On having a principled approach

Note: for the full essay click here.

“Ironically, the popular business press, focused on hot, emerging industries, is prone to presenting these special cases as proof that we have entered a new era of competition in which none of the old rules are valid. In fact, the opposite is true”

– Michael Porter, 1996[1]

In a world of legal innovation where we hear things like “the way we do things are changing”, it might feel counterproductive to reemphasize the importance of looking at what is not changing. Even though something feels new on the surface, it doesn’t take much digging to uncover a pattern. There are certain laws of nature that, like gravity, exert their force whether or not you find them convenient. Still, it is more productive to accept them and find ways to work with them than it is to work against them.

We can gain a lot from trying to create a principled approach to adoption of new legal tech products, both within the market generally and within organizations. Aligning with principles makes efforts much more effective. For example, the legal industry, just like every other new thing introduced anywhere, will assuredly move from the left of the to the right on the below graph without skipping any steps. So you can save your breath on the Late Majority and Laggards if a product is not ready for prime time. (In fact, you can pretty much always save your breath on the Laggards.)


From Diffusion of Innovations by Everett Rogers.

Even though today’s technological changes feel new to many in legal, the principles governing them are not. The quickest way to maximize your impact is to: (1) understand the laws that define the way the world works and (2) have the discipline to align yourself in harmony with those laws, no matter how inconvenient it feels.

Principles are rarely convenient but they do help you better understand how the world works. Uncovering and aligning with how the world works makes you more effective than wishing it could be some other way. Being more effective – seeing your actions have your expected results – is more fulfilling in the long term, even if it means letting your ego take a few beatings in the short term.

“What the pupil must learn, if he learns anything at all, is that the world will do most of the work for you, provided you cooperate with it by identifying how it really works and aligning with those realities. If we do not let the world teach us, it teaches us a lesson.”

— Joseph Tussman (H/T to Farnam Street)


[1] Porter, Michael, “What is strategy?” pg 78. Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec 1996.

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