Leading by Omission

I borrowed the title from Ricardo Semler’s talk at MIT about his famous SEMCO company.  If you’re like most of us lawyers, you’re forgiven for not knowing anything about SEMCO and its evolutionary way of doing business.

In the MIT talk, Semler talks about a recent celebration at the company: his 10th year without making any decisions. Whilst it is unlikely Ricardo made absolutely “0” decisions in 10 years at a company earning hundreds of millions, you get the point. Semler created an environment in which the employees organized and managed themselves. He took a $2 million business his father built and grew it to over $200 million year.  More amazing to me is that SEMCO grew continuously during every type of economic and financial disaster in Brazil during the last 18 years.

Ricardo candidly acknowledges that many people go to Brazil and visit SEMCO to study how it works. But almost none of them make any similar evolutionary steps towards innovating or evolving their own organizations.

As one very religious friend once told me, “it is easier to breed church members than it is to convert them”.   Let’s be empathetic about this: entrenched management simply has no controllable means or tools with which to quantify intuition and reward collaborative endeavors.

The Online Bar is a global legal organization that is leading the way in learning how lawyers can work collaboratively on a global scale. We ‘re exploring and building a new way of practicing law.  Solo and small firms are the fastest growing segment of the legal market.  But they have not yet figured out how to collaborate to scale up and compete with larger global firms. How to use scale to design a more rewarding practice of law.

With the amount of free or almost free technology available, this is not a technology challenge.  It is a human one.  It takes a determined group to bring about this sort of paradigm shift. Not because any scientific principle or precedent requires it, but because it is too easy to fall back into doubt. It is too easy to feel comfortable (for now) in “what is” than to boldly step into “what ought to be” and “what could be”!

How we design a new way of practicing law is really up to us.  I could tell you exactly how to do it.  I could announce highly specific missions with detailed procedures, rules and regulations that you must follow, but then I would not be leading by omission….


We’re all part of that urgent storm of change and innovation.

As for my part, I am an innovator; it’s what I do. I can’t help it; I do it automatically. But even I admit that innovation is not always good, nor is its timing. Innovation is mostly disruptive and painful to the people who lose their jobs and careers when innovation happens. Their trades or professions become commoditized, outsourced or obsolete.

Then there’s the politics of innovation. With the rallying cry for innovation sounded, there will be unnecessary destruction and disruption without reason. Order will become chaos without a strategy. Entrenched bureaucracies will see this as justification to act as usual and kill the innovators, bury them in unmarked career graves and close ranks. Both sides will polarize. The volatility of politics will predominate and neither side concedes until it is too late.

Like putting a very old and sick dog out of its pain, some businesses (corporations) don’t need innovation. They need to be put down or sold off in parts like harvested donor organs that can bring life to another in need.

I can’t help but ask if most innovations simply create more problems that need more “innovations” to solve.  Should we then stand still, if only for a moment and listen for some form of ecological inspiration instead of the sound of our own strenuous breathing?  I don’t know, I leave that to us to decide together.  You already know what I do: I am an innovator; it’s what I do…..

My biggest curiosity was to know how he handled the years of abuse by the media for being Oprah’s boyfriend/partner. He did not disappoint. But, first things first:

Stedman Graham’s 9 step success process:

  1. Check your ID:  Stedman’s brand is based upon self-awareness (your identity). Only through knowing what you are passionate about, what your talents are, what compels you to move forward or holds you back, can you focus your life on what you love and care about. Not knowing leaves you open to being in a prison of labels and expectations the world imposes on you.
  2. Create Your Vision: your aspirations and dreams defined in the context of your abilities.
  3. Develop Your Travel Plan: Magic begins when we set goals. Then….the current begins to flow and the power to accomplish becomes a reality.
  4. Master the Rules of The Road: Key is that the rules don’t change. Some examples are TRUST, Determination, Positive attitude, Honesty….
  5. Step Into The Outer Limits: or step out of  your comfort zone. Overcome that natural fear and step outside the familiar.
  6. Pilot The Seasons of Change: Creating change and managing your response to change is a big part of the 9 step process.
  7. Build Your Dream Team: Build supportive and caring relationships. Learn to trust and be trustworthy. Stedman emphasizes that a mentor picks you; you do not pick them.
  8. Win by a decision: Make the right decision. Stedman is talking about daily decisions in life (habits) as well as long term ones.
  9. Commit to your Vision: with enthusiasm. Success is based upon your commitment to discovery. Discover who you are. Apply that knowledge to world you live in, and make the discovery process part of your daily routine for sustainable success.

In his presentation to us, Stedman was clearly sharing his personal journey.  In the privacy of an intimate lunch, he shared some of his personal challenges. Many which you can find in his book: “You Can Make It Happen!

Stedman is clearly a man who has faced countless challenges. My question to him was how he handled the media and others labeling him as Oprah’s boyfriend or some variation of it. The countless comedy satires and false allegations cannot be easy. This is where I believe his IDENTITY philosophy (Step 1) was really forged.  In knowing who he was, Stedman was able to stay focused and not allow  attacks to distract him from his goals and purpose.  Painful it was.  He shares this in his book. But he was able to switch the pain from the attacks to thoughts of LOVE.

I confess, I’m easily moved by such vulnerability and boldness in a business setting. It seems uncommon and yet supremely confident to talk about LOVE in this context.

In the end, is there truly anything else more important than LOVE?

With all the demands on our time to keep up with exponential complexity, it seems that moving forward with our personal development, business and career goals are perennially postponed.

Sometimes we get lucky and are our day-to-day activities actually produces a much sought after goal without a conscious strategy.  But we hardly know how to replicate those circumstances as we perceive them outside of our control.  For example, the proverbial: I was asked to work on this project by my boss because no one else wanted it and I did it.  I earned a reputation in the company, received a promotion, bonuses and was then hired by a competitor double for  my salary. Something like that….. 🙂

When it comes to goals, some people are quite capable of just ignoring everything and everyone to accomplish a goal. They have to make up later for having few friends or an estranged spouse and family. It seems that every time you commit to a goal with single-minded purpose, sacrifices to the god of accomplishment are needed.  Maybe not as dramatic as a virgin, or a first-born, but some aspect of your free time for recreation or relationships is sacrificed to make a focused and committed leap towards accomplishing a goal.  Some have solved this by turning their hobbies into work and their friends come from the same pool of activities.  Either way, one must let go of one’s previous friends and activities to make this change.

I was in a lifeline group of 4.  On the whole, we were weak at holding each other accountable. It seemed no one wanted to alienate the others by firmly holding them accountable to their goals. Maybe this was driven by a secret desire not to be held accountable ourselves. 😉   Despite some measurable success, it is no surprise that our year long lifeline group lost a key member last week.

Holding someone accountable is a genuine skill. It requires creating enough discomfort in the person whilst not alienating them or shaming them. It requires creativity in knowing how to help your friend or colleague solve the problem and inspire them to consistent action. There has to be some level of respect for each other and discomfort to NOT comply.  What is clear is that trust is an essential aspect of being held accountable. Trust that allows you to know that they are not trying to hurt you, but to help you. Trust to know they want you to succeed as much as you do. Trust to know that you’re safe and can be vulnerable without results being compromised.

When all of these elements are present, that relationship is priceless! May you inspire and invite someone to care enough to hold you accountable.

A good friend recently asked me what the value proposition of The Online Bar is. Anytime a new way of organizing and working is introduced this question comes up. What to me is remarkable is how few of us ask that same question of our broken down institutions and modes of organization. Better the devil you know! 🙂

The Online Bar is primarily a community of trust. Dee Hock (Founder of Visa) gives a practical explanation of community below, which helps me express why The Online Bar is focused on building trust through community.

The essence of community, it’s very heart and soul, is the nonmonetary exchange of value…. The nonmonetary exchange of value does not arise solely from altruistic motives. It arises from deep, intuitive, understanding that self-interest is inseparably connected with community interest…that all things are simultaneously independent, interdependent, and intradependent. It requires only ordinary, caring people.” Edited from Dee Hock’s book, One From Many: Visa and the Rise of Chaordic Organization.

Money, markets and measurement have their place. They are important tools indeed. We should honor them and use them.  But they don’t deserve deification…..only fools worship their tools.”  Dee Hock

I see many lawyers broken and on their knees deifying money and technology. Sadly, they remain on their knees with work, lack of friends and a poor quality of life.  No fun, no joy and all hard work describes most lawyers today.

We are certain that a global community of lawyers built on a platform of trust can build anything it desires.

The fastest way to get what you want is to build trust with generosity – without demanding a reward – and collaborate.  Anything else is simply a deferred monetary bargain – a transaction. Trust relies on not keeping score.  Even if one quietly expects a direct monetary reward, trust will eventually be eroded. Sooner or later that person will demand their just rewards (with spam or a pitch) or feel terribly disappointed. Meanwhile for that  person any possibility of doing business at the speed of trust, of designing new and more enjoyable ways of practicing law and organizing is lost.

Don’ be that person. The world will leave you behind in a red ocean of all against all. A world where a bloody triumph will last but seconds before it is snatched by another that is faster and stronger.

Community is a marketplace of trust and generosity. Global collaboration between lawyers requires nothing less than trust and shared values of community.  A desire to have fun, meet, listen and learn from others also helps. 🙂 The Online Bar is evolving as do all communities of trust. Everyone in a community is responsible to lead, hence why where we are going is up to all of US.

Can we have some fun now? 🙂

The decomposition of legal work into discreet task has always fascinated me as in house lawyer.  The hypothesis was that by decomposing, or breaking down repetitive legal work into tasks, one could train non-lawyers to perform those tasks.

For example, one of the most repetitive tasks as a media lawyer for NBC and Telemundo was responding to requests by production to use video or images without a license or permission. The defense for this in news and sports is the fair use of the content. The analysis is too complicated for busy deadline fighting producers to learn. But an intern from law school or any intelligent person could easily learn it and apply it systematically. The methodology is simply breaking down the analysis into modules or task clusters.

Once the process of decomposing legal process begins to gain momentum, the resulting clusters or modules will become more or less standardized. These modules can be outsourced to legal process outsourcing (LPOs). The LPOs will bid for them based upon price, their available infrastructure (talent and systems) and past performance.

It is not inconceivable that these modules become units or widgets that can be processed in different parts of the world at different prices and smoothly supervised and reassembled by the client. This would in effect make legal services a wide open global opportunity. It would in effect erode the monopoly of locality and jurisdiction.

Are you ready?  How do you prepare for this?

We all know that special forces undergo intensive psychological training.  But how is this relevant to a lawyer going solo?

Today, Donna Seyle lead a LexisHub/MH Connected twitter event: New Attorneys transition into new roles.  #MHJOB I came in late and caught some interactions regarding going solo.  As we can expect from our profession the focus was mostly on the “how” and much less on the “why”. On the “how”,  we excel as a profession, on the “why” we’re weak.

What do I mean by the WHY?

I’m referring to the emotional leverage, the emotionally compelling reasons, the myth or legend that drives one out of inertia and into action despite fear or apprehension. Lawyer events are all excellent about “how” to do this, and “how” to that – we’re very good at it.  However, fear, motivation, etc., are emotional responses that cannot always be dealt with the HOW tactics.

Years ago when I was still involved in martial arts, I met one of the best American martial artists. Today, he trains special forces throughout the world.  I asked him if I could mention him for this blog’s topic and he asked me not to, as his work is delicate and shrouded in privacy.  At the time, I met (call him Ryan), he was teaching the public what he had learned from the Russian system of self defense used by Russian special forces.  When the Soviet Union collapsed he was invited to join them in training. The training was intense and often brutal. I forgot most of the techniques over time as I stopped training about 6 years ago.  However, what is still imprinted in my memory is the emotional training I underwent.

After a day of training outdoors beyond the point of exhaustion, was when the real training began. Ryan would send 2-3 of his trained students to attack me.  As most people give up emotionally to defend themselves at this point of exhaustion, Ryan began creating scenarios in which he elicited intense emotional reactions from me regarding saving my wife or my brother or my children from certain death. What was I willing to do in that moment? War has proven that when we have given up on saving ourselves we will still fight to save others.

When the attack comes at that level of emotional arousal it is devastating. It elicits the often quoted image of a mother lifting a car to rescue her child. The only added ingredient was the WHY.

I was no longer defending myself, I was saving my family.  Exhaustion turned to unimaginable power, strength and speed. Thinking about what to do next did not enter my consciousness, the WHY was the only conscious thought. The “how” was simple to execute and already memorized by my muscles in a day of repetition to exhaustion. The attackers all become like a bush, thorny but permeable. I rushed through them like a charging elephant through the brush.  I felt nothing, I heard nothing…I literally executed them to save my imaginary family.

This type of training is not for everyone. The intense emotional stress creates an adrenalin dump  of unhealthy proportions.  But without years to train spec ops soldiers into masters of hand-to-hand combat, the fastest way to success is emotional training – the “WHY”.  Once you have access to this level of emotional arousal you can trigger it again in a moment of danger.

If you’re going solo and you have any apprehension you need a very strong WHY.  You need emotional leverage.  You need to know you will move forward without hesitation.  Remember  the SWAT team member in Die Hard 1, who pricked himself on a rose thorn during the raid?  In the next scene, he was easily picked off by the terrorists – you need to make sure you’re not that guy.

Whilst you’re not fighting for your life, you are dealing with emotional challenges very different from employment.  If you don’t have a strong “why” you will easily surrender and resort to inertia or some compromise job you will learn to hate later. What is your emotional “WHY” you’re going solo? If you don’t have one, I recommend that you do as the Lexis employee confessed yesterday in the event when faced with a solo opportunity – get a job!

Find the ”why” and the “how” will follow.  🙂