Monthly Archives: October 2012

Three Meditations Relevant to Lawyers and Law Firms on the Significance of Mistakes and Failures


From: The Genius in All of Us, David Shenk

“[T]he notion of deliberate practice went far beyond the simple idea of hard work. It conveyed a method of continual skill improvement. ‘Deliberate practice is a very special form of activity that differs from mere experience and mindless drill,’ explains Ericsson. ‘Unlike playful engagement with peers, deliberate practice is not inherently enjoyable. It … does not involve a mere execution or repetition of already attained skills but repeated attempts to reach beyond one’s current level which is associated with frequent failures.’ …

In other words, it is practice that doesn’t take no for an answer; practice that perseveres; the type of practice where the individual keeps raising the bar of what he or she considers success. …

[This type of practice] requires a constant self-critique, a pathological restlessness, a passion to aim consistently just beyond one’s capability so that daily disappointment and failure is actually desired, and a never-ending resolve to dust oneself off and try again and again and again. …

The physiology of this process also requires extraordinary amounts of elapsed time — not just hours and hours of deliberate practice each day, Ericsson found, but also thousands of hours over the course of many years. Interestingly, a number of separate studies have turned up the same common number, concluding that truly outstanding skill in any domain is rarely achieved in less than ten thousand hours of practice over ten years’ time (which comes to an average of three hours per day). From sublime pianists to unusually profound physicists, researchers have been very hard-pressed to find any examples of truly extraordinary performers in any field who reached the top of their game before that ten-thousand-hour mark.”

Author: David Shenk
Title: The Genius in All of Us
Publisher: Anchor
Date: Copyright 2010 by David Shenk
Pages: 53-57



From 11 Rules for Creating Value in the #Social Era, Nilofer Merchant

“[Rule 7.]  Mistakes can build trust. Reach and connection in the Social Era start to be understood as a relationship similar to falling in love, following an arc of romance, struggle, commitment, and co-creation. These are not easily controlled by one party over the other but are a process of coming together. And the relationship gains strength from trying new things and the resulting failures, for it is in the process of making mistakes – and the ensuing forgiveness – that resilience develops. Any vulnerability we feel along the way actually begets trust in the marketplace. And though they are difficult to forge, such robust relationships are more likely to endure the inevitable ups and downs of the market.

[Rule 8.]   Learn. Unlearn. (Repeat.) Rather than viewing change as an aberration, we understand it as a natural part of the organization’s development. Adaptability is central to how organizations and people thrive in the Social Era. In psychological language, the key to adaptability and personal growth is resilience. In biology, the equivalent term for adaptive skills is plasticity. In financial language, the term we might have used in the industrial era was liquidity, because it could measure how an organization was able to withstand the unexpected. In the Social Era, the term to uwse is flexibility. Our goal is to learn our way into the future.”

Author: Nilofer Merchant
Title: 11 Rules for Creating Value in the #Social Era
Date: Copyright 2012 by Nilofer Merchant
Locations: 120-129



From Growth is Dead: Part 6, Adam Smith, Esq. …an inquiry into the economics of law firms

“Not punishing failure leads to stronger long-term growth.

Other industries, and companies, learn through failure. We bury our failures.

But this fault – and make no mistake, it’s a categorical fault – is in our nature as lawyers.

We cannot willingly enter into situations where failure comes with the territory. We can’t weather the criticism, can’t risk the second-guessing, don’t have the emotional fortitude or resilience to explain why what we did was a thoughtfully calculated risk and one we’d do again.

I submit that our rigid intolerance for failure is so extreme and ultimately perverse that it disables us from being capable of sound decisionmaking.

Going forward will require a different mindset.”

Author: Bruce MacEwen
Title: Growth is Dead: Part 6, Adam Smith, Esq. … an inquiry into the economics of law firms
Date: October 14, 2012

Blame Is the Lawyers’ Game, But a Poor Management Tool

Famously, lawyers are professional layers of blame. It’s a good business to be in, but it’s no way to run a  law firm.

Structuring relationships and evaluating decisions based on fault and blame is corrosive and paralyzing. Do I need to break it down? Accountability, yes; learn from failures, yes; blame and assign culpability, no. Bruce MacEwen recently diagnosed lawyers’ predispositions to  blaming as the fatal strategic flaw of 21st Century law firms.

There’s legal, business and interpersonal blaming; and they all come together in law firms. Come together and get tangled up. The best and most readily accessible thinker about interpersonal blaming  that I know is Virginia Satir.  See Satir, The Satir Model (Science and Behavior 1991) ISBN:0831400781

The most useful application of Satir’s thought to workplace relationships is Gerald Weinberg’s Quality Software Management: Congruent Action. (New York: Dorset House 1994).

Weinberg and Jean McLendon have a good article, “Beyond Blaming,” that outlines the issues. It speaks to what underlies MacEwen’s strategic diagnosis.

McLendon’s article, “Healing the Ailing Workplace,” applies the same material to organizations. IEEE Software Journal (The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., May/June, 1998). How does a healthy organization process problems and make plans? Not by blaming.