To Bring Change, Embrace Imperfect Decision-Making

Looking forward to 2019, there’s only one certainty: The legal industry is continuing to change. Everything else is uncertain. The question is whether lawyers will adjust enough to remain a valuable and well-compensated part of it.

The legal industry seems to agree that innovation is the answer to the changing times. We’re talking. We seem to be agreeing. But we’re still not seeing much change. Why?

Our perspectives are so far apart that we’re unable to even recognize the fact that we’re not actually working together for change. In fact, you could argue that we are neutralizing our efforts because our approaches are so disparate.

More Minds Working Together

For change to come from within the legal industry, it’s going to take more than a handful of individuals who agree. We need collaboration on a grand scale, but that level of collaboration requires compromise from people with vastly different perspectives.

On one end of the spectrum, we have a group demanding exhaustive analysis and certainty before taking any step. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have a group anxious for change. The latter group wants to leap first and ask questions later. How do you get the cautious and the zealous to come together?

Framework for Decision-Making

We need a framework to help us meet in the middle. Something that gets the cautious to take the first step; and something that gets the zealous to accept a smaller step— rather than a blind leap. A decision-making framework that could allow us to work together is “strong opinions, weakly held.” It’s a framework developed by Paul Saffo that helps with timely decision-making despite uncertainty.

To summarize the framework, it starts with an initial hypothesis. It’s a tentative, gut-reaction-level idea. The key is that it’s definitive. That’s the “strong” part. Then you actively gather information to support or disprove the hypothesis. As you gather information, if you’re on the right track you refine your hypothesis…or you may find you need a new hypothesis. It’s imperative to revise your hypothesis—not your facts—if your initial thinking was wrong. That’s where the “weakly held” part comes in. You can’t dig in and double down. It should be easier to let go of a failed thought experiment if you spent less time developing it.

Another benefit of the framework is that it provides a working decision. If the world shifts under our feet, we know how we will respond and we are ready to do so—at least at first. The framework is useful for both planning and reacting in the face of uncertainty.

For legal professionals, using the “strong opinions, weakly held” framework means they may be able to:

  • Start an innovation project without death by analysis.
  • Think through a project in a manner that uncovers and addresses biases.
  • Collaborate with others to get buy-in and better ideas.
  • Keep the focus on progressing together.

With innovation, it pays to put forth a hypothesis, get to work, and abandon it or change your mind if it wasn’t a good idea after all.

Igniting the Cautious

It may be appropriate to describe 2018 as the year that data and analytics captured the attention of the legal profession. With it, people started to think about adoption and ROI and workflow analysis. I could publish a 724-point checklist of things to research before buying new technology or starting an innovation initiative. But that checklist and the never-ending quest for more data seem to encourage the cautious to be even more cautious.

Data is meant to encourage better decision-making. But the result is that many of the people we need to participate in creating change use analysis as a shield to fend off change.

Paralysis by analysis comes from withholding all judgment until an exhaustive search for data and a thorough analysis is complete. So we must get the cautious to move forward despite uncertainty. For this group, “strong opinions, weakly held” may help them to start.

For the cautious, we need to flip the process. Force a decision at the beginning. Reach a working decision or initial hypothesis over the course of days—not months. Move forward based on the information initially available. Start working and do some research. Use the insights gained from testing the hypothesis to make a new one, test it, and so on. The framework allows the cautious to use data and analysis without requiring that they gather it all before starting. If the cautious are willing to move forward, the zealous will join them in taking the next steps.

Decelerating the Zealous

While many people are enamored with data-driven analysis and its accompanying methodical approach, a significant group of technologists, futurists, and change agents are fed up. Sure, data is great, but they want action. The thirst for change has grown. Only grand-scale disruption will do. And the time to do it is yesterday.

The zealous are excited, and the industry needs that excitement to weather the coming challenges. But jumping to solutions and focusing on shiny, new, and sexy is also leading to a lot of fizzled and failed projects. The cautious see this as evidence that change is bad. To convince the cautious to collaborate with them, the zealous must step back and analyze the problem before assuming the solution.

The “strong opinions, weakly held” framework helps here, too. Team up with the cautious and dare them to dissent. Ask them to poke holes in the new concept. They’ll uncover biases and force you to refine your thinking. You’ll get a better result and more people will support the new direction.
The zealous should also be aware that people within their organization are feeling initiative exhaustion and change fatigue, that senior executives are noticing the increasing tech debt and failed implementations. To counter these concerns, the zealous should treat adoption as the deliverable. Whatever change is deemed the solution, getting people to embrace it long term must be the focus.

Conclusion

In law, we know that too much is at stake for us to “move fast and break things.” But we do need to be moving. At this time, any movement that we’re seeing in the legal industry is nearly imperceptible. It will likely remain that way if the cautious and the zealous can’t find a way to work together. The “strong opinions, weakly held” framework just might get us there.

This article was originally published December 6, 2018 on Above the Law.

About the Author

Ivy B. Grey is the Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for WordRake. Prior to joining the team, she practiced bankruptcy law for ten years. In 2018, Ivy was recognized as a Fastcase 50 Honoree and included in the Women of Legal Tech list by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. Follow Ivy on Twitter @IvyBGrey or connect with her on LinkedIn.

Our Story

demo_poster_play
WordRake founder Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for AMLAW 100 firms, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. As a writing expert and coach, Gary was inspired to create WordRake when he noticed a pattern in writing errors that he thought he could address with technology.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to help writers produce clear, concise, and effective prose. It runs in Microsoft Word and Outlook, and its suggested changes appear in the familiar track-changes style. It saves time and gives confidence. Writing and editing has never been easier.