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Innovation is a trip to an uncertain future. That means successful innovation requires getting comfortable with not knowing precisely where you’re going. Some might enjoy the adventure of getting into their car and taking a drive with no destination in mind. Others hate the thought of venturing down a road that smacks of the unknown. They want a well-documented road map. Or, in lawyers’ terms, they want to know “who else has done this before?”
In large part your ability to innovate depends on how you view your competitive position. Many firms need innovation to be clean, nondisruptive and, most of all, painless and mistake-free. Unfortunately, real innovation rarely fits that bill. It can be painful, discouraging, expensive and time-consuming, and worst of all, the outcome is always uncertain. Thus, the firms that most desperately need it are often the least likely to achieve it.
The real challenge in innovation is in identifying how to lead your clients, not follow them. If your efforts are grounded solely in your understanding of where your clients are today, you will not likely succeed. By the time you get your innovation launched, the marketplace will have progressed well beyond where it is currently. Heed the Gretzky Model. Legend has it that when hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky was asked to disclose the secret to his phenomenal success, he responded, “I don’t skate to where the puck is. I skate to where the puck is going to be.”
Every law firm has individuals who look at familiar situations in new ways and say, “Hey, there’s a way we could do this faster, easier, cheaper and better.” What happens next with that blossoming idea determines whether you’re truly capable of innovation.
Patrick J. McKenna consults on competitive strategy and conducts special programs for new managing partners.