The late World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer liked to say “When I play the Ruy, it’s like milking a cow.” What he meant was that when he played his favorite opening setup, the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5) he could count on a steady, predictable stream of wins.
Dennis Kennedy‘s new book tries to make innovation in law firms or other organizations like milking a cow. Rather than waiting for a lightning strike of creativity, approach the innovation process systematically, step by step, until you get the results you want.
Are you weary of trying to let some contract facilitator lead your group to come up with new approaches through a workshop featuring a swarm of sticky notes and too few new ideas? This book provides a welcome alternative: A systematic, comprehensive approach to innovation.
Kennedy has long had a well-deserved reputation as a top legal technology expert, but in this book he moves beyond tech to take a broader look at innovation in all areas. The playing field is larger, but so are the potential benefits.
One of the key concepts is distinguishing optimization and innovation. Optimization is doing what you are already doing in a more efficient way. It is a subset of innovation, which might involve new business models. Optimizing is relatively easy, but the truly ambitious will seek larger benefits.
There’s a lot to like about this book, including:
- It emphasizes focused, practical solutions rather than generalities and theoretical constructs. For example, in Chapter 1, rather than spend 20 pages defining innovation, he gives multiple definitions and closes with the advice: “Get to work on innovation, however you define it, and let others talk.”
- It moves beyond technologies to take a broader view of innovation.
- The author does not pretend to be the only person with worthwhile ideas on this topic. He summarizes the best approaches taken by other experts before providing his original ideas. A well-organized list of other innovation resources is a welcome plus.
- Kennedy has a knack for expressing useful ideas in a pithy fashion. Each chapter ends with a “Pro Tip.” The last chapter consists of “57 Tips for Successful Innovation Outcomes in Law.” Dennis generously provides a free copy through his website.
One of my favorite “Pro Tips” concludes Chapter 19, “Personnel and Who’s In Charge.” Dennis suggests “Do not hire a group of people who look and think like you do.” The biggest benefit of diversity is not the warm feeling of knowing that you are politically correct, but avoiding what in the military is known as “incestuous amplification.”
A recurring theme of this book is the importance of enhancing customer value. Kennedy is 100% right about this. My only suggestion for a second edition of this book is including more examples, case studies. These are a strong point of Jack Newton’s popular book The Client Centered Law Firm.
Dennis does not merely talk innovation: He does innovation. Rather than go with a conventional book publisher, Kennedy self-published the book, working through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (includes option for on-demand paperback publishing as well as eBook).
I used to think of “vanity press” in a condescendingly, as primarily for authors whose work was not good enough to interest a “real” publisher. This book has changed my attitude. There are multiple advantages to self-publishing, including speedier development and reducing the cost to purchasers. It is yet another example of how the Internet enables “disintermediation,” or cutting out the middleman.
Kennedy is in a better position to self-publish than most authors. Having a respected third party (in this case, an established conventional publisher) select a book for publication serves a sort of credentialing function, “validating” the book for potential readers. Kennedy’s track record as a recognized expert and author allows him to “self-validate.”
Dennis found the results of self-publishing so beneficial that he explained in an interview posted at his podcast, the Kennedy-Mighell Report that the odds are 95% that he will self-publish his next book.
Conclusion: There is wisdom here, in full and satisfying measure. If you are looking to get better results from your organization, whether a law firm or other legal organization, you can’t do better than letting this book be your guide.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I learned that Dennis is an inexhaustible fount of creativity when we worked together for several years on The Internet Roundtable, an LLRX.com column about lawyer marketing on the Internet. His breadth of experience, including corporate law firms, in-house counsel with Mastercard and author qualifies him to address innovation in a variety of contexts.
He has written several books previously, including the well-regarded Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together, 2nd Edition, with Tom Mighell.
His Legal Talk Network podcast The Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast is one of my favorite multi-tasking partners. He is currently a respected legal technology consultant and an adjunct professor at Michigan State University College of Law and the University of Michigan Law School. Kennedy is available for speaking engagements.