History offers an abundant number of illustrations of leaders who used crisis or failure as an opportunity for positive change and growth. Consider just three examples:
- After the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt pushed for creation of the Securities Exchange Commission and Securities Acts that empowered regulators to clean up stock market fraud and mandate full and timely disclosures to investors. The intense study of the collapse also paved the way for greater understanding of the economic effects of monetary policy, tax policy and government subsidies.
- The leaders at IBM have successfully reinvented the company a number of times over the years, dating back to the 19th century, when its primary products were punch cards and time-keeping systems. Each time that leaders of the company charted a new course to maintain IBM’s relevance and its position of industrial leadership, the change was catalyzed by the dwindling utility and profitability of a prior generation of products or services. Thus, IBM has brought us over the years magnetic storage tape, electronic typewriters, digital calculators, data processing machines, hard disk drives, mainframes, super-computers, and now quantum computing and artificial intelligence.
- When Teddy Roosevelt lost his mother and wife within a period of 24 hours in 1884, he wrote in his diary that “the light has gone out of my life.” He then went west to the Badlands, became a Dakota cowboy, and eventually led efforts to organize ranchers’ efforts stop overgrazing and other practices that hurt the land they depended upon. His work resulted in the formation of the Little Missouri Stockmen’s Association. He was also compelled to coordinate conservation efforts and was able to form the Boone and Crocket Club, whose primary goal was the conservation of large game animals and their habitats. After a bad winter wiped out his herd of cattle, Roosevelt returned to the East with a renewed vigor and a sense of public purpose that eventually vaulted him to the presidency in 1901.
It makes sense that governments, commercial enterprises, and individuals take their greatest leaps forward after crisis or failure. That is when we are most receptive to challenging what we have known, when we are most open to learning from others, and most convinced that the old ways and familiar places cannot be relied upon forever. Inertia is the tendency of a body at rest to stay at rest, and forward motion often takes a catalyst which rudely tells us that we’re doing isn’t working.
For law firms, the last recession and the increasing competition from in-house law departments, contract lawyers, technology providers, accounting firms and non-traditional outsourcing have all provided a rude and disruptive spur to competitive and collaborative innovation.
For those firms who are taking new approaches and adopting new methods and tools to deliver legal services that are faster, more relevant, and more cost-effective, there is a great story to tell… and a great opportunity for a leap forward. For those who are still pining for the good old days, there’s not much of a future.
About the Author
John O. Cunningham is the chair of LSSO's Editorial Board and Freelance Writer, Editor and Marketing/Communications Consultant. You can read more of John's articles on his blog.