There is no magical fix!

by Jaap Bosman

When you search Google for ‘weight loss programs’ you get 500 million results. Among them are famous diets like the Mayo Clinic Diet, Weight Watchers, Eat more Weigh Less, the Mediterranean Diet, the Atkins Diet, and dozens more methods that are supposed to lead to easy permanent weight loss. Weight loss has grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry. Millions of people are looking for a quick and easy fix that will magically melt away the fat and will give them the figure of a fashion model. Obviously, all this is nonsense, there is no quick and easy way to lose weight. The only way is to forever eat less, eat healthy, no alcohol and exercise more. The only way to lose weight is a drastic change of lifestyle. To most people that is not very appealing, so they fall prey to magical solutions that in the end fail to deliver the desired result. This cycle just keeps repeating itself, hence the multi-billion-dollar weight loss industry.

Sure, all of you will be familiar with TED Talks. These 18-minute aspirational talks have been around for over a decade and have gathered huge numbers of almost cult-like dedicated followers. As inspirational and captivating as the TED Talks may be, they are dangerous and misleading. TED Talks simplify complex problems and create the illusion that there is a clean quick and easy fix. TED Talks are tailored to make you believe that there is a world full of rainbows, butterflies and unicorns, where there is a technological solution for every complex problem. Quad non. The TED organization is a merciless commercial machine that feeds off peoples’ craving for hope and a better world. Analyzing 10 years of TED Talks clearly shows that most ideas failed to materialize and deliver the supposed solutions. Remember Elizabeth Holmes from THERANOS, just as an example. She gave a TED Talk in 2014.

Humans have a deep rooted wish for quick and easy solutions.

The combination of a deep-rooted wish for quick and easy solution and the tendency to believe in inspirational stories is a dangerous one. Mankind is not well equipped to deal with reality and lawyers are no exception. We all want a quick and easy way out. In my book ‘Death of a Law Firm’ (2015) I describe this craving for ‘Deus-ex-Machina Solutions’ extensively in chapter 9. Partners in a law firm are under a lot of pressure to deliver on client matters and to create revenue. By nature, lawyers are a bit ‘nerdy’. Typically, the are at their best, sitting behind their desk solving complicated legal puzzles. Most lawyers do not like change and do not like risks. They like to be left alone and concentrate on the matters at hand.

Having said this, at the same time when coming together in a partners meeting, there is often a distinct fear of loosing out. Invariably it seems that some of the other law firms are doing better. Partners could have picked up a rumor that the law firm across the street is using clever technology, or that competing law firms are making more profit. Whatever the cause, there will be a reason to fear that the firm is losing out. Something then must be done. Management needs to come up with a plan. The problem is that whatever solution is proposed, ideally it should not involve active involvement from the partners. Change should happen and results should be achieved while the partners keep doing what they did. Effectively partners are looking for a magical fix. Looking for salvation from the outside. They want ‘Deus-ex-Machina Solutions’

This is why so many, if not most initiatives end up getting stuck in the mud. Just think about how often your firm in the past has decided on change and then think about how few of these initiatives turned out to be effective. Partnerships are going through the same cycles over and over again: everyone agrees change is needed, an ambitious plan is drawn up, task-forces and working groups are formed, trainers and consultants are flown in. In the end nothing fundamentally changes and after some time the whole cycle starts all over again. There is no magical fix. Like that ‘miracle diet’; after a while you start gaining weight again and the whole diet cycle starts all over.

If you do what you did, you get what you’ve got.

People should start to face reality. No problem will be solved, and no significant results will be achieved unless you are prepared to take ownership, change your routines and put in a lot of hard work and energy. Change does not so much require inspiration or courage; it requires above all personal ownership and responsibility. If you want to be number one, you have to be prepared to put in an almost disproportionate amount of effort. Not as a burst, but for the long haul. Lack of ownership, lack of focus and lack of continuity are the main reasons why change projects fail.

Many law firms want to be more innovative. Not because there is a business case but because they think everyone else is doing it. Appointing a Director of Innovation is not going to do the trick, nor does investing in clever software. Innovation is not something you can do part-time or have organized around you. Your Managing Partner cannot fix it. The same goes for entrepreneurship and many other issues. Projects fail over and over again because partners do not take ownership and are not willing to invest time and effort. If your firm aspires to have more blue-chip clients, Business Development can not fix this for you. You have to take responsibility and get out there yourself.

The wish to find a ‘Deus-ex-Machina Solution’, a magical fix is almost universal. We at TGO Consulting work with elite law firms across the world. All but the very best prefer discussing how to take action over taking action. Lawyers are highly intelligent; they can theoretically explore all kinds of solutions. After the interesting theoretical discussion, they want nothing more than going back to their practice. Hoping that magical forces will solve the issue while they are at work. It is time to confront the inconvenient truth: ‘If you do what you did, you get what you’ve got’. If you want change, you need to change your routines. There is no way around ownership. There is no magical fix, never.

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