Challenge the Way We Think

Challenge the Way We Think

This post is not really about the law, nor any particular small business-related issue, but it is something that I would like to share with our followers. I recently had the opportunity to facilitate a design-thinking exercise with a client. They were looking at one of their core interactions with their customers. This is a well-established service-based business that has been around for several years. They have a staff of 15-20 and have an annual revenue of a few million dollars. 

The most interesting thing that happened in the design thinking was that we asked the staff to put themselves in the position of their primary customers. What were those primary customers feeling, thinking, saying, and doing when they came in contact with the company? That part of the exercise seemed to go very well. People were able to take a step back and understand what their customers were going through. 

The second part of the exercise required the staff to imagine different ways of engaging with the customer and their experience with the company. The second part of the exercise was a bit disappointing. We didn’t have a lot of engagement in the process. Part of the reason for the low engagement may have been the presence of ownership and management in the room. Another part of the reluctance might be that the business model is very old, very well adopted throughout the industry and for the most part works for the business, but maybe not for the customers. There were some ideas, but they didn’t go very deep. This demonstrated an unwillingness to truly think outside the box. The participants themselves knew that they were limiting their creativity to a certain extent. 

This made me think about my profession as a lawyer. Most of us small business owners could say that we haven’t considered a new way of doing things. When presented with an opportunity to truly think outside the box without constraints – budget, other resources, time – we often seem very reluctant or hesitant to step outside that box. The more I listen and read inspiring pieces, the more I am convinced that today’s society just can’t step away from the norm.  

One of the hardest things for us to do at the firm is educate our current and potential clients on the idea of a flat fee general counsel services plan and the value that it could bring to their business. I think there has been an extreme reluctance amongst my colleagues in the bar to embrace these kinds of ideas, largely because it is difficult to see the value. It is hard for us to look past the way that we have been taught. We assume that our constructed reality is right, which then prevents us from finding new, innovative ways to organize information, offer services, and connect with clients.

It is an interesting thought experiment of coming up with different ways of operating – not only a legal practice, but also any other business. As humans, we become habitualized to the way we do things. When asked to truly step outside current practices, to radically challenge our assumptions, it is often very uncomfortable. It is not that we lack the tools to do so. Rather, we fail to recognize how we organize the world, our habits, and the incentives that our habits create. As creatures of habit we restrain ourselves in the way we see and interact with the world. 

It was a tough sell, but the design thinking exercise was a highly instructive opportunity for me. Moving forward, I hope that alongside my client we can approach new ways of resolving their customer relationship problem. I think that removing constraints, such as management in the room, may help us step beyond timid strategies to address the issue at hand. 

One of the takeaways I would like to stress is that as business owners, entrepreneurs, and of course, people, is that we should all take a step back and challenge our assumptions about how we see the world. 

The next step for the client and me, as well as all of us, is to address the challenges that we face while simultaneously having a critical eye on the habitual ways we see the world.