December 11, 2017

The Secret Joys of Bureaucracy

“So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments
for inspectors to inspect inspectors.”

-Buckminster Fuller

We met anthropologist David Graeber last time. His book The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy takes on a universally-acknowledged kind of modern workplace drudgery: the mind-numbing bureaucracies built around filling in forms. This is from an interview in The Guardian:

A few years ago David Graeber’s mother had a series of strokes. Social workers advised him that, in order to pay for the home care she needed, he should apply for Medicaid, the US government health insurance programme for people on low incomes. So he did, only to be sucked into a vortex of form filling and humiliation familiar to anyone who’s ever been embroiled in bureaucratic procedures.

At one point, the application was held up because someone at the Department of Motor Vehicles had put down his given name as “Daid”; at another, because someone at Verizon had spelled his surname “Grueber.” Graeber made matters worse by printing his name on the line clearly marked “signature” on one of the forms. Steeped in Kafka, Catch-22 and David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, Graeber was alive to all the hellish ironies of the situation but that didn’t make it any easier to bear. ‘We spend so much of our time filling in forms,’ he says. ‘The average American waits six months of her life waiting for the lights to change. If so, how many years of our life do we spend doing paperwork?’

The matter became academic, because Graeber’s mother died before she got Medicaid. But the form-filling ordeal stayed with him. “Having spent much of my life leading a fairly bohemian existence, comparatively insulated from this sort of thing, I found myself asking: is this what ordinary life, for most people, is really like? Running around feeling like an idiot all day?”

In other words, it’s almost 2018 — with all our smart technology, you’d think we could do better — for the people on both sides of the bureaucratic desk. The interview continues:

[Graeber] quotes with approval the anarchist collective Crimethinc:

Putting yourself in new situations constantly is the only way
 to ensure that you make your decisions unencumbered
 by the nature of habit, law, custom or prejudice
 – and it’s up to you to create the situations.

That’s good paradigm-shifting advice. We could follow it all the way to eliminating “the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy.” As you would expect, a whole bunch of enterprising software developers are already on it — here’s a software list. In fact, if it’s a dull, repetitive job, we probably already have technology that can do it better than humans can.

But that would eliminate all those mind-numbing bureaucratic jobs. Then what? Then it’s time for the second half of the Buckminster Fuller quote above:

The true business of people should be to go back to school
 and think about whatever it was they were thinking about
before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.

A friend of mine was a chimney sweep. He’d be up on the roof, shaking down soot with his long-handled brushes, and downstairs his helpers would screen off the fireplace and capture the soot with a high-powered vacuum before it ruined the homeowner’s den. “Don’t wallow in it,” he’d tell them.

That’s also good paradigm-shifting advice. Trouble is, our brain wiring loves to wallow in the old ways of doing things — including filling in forms — at least until, as the saying goes, the pain of status quo becomes greater than the pain of change.

We’ll be looking more at workplace paradigm shifts in the coming weeks. But first, next time we’ll let a poet help us wallow a bit more in workplace drudgery.

 

Kevin Rhodes is on a mission to bring professional excellence and personal wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law. His past blog posts for the CBA have been collected in two volumes — click the book covers for more information.

Bullshit Jobs

“Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do.”
Oscar Wilde

Radio journalist Studs Terkel interviewed hundreds of people for his 1974 book Working. Here are a couple quotes from it:

Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.

Most of us have jobs that are too small for our spirit. Jobs are not big enough for people.

Apparently not much has changed in the 43 years since Working came out. Consider this from The Power of Meaning, by Emily Esfahani Smith (2017):

Today, about 70 percent of all employees either are “not engaged” in their work—that is, they feel uninvolved, uncommitted, and unenthusiastic about it—or are “actively disengaged” from it, and less than half of all workers feel satisfied with their jobs.

Or consider anthropologist David Graeber’s widely circulated 2013 article On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant:

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshalled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

“Virtually no one talks about it.” Why not? The Financial Times ran an article a couple months ago called Britain’s Joyless Jobs Market Can Be Bad For Your Health. (It’s here, but you’ll have to subscribe to read it.) It makes the same point as the following quote from the article published by the Lawyers Assistance Program of British Columbia which we looked at a few weeks ago:

[I]t is unhealthy to do meaningless, unchallenging, uncreative work, especially for those that are intelligent and well trained.

Seems like a pretty uncontroversial thing to say, but you can’t tell from the nastiness in the comments that follow the article — one more sad case of polarized opinions talking past each other and the loss of meaningful discourse. Not only can’t we talk about economics, but apparently we also can’t talk about how crummy jobs ruin our health.

Why has it become so inflammatory to suggest that boring, meaningless work might not be a good thing? Because of the widespread “truths” about work that have become culturally sacred. To many — maybe most — people, work represents a moral good, no matter how boring, trite, thoughtless, and demeaning.

One person who isn’t afraid to talk about it is Rutgers history professor James Livingston. He says the following in his book No More Work: Why full employment is a bad idea (2016):

Work means everything to us. For centuries—since, say, 1650[1]—we’ve believed that it builds character (punctuality, initiative, honesty, self-discipline, and so forth). We’ve also believed that the market in labor, where we go to find work, has been relatively efficient in allocating opportunities and incomes. And we’ve also believed that even if it sucks, the job gives meaning, purpose, and structure to our everyday lives—at any rate we’re pretty sure that it gets us out of bed, pays the bills, makes us feel responsible, and keeps us away from daytime TV.

Those beliefs are no longer plausible. In fact, they’ve become ridiculous, because there’s not enough work to go around, and what there is of it won’t pay the bills—unless, of course, you’ve landed a job as a drug dealer or a Wall Street banker, becoming a gangster either way.

[Work] no longer functions as either a moral calendar or an economic calculator. You will learn nothing about character by going to work at the minimum wage because the gangsters or the morons at corporate headquarters control your opportunities; you will learn nothing about the rationality of the market because the same people determine your income.

More next time.


[1] 1650 is the year René Descartes died.

 

Kevin Rhodes left a successful long-term law practice to scratch a creative itch and lived to tell about it… barely. Since then, he has been on a mission to bring professional excellence and personal wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law. He has also blogged extensively and written several books about his unique journey to wellness, including how he deals with primary progressive MS through an aggressive regime of exercise, diet, and mental conditioning.

Some Suggested Reading

Last week was a rich one for new articles on the topics we’ve been exploring lately, such as economic inequality, neoliberalism, globalization, and the need for an economic paradigm shift. If you’re so inclined, you might like to check these out:

This article from The Boston Review, by Dani Rodrick, an economist whose research covers globalization, economic growth and development, and political economy. He is the Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He was previously the Albert O. Hirschman Professor in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (2013-2015), and is President-Elect of the International Economic Association. Here’s a sample from the article:

As even its harshest critics concede, neoliberalism is hard to pin down. In broad terms, it denotes a preference for markets over government, economic incentives over social or cultural norms, and private entrepreneurship over collective or community action. It has been used to describe a wide range of phenomena—from Augusto Pinochet to Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, from the Clinton Democrats and Britain’s New Labour to the economic opening in China and the reform of the welfare state in Sweden.

The term is used as a catchall for anything that smacks of deregulation, liberalization, privatization, or fiscal austerity. Today it is reviled routinely as a short-hand for the ideas and the practices that have produced growing economic insecurity and inequality, led to the loss of our political values and ideals, and even precipitated our current populist backlash.

As we heap scorn on neoliberalism, we risk throwing out some of its useful ideas.

We live in the age of neoliberalism, apparently. But who are neoliberalism’s adherents and disseminators—the neoliberals? Oddly, you would almost have to go back to the early 1980s to find anyone explicitly embracing neoliberalism.

This report from Credit Suisse on the state of global wealth, as summarized here by Time Magazine. Again, a sample:

In its annual report on the state of global wealth, Credit Suisse says 1.1 million new millionaires were created in the U.S. in 2017. That brings the total number of millionaires in the U.S. up to approximately 15,356,000, or about one in every 20 Americans.

Americans now account for 43 percent of the world’s millionaires.

Yet not everyone is benefiting from the booming global economy. Credit Suisse finds that across all global regions, wealth inequality has increased from 2007 to 2016. And in every region of the world except for China, they say, median wealth has actually declined. Despite its plurality of millionaires, the U.S.’s median wealth of $55,876 puts it 21st place in the world, alongside Austria and Greece.

Median wealth per adult favors countries with lower levels of wealth inequality, Credit Suisse said, and there is exceptionally high disparity between the rich and poor in the U.S.

This article from the World Economic Forum, written by Alberto Gallo, Portfolio Manager and Head of Macro Strategies for Algebris Investments, a London-based asset management company which specializes in the global finance sector. The subject is economic inequality. Here’s a sample:

Paul Ryan, speaker of the House of Representatives, recently stated that “in our country, the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life.”

Yet the idea that every American has an equal opportunity to move up in life is false. Social mobility has declined over the past decades, median wages have stagnated and today’s young generation is the first in modern history expected to be poorer than their parents. The lottery of life – the postcode where you were born – can account for up to two thirds of the wealth an individual generates.

Finally, I just finished the book Grave New World: The End of Globalization, The Return of History, by Stephen D. King (2017). Mr. King is Senior Economic Advisor to HSBC as well as an author, journalist, consultant. and specialist advisor to the House of Commons Treasury Committee. His other books include Losing Control: The Emerging Threats to Western Prosperity (2010) and When the Money Runs Out: The End of Western Affluence (2013). Grave New World is unique among those I’ve read in that it offers a multi-national history of globalization:

Globalization is often regarded as ‘one-way traffic’. In the modern age, we think of extraordinary advances in technology… Seen through these technological advances it is easy to believe that globalization is inevitable; that distances are becoming ever shorter; that national borders are slowly dissolving; and that, whether we like it or not, we live In a single global marketplace for goods, services, capital and labor.

Technology alone, however, does not determine globalization, and nor does it rule out competing versions of globalization at any one moment in time.

Globalization is driven not just by technological advance, but also by the development — and demise — of the ideas and institutions that form our politics, frame our economies and fashion our financial systems both locally and globally. When existing ideas are undermined and institutional infrastructures implode, no amount of new technology is likely to save the day.

Our ideas and institutions shift with alarming regularity… Even when patterns of globalization endure for many centuries, they can break down remarkably quickly, leading to dramatic changes in fortune.”

Happy reading! And Happy Thanksgiving! See you next week for a look at “bullshit jobs.”

 

Kevin Rhodes is on a mission to bring professional excellence and personal wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law. His past blog posts for the CBA have been collected in two volumes — click the book covers for more information.

Whatever Happened to Working for a Living? (Continued)

“Politically, every transformation has begun
with a repudiation of the certainties of the previous age.”

– Economist Guy Standing

Last time, I quoted at length from economist Guy Standing’s analysis of how the notion of working for a living has historically fared under the social democracy and neoliberalism economic models. Prof. Standing believes that, as a result of the developments chronicled there, a new class system now dominates the working world. Again, I’ll quote from his book The Corruption of Capitalism (2016):

Globalization, neo-liberal policies, institutional changes and the technological revolution have combined to generate a new global class structure superimposed on preceding class structures. This consists of a tiny plutocracy (perhaps 0.001 per cent) atop a bigger elite, a “salariat” (in relatively secure salaried jobs), “proficians” (freelance professionals), a core working class, a precariat and a “lumpen-precariat” at the bottom. The plutocracy, elite, salariat, and proficians enjoy not just higher incomes but gain most (or an increasing part) of their income from capital and rental income.

The three classes below them gain nothing in rent. Indeed, increasingly they pay rent in some form to the classes above them. First, there is the shrinking proletariat, relying mainly on labour in stable, mostly full-time jobs, with schooling that matches the skills their jobs require. The precariat, which ranks below the proletariat in income, consists of millions of people obliged to accept a life of unstable labour and living, without an occupational identity or corporate narrative to give to their lives. Their employers come and go, or are expected to do so.

Many in the precariat are over-qualified for the jobs they must accept; they also have a high ratio of unpaid “work” in labour — looking and applying for jobs, training and retraining, queuing and form-filling, networking or just waiting around. They also rely mainly on money wages, which are often inadequate, volatile, and unpredictable. They lack access to rights-based state benefits and are losing civil, cultural, social, economic and political rights, making them supplicants if they need help to survive.

This precariat is all over the world. . . . For instance, more Americans today see themselves as in the lower classes. In 2000, according to Gallup polls, 63 percent saw themselves as middle-class and 33 percent as lower-class. In 2015, 51 percent saw themselves as middle-class and 48 percent as lower-class. Similar trends have been reported elsewhere.

Below the precariat in the social spectrum is what might be called a “lumpen-precariat,” an underclass of social victims relying on charity, often homeless and destitute, suffering from social illnesses including drug addiction and depression. . . . Their numbers are rising remorselessly; they are a badge of shame on society.

Prof. Standing’s unique contribution to the conversation about work, happiness, and meaning is his identification of the new social strata. The balance of his analysis is not unique — as he says above, it has been reported “all over the world.” In the coming weeks, we’ll look at various implications of these findings:

The old job market’s last stand — “bullshit jobs”;

Whether the middle class is truly vanishing;

Whether a rising tide truly does float all boats;

Why this might be a good time for a new vision of utopia; and

Why your next associate hire might be a robot.

And much more. Stay tuned.

 

Kevin Rhodes left a successful long-term law practice to scratch a creative itch and lived to tell about it… barely. Since then, he has been on a mission to bring professional excellence and personal wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law. He has also blogged extensively and written several books about his unique journey to wellness, including how he deals with primary progressive MS through an aggressive regime of exercise, diet, and mental conditioning.

Professional Paradigms New and Old (Part 7): Traumatic Transformation, and What Do You Do When Your Paradigm is Done Shifting?

Professional paradigm shifts require transformation not just for the profession’s culture, but for the individuals in it.

wired%20to%20createIn their book Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, authors Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire identify several ways individual paradigm-shifting transformation gets started. One is inspiration, which they say comes in three stages:

The first stage is that unsolicited moment when we feel inspired, “by a role model, teacher, experience, or subject matter.”

“Next comes transcendent awakening — a moment of clarity and an awareness of new possibilities.

“Which leads to the third hallmark feature of inspiration: a striving to transmit, express, or actualize a new idea, insight, or vision.” (Emphasis in original.)

Individual paradigm shifts are also prompted by traumatic life events, resulting in what psychologists call “posttraumatic growth.” Again from Wired to Create:

After a traumatic event, such as a serious illness or loss of a loved one, individuals intensely process the event—they’re constantly thinking about what happened, and usually with strong emotional reactions.

[T]his kind of repetitive thinking is a critical step toward thriving in the wake of a challenge… we’re working hard to make sense of it and to find a place for it in our lives that still allows us to have a strong sense of meaning and purpose.

I have personal experience with both inspiration and trauma. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, “I have a personal, real-time, vested interest in change because I’ve been on a steep personal transformation learning curve for nearly a decade — for all sorts of reasons I’ve written about in my books, my personal blog, and sometimes in this column.” Learning, writing, and conducting workshops about the psychological and neurological dynamics of transformation has been has been my way of being proactive about something I’ve come to call “traumatic transformation.”

ApocalypseIn fact, I just finished a new book that completes my decade-long intensive on personal transformation. As always, I’ve learned a lot writing it, but the most startling discovery is that paradigm shifts don’t go on forever: a time actually comes when the new fully replaces the old. Now that I’ve finished it, I can see that writing the book was in part a way for me to bring closure to my years of personal paradigm shifting.

That being the case, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to set aside my transformation journey and let its lessons play out for awhile. Which is why, after today’s post, I’m going to take an indefinite vacation from writing this column. At this point, I have no fresh thoughts to add to what I’ve been writing about for the past several years. Instead of repeating myself, I want to take a break and see if anything new comes up. If so, I’ll come back and share it.

In the meantime, my endless thanks to the Colorado Bar Association and CBA-CLE and to my fabulous editor Susan Hoyt for letting me trot out my research and theories and personal revelations in this forum. And equally many thanks to those of you who’ve read and thought about and sometimes even taken some of these ideas to heart and put them into practice.

On the wall above the desk where I write, I have a dry-mounted copy of the very last Sunday Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, which I cut out of the newspaper the morning it ran. (Speaking of paradigm shifts, remember newspapers?) There’s a fresh snow, and our two heroes hop on their sled and go bouncing down a hill as Calvin exults, “It’s a magical world, Hobbes ol’ buddy… Let’s go exploring!”

I suspect Calvin and Hobbes are still out there, exploring. I plan to join them.

You?

Apocalypse: Life On The Other Side Of Over was just published yesterday. It’s a free download from the publisher, like my other books. Or click on this link or the book cover for details.

And if we don’t run into each other out there exploring, feel free to email me.

 

Professional Paradigms New and Old (Part 6): Law Beyond Blame

rhodes(At the end of last week’s post, I promised a follow up this week. We’ll get to that next week. In the meantime, the following was just too pertinent to pass up.)

In several posts over the past couple years, we’ve looked at how technology acts as a disruptive innovator, shifting paradigms in the legal profession. I recently came across another disruptor: the biology of the brain. Its implications reach much further than, let’s say, Rocket Lawyer.

David Eagleman is his own weather system. Here’s his website — talk about creds. His short bio is “a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, where he directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action, and the Initiative on Neuroscience and the Law.” The latter’s website posts news about “neulaw,” and includes CLE offerings. Among other things, neulaw tackles a bastion of legal theory: the notion of culpability.

Incognito_Cover_EaglemanEagleman’s book Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain contains a long chapter entitled “Why Blameworthiness Is The Wrong Question.” It begins with the story of Charles Whitman, who climbed a tower at the University of Texas in August 1966 and started shooting, leaving 13 people dead and 38 wounded before being killed himself. He left a suicide note that included the following:

“I do not understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts… If my life insurance policy is valid please pay off my debts… donate the rest to a mental health foundation. Maybe research can prevent further tragedies of this type.”

Whitman’s brain was examined and a tumor was found in the sector that regulates fear and aggression. Psychologists have known since the late 1800s that impairment in this area results in violence and social disturbance. Against this backdrop, Eagleman opens his discussion of blameworthiness with some good questions:

Does this discovery of Whitman’s brain tumor modify your feelings about his senseless murdering? If Whitman had survived that day, would it adjust the sentencing you would consider appropriate for him? Does the tumor change the degree to which you consider it “his fault”?

On the other hand, wouldn’t it be dangerous to conclude that people with a tumor are somehow free of guilt, or that they should be let off the hook for their crimes?

The man on the tower with the mass in his brain gets us right into the heart of the question of blameworthiness. To put it in the legal argot: was he culpable?

The law has accommodated impaired states of mind for a long time, but Eagleman’s analysis takes the issue much further, all the way to the core issue of free will, as currently understood not by moral and ethical theorists but by brain science. Incognito is an extended examination of just how much brain activity occurs beneath the level of conscious detection, in both “normal” and impaired persons. Consider these excerpts:

[T]he legal system rests on the assumption that we do have free will — and we are judged based on this perceived freedom.

As far as the legal system sees it, humans . . . use conscious deliberation when deciding how to act. We make our own decisions.

Historically, clinicians and lawyers have agreed on an intuitive distinction between neurological disorders (“brain problems”) and psychiatric disorders (“mind problems”).

The more we discover about the circuitry of the brain, the more the answers . . . move toward the details of the biology. The shift from blame to science reflects our modern understanding that our perceptions and behaviors are controlled by inaccessible [neurological] subroutines that can be easily perturbed.

[A] slight change in the balance of brain chemicals can cause large changes in behavior. The behavior of the patient cannot be separated from his biology.

Think about that for a moment — as a lawyer, and as a human being. The idea that our biology controls our behavior — not our state of mind or conscious decision-making — is repugnant not only to the law, but to our everyday perceptions of free will and responsibility. Tamper with free will, and a whole lot of paradigms — not just legal notions of culpability — come crashing down.

Eagleman’s discussion of these issues in Incognito is detailed and thoughtful, and far too extensive to convey in this short blog post. If you’re intrigued, I recommend it highly.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for over 30 years. Drawing on insights gathered from science, technology, disruptive innovation, entrepreneurship, neuroscience, and psychology, and also from his personal experiences as a practicing lawyer and a “life athlete,” he’s on a mission to bring wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law.

Professional Paradigms New and Old (Part 5): Why Change if We Don’t Have To?

rhodesWhy change if we don’t have to?

Good question. I Googled it. The most hits were about the hazards of not changing your car’s oil, plus a few along the same lines about furnace filters or the water filter on the fridge. There was one about changing your underwear, and a few about lifestyle changes related to health issues. All of those are maintenance issues — mechanical, hygiene, health — which we would generally consider have to’s.

What about changing to keep up with the competitive pressures of the marketplace? There’s a lot of keeping up with the Joneses thinking out there, but in my observation, making yourself afraid of what the competition might do rarely results in anything other than drama. No have to in that.

Recently, at a CLE workshop in South Carolina, a participant asked, “Aren’t there some things we don’t need to change?” The question brought me up short, reminded me why we were investing a whole day talking about change: we were there to enhance professionalism, help us do our work better, keep us ethical, and maybe even help us to be happy practicing law — or find the courage to get out. That’s why we needed to talk about things like law school inflicted brain damage, lawyer substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and suicide, and the value of personal happiness in supporting ethical behavior. Some things are broken and need to be fixed, and some things we do to keep our edge — both are necessary maintenance, part of our professional have to’s.

But there was a second part to my answer. Beyond those maintenance issues, I agree: let’s not change if we don’t want to. I’m not sure it’s even possible. I do know that grudging change never seems to work.

I say that even though I think and write a lot about change — particularly the psychological and neurological dynamics of personal transformation. (You may have noticed.) If I were still in law practice, I would no doubt be incorporating the not-so-futuristic practice developments into my firm, and otherwise actively engaging with the huge paradigm shift happening in our profession.

But that’s not everybody’s choice, and I get that. They’re content to let those developments play out by the process of cultural evolution. If a day comes that threatens obsolescence beyond mere fear-mongering, it will become a shared maintenance issue, and we’ll take care of it together… but probably not before.

All that went into my answer to the question in South Carolina. Which made me ask myself once again what’s behind my own commitment to change. Bottom line is, I have a personal, real-time, vested interest in change because I’ve been on a steep personal transformation learning curve for nearly a decade — for all sorts of reasons I’ve written about in my books, my personal blog, and sometimes in this column. Thinking and writing about it is my way of being proactive about my own best interests.

More next time on why that’s relevant to this blog.

Rhodes_4

Check out this collection of last year’s Future of Law blog posts. It’s a FREE download. Also included is the Culture of Law series from the second half of 2015. Click this link or the cover for downloading details.

Professional Paradigms New and Old (Part 4): Failure As A Virtue

rhodesAs we saw last week, one way to engage with a paradigm shift is to “walk in stupid every day.” That won’t be easy for professionals: our job is to be smart; our brains are culturally wired with that expectation. Being “stupid” turns that cultural expectation on its ear, makes our brain circuits fritz.

So does another powerful paradigm-busting tool: learning to embrace failure. Professional cultural paradigms include conventional wisdom about how to succeed; flying in the face of them is a set up for failure.

In their book Wired to Create (which we looked at last time), Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire cite the work of psychologist Robert J. Sternberg, who identified several key attributes of people who are “willing to generate and promote ideas that are novel and even strange and out of fashion” — i.e., who would embrace a paradigm shift. According to Dr. Sternberg, that kind of person:

  • Tries to do what others think is impossible;
  • Is a noncomformist;
  • Is unorthodox;
  • Questions societal norms, truisms, and assumptions.

Life is risky for nonconformists. According to Kaufman and Gregoire:

Sternberg found that artists [who participated in his study] said that a creative person is one who takes risks and is willing to follow through on the consequences of those risks. Businesspeople, meanwhile, responded that a creative person in the business world is one who steers clear of the pitfalls of conventional ways of thinking.

The inherent risks of unconventional thinking require a willingness to fail — so says organizational psychologist Adam Grant in his TED talk on “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers”:

The greatest originals are the ones who fail the most, because they’re the ones who try the most. You need a lot of bad ideas in order to get a few good ones.

No wonder W+K — the uber-creative ad agency we looked at last time — has a Fail Harder Wall.

Then what about our professional obligation to be smart, and steer clear of risk and failure? David P Barash, evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology and biology at the University of Washington, tackles that conundrum in an article entitled “Paradigms Lost” that begins this way:

Science is not a “body of knowledge” – it’s a dynamic, ongoing reconfiguration of knowledge and must be free to change.

The capacity for self-correction is the source of science’s immense strength, but the public is unnerved by the fact that scientific wisdom isn’t immutable. Scientific knowledge changes with great speed and frequency – as it should – yet public opinion drags with reluctance to be modified once established. And the rapid ebb and flow of scientific “wisdom” has left many people feeling jerked around, confused, and increasingly resistant to science itself.

Unlike science, the law profession’s conventional cultural paradigm does not embrace change “with great speed and frequency.” On the other hand, the new paradigm/technology-driven legal practice developments do precisely that — which, according to the existing paradigm, makes them a high risk, fast road to failure.

Those who choose to innovate in the face of this risk need creativity and courage. Once again, this is from Wired to Create:

The history of creative thought and social progress is littered with similar stories of banned books, culture wars, persecuted artists, and paradigm-shifting innovations that change the way we look at the world.

In choosing to do things differently, [creative people] accept the possibility of failure — but it is precisely this risk that opens up the possibility of true innovation.

But can a professional paradigm truly embrace failure? More next time.

Rhodes_4

Check out this collection of last year’s Future of Law blog posts. It’s a FREE download. Also included is the Culture of Law series from the second half of 2015. Click this link or the cover for downloading details.

Professional Paradigms New and Old (Part 3): “Walk in Stupid Everyday”

We looked last year at physicist Thomas Kuhn’s model for how paradigms shift, and also explored another scientist’s exhortation “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Good, quotable advice, but how do you create what you can’t see? Richard and Daniel Susskind say often in their book The Future of the Professions that, as they travel the world delivering their message, many professionals agree that there’s a massive paradigm shift currently happening in the professions, just not their own.

Why this paradigm shift blindness?

wired%20to%20createReason 1: Too Much Expertise

Authors Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire describe this phenomenon in their marvelous book Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind:

While experience is an important aspect of excellence in any creative discipline, one risk of being a seasoned pro is that we become so entrenched in our own point of view that we have trouble seeing other solutions. Experts may have trouble being flexible and adapting to change because they are so highly accustomed to seeing things in a particular way.

Reason 2: Cultural Blindness

In each of the past two years (here and here), we’ve also looked at research from the emerging field of cultural neurology that suggests our brains’ observation and cognitive faculties are so linked to our cultural context that we simply can’t see paradigm shifts when they happen. Our cultural bias blinds us — it determines what we see and don’t see, and can literally blind us to new developments happening in our midst.

Reason 3: Not Being a Newcomer

Again from Wired to Create: “the newcomers to a field are sometimes the ones who come up with the ideas that truly innovate and shift paradigms.” In the law, the newcomers are responsible for the wave of new practice models and technologies. As I said last year, “By the time the new paradigm’s opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it, the paradigm we can’t see now will be the only one the new generation has ever known.”

MavericksA Cure for Paradigm Shift Blindness: Get Stupid

Dan Wieden is imminently quotable. He ought to be: he’s one of the namesakes of legendary ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, and personally created Nike’s “Just Do it” slogan.

W+K has offices all over the world and bills over a billion dollars annually. Their website is a creative trip all its own — you might enjoy cruising it, if you have a moment. The firm was profiled in a 2006 business bestseller, Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win, where Wieden was famously quoted as saying this about his approach to keeping W+K at the top of its game:

Whatever day it is, something in the world changed overnight,
and you better figure out what it is and what it means.
You have to forget what you just did and what you just learned
You have to walk in stupid every day.

Lawyers aren’t the only professionals who will have trouble following that advice. People pay us to be smart; their benefit and our livelihood depend on it. True, but there’s a whole lot of shaking goin’ on around us. We might want to get stupid enough to see it.

Next time, we’ll look at another paradigm shifting skill that won’t come easy: embracing failure.

 

Mavericks at Work may be the best business book I’ve ever read. If you like that kind of thing, you owe it to yourself.

And Wired to Create is the best I’ve ever read on its topic. Author Scott Barry Kaufman is the scientific director of the Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania, and Carolyn Gregoire is a senior writer at the Huffington Post, covering psychology, mental health, and neuroscience. And that’s just the first sentence of each of their author bios. Talk about creds.)

 

Rhodes_4

Check out this collection of last year’s Future of Law blog posts. It’s a FREE download. Also included is the Culture of Law series from the second half of 2015. Click this link or the cover for downloading details.

Professional Paradigms New and Old (Part 2): You Had Me At The Creds

rhodesI met a friend for a beer last Thursday, and told him about my blog post that day about the future (actually the end) of the professions.

“I’ve got a story for you about that,” he said. “I thought now that I’m retired, I should get my affairs in order.”

I practiced estate planning, so my ears perked up. He told me about all the useful information, forms, and software he’d found online, also about the estate planning seminars he’d attended and the presenting lawyers’ “don’t try this at home” pitches. And his incredulous response to their fee quotes “for things I could do myself.”

He’s newly retired from an illustrious teaching career — an Ivy League grad, six published books, awards and accolades everywhere. He has a huge and healthy respect for the professions and professionalism. And he had more to say.

“In education, it’s gotten to the point where it’s, why even bother to go to school? It’s all available online. You can learn what you want, your own way.”

Then he paused. “But I still wouldn’t go to a surgeon who didn’t have the credentials.”

Ah, the credentials. Is that why people still go to law school, med school, get a CPA, a teaching certificate?

Yes, in part, but the world of professional credentials is changing. I talked about this in a post last March called Strange Bedfellows: Commercial Law and Legal Ethics. Here’s an excerpt:

Peer-to-peer is what’s driving the new sharing economy. Consider this from a recent article in Time Magazine:

The key to [the sharing economy] was the discovery that while we totally distrust strangers, we totally trust people — significantly more than we trust corporations or governments. Many sharing-company founders have one thing in common: they worked at eBay and, in bits and pieces, recreated that company’s trust and safety division. Rather than rely on insurance and background checks, its innovation was getting both the provider and the user to rate each other, usually with one to five stars. That eliminates the few bad actors who made everyone too nervous to deal with strangers.

In that post, I made these two predictions (among others):

  • The peer-to-peer dynamic will prevail in significant economic sectors — including the professional service sector of which the legal profession is a part.
  • The resulting consumer satisfaction data will have a curious side effect as a new kind of legal ethics watchdog.

As for the latter, I said this:

Peer-to-peer is the ultimate in self-policing, which makes its extension to legal ethics unlikely but logical. Rule 8.3 — the duty to report unethical behavior among our peers — has long been a part of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, but has been more honored in the breach than the observance. The new, democratized marketplace will take this matter into its own hands.

In other words, the professional paradigm will shift — in fact, is already shifting — to include peer-to-peer review as an alternative form of professional credentialing.

True, the typical consumer still wants law school and bar admittance credentials for the legal equivalent of surgery, but for the rest, we’re seeing a major shift in consumer attitudes toward my friend’s — to the point where the consumer is more likely to buy from someone (lawyer or not, which is its own topic) who gets 20 five-star ratings for estate planning offered at a reasonable price (which my buddy gave as 10 percent of what the seminar lawyers were charging). They’ve got the creds the consumer wants… just a different kind.

Like it or not, it’s happening out there in the New Economy marketplace, and we’ll see more of it in our house. We’re not all the way to lawyers posting client ratings on a five-star scale yet, but one day… I’ll bet it happens. I also bet that day will come way sooner than most lawyers would care to predict.

 

For Bill Gates’ take on the value of a college education credentials, check out his post yesterday on LinkedIn Pulse.

And for a toe dip into the New Economy, take a look here and here.

Rhodes_4Check out this collection of last year’s Future of Law blog posts. It’s a FREE download. Also included is the Culture of Law series from the second half of 2015. Click this link or the cover for downloading details.

Professional Paradigms New and Old (Part 1): The Future Is Here, And We’re Not In It

The%20Future%20of%20the%20ProfessionsThe first six months of 2015, this blog ran a series on the Future of Law. About halfway through, I discovered the work of law futurist Richard Susskind, and quoted his books several times after that.

Richard and his son Daniel recently teamed up to publish The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts.

The book takes commitment to get through — it is exhaustively (sometimes exhaustingly) researched, and written with the painstaking (sometimes painful in its meticulousness) logic of philosophy (or a legal brief). But if you want to make your own contribution to the future of the profession, it’s an absolute must-read.

Among other things, you’ll find lots of new news about practice models and technologies — not just in law, but the other professions as well — which gives a sense of the vastness of the paradigm shift currently well underway in all the professions.

Here’s how the book summarizes its message:

[T]he professions are our current solution to a pervasive problem, namely, that none of us has sufficient specialist knowledge to allow us to cope with all the challenges that life throws at us. We have limited understanding, and so we turn to doctors, lawyers, teachers, architects, and other professionals because they have ‘practical expertise’ that we need to bring to bear in our daily lives. In a print-based society, we have interposed the professions, as gatekeepers, between individuals and organizations, and the knowledge and experience to which they need access.

In the first two parts of the book we describe the changes taking place within the professions, and we develop various theories (largely technological and economic) that lead us to conclude that, in the future—in the fully fledged, technology-based Internet society—increasingly capable machines, autonomously or with non-specialist users, will take on many of the tasks that currently are the exclusive realm of the professions.

While we do not anticipate an overnight, big-bang revolution, equally we do not expect a leisurely evolutionary progression into the post-professional society. Instead, we predict what we call and ‘incremental transformation’ in the way in which we organize and share expertise in society, a displacement of the traditional professions in a staggered series of steps and bounds. Although the change will come in increments, its eventual impact will be radical and pervasive.

In other words, the professions as we have known them are facing the full implications of a massive paradigm shift from analog to digital in how we create, curate, and communicate wisdom, expertise, and specialized knowledge. The old paradigm relied on manuscripts and human brains; the new is proliferated in digitized forms most of us can barely conceive of.

The result? Let’s put it this way: the Susskinds could have called their book not the Future of the Professions, but the End of the Professions.

As I’ve said before, this paradigm shift is way bigger than our individual opinions of it. This series will offer some thoughts on how we reckon with it.

 

Rhodes_4For last year’s version of the Future of Law, check out this collection of those blog posts. It’s a FREE download. Also included is the Culture of Law series from the second half of 2015. Click this link or the cover for details.

The Anti-Motivation Strategy (Part 8): Last Lessons From a Couple Personal Ethos Heroes

Employee-Motivation

 

Last week’s post introduced the concept of personal ethos — your core, essential self, the inner drive that defines you, that will be expressed simply because you are alive on this planet, here and now, doing what you do, for no other reason than that’s what you do. You don’t need motivation to do that. Besides, it’s what you do best, and love doing to boot.

Let’s end this series with a couple sports stories. Bear with me if that’s not your thing, but it’s a nice wrap up.

I once heard an interview in which Michael Jordan’s father said, “God decided to make a perfect basketball player, so he made Michael.” He wasn’t the only one who used that kind of language to describe his son. At the end of the 1986 season, Jordan came back from a broken ankle (too early, risking his career, the experts said) and played only 18 games, then burned the Boston Celtics for 63 points in a playoff game, causing Larry Bird to famously remark,

That was God disguised as Michael Jordan.”

It was a folksy thing to say. But what if he was right… I mean, really right? What if the sentence could be completed by someone observing your life and saying, “That was God disguised as [your name]”? Where would you find something that strong?

By looking at what you already do. What you’ve always done. What you’re going to do anyway, because that’s what you do, and you love doing it and you’re good at it.

When God decided to make a perfect _______, he made [your name].

I know, it sounds corny, but try it on. Go ahead — it won’t kill you. According to the concept of personal ethos, those bold statements are not a reach for a stress-fueled motivational challenge, they’re facts that come from the essence of who you are, at the level of your deepest, core self.

Tap that, and you can quit making trips to the dry, stressful motivation well. You won’t need it, You will do what you will do, irrepressibly and indomitably. You won’t be able to help it; you won’t want to. That’s what it means to operate from your personal ethos.

Larry-Bird

Sure, you’ll face the challenge of staying focused on individual and collective mission and goals, but you face that challenge already anyway. Only now you’ll face it with more honesty, authenticity, and laser focus. Which means you can expect more explosive results. You’ll become this:

Michael-Jordan

Now, isn’t that a whole lot better than the carrot and stick you’ve been waving around?

If you’re interested in more about personal ethos, I wrote two books about it. Both are available as FREE downloads. For more, click the book covers.

 

Running-for-my-Life

One reader said this: “Running For My Life is a unique and thought provoking read. On the surface it is a story about a man with primary progressive MS reshaping his life through a+ strict diet and extreme exercise regimen. However, if you take the time to explore the pages, you will find that it is really a story about Kevin and about yourself. This book invites you to take a look inwards at your own limitations, and then holds your hand as you figure out how to push past them together.”

 

EthosEthos is a stand-alone version of Book Three of Running For My Life. It is a Personal Ethos Credo — the things I believe about it, and how I practice it.