease. To do this, simply ask yourself: “What am I trying to control that is actually not within my power to control?”
Step 3: Take positive action
Two possible responses might arise from this question. The first is that you may find that you have some control over the situation. You may discover an actionable step you can take right now. If that’s what you find, then you can free all this blocked creative energy by simply taking this new step or creating a clear plan to do so.
The second is you might see that you’re trying to control something that is actually beyond your control. You might discover that your energy-draining rumination stems from worries about what other people think of you (not in your control), shifting trends in law (not in your control), or the state of the global economy (not in your control).
Noticing your own lack of control may sound strange, even unnerving. But this insight has the potential to open the floodgates of innovation. Once you become conscious of your lack of control, after all, you can give yourself permission to let it go. You can, in other words, see the insanity of wasting your mental and emotional energy on something that you have almost no ability to change. You can instead redirect your attention to the things that are within your ability control.
Gaining the Competitive Edge
The great thing about the three-step process of the Genius Move is that it’s simple, time-efficient, and portable. You can do this move whenever you’re feeling distracted and creatively blocked, anytime, anywhere.
It’s also a tool that will give you a unique competitive edge. In a world consumed by constant stress and digital distraction, the Genius Move gives you a way to stay fresh, curious, and innovative in the midst of the pressures of modern life and your professional duties.