Pioneer spirit

“He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew in that it was everything that was not death, that it was aglow and rampant, expressing itself in movement, flying exultantly under the stars.” Jack London, The Call of the Wild

I’m not into trophies or awards.

I’d rather walk my talk, slowly, but belligerently.

That said people sometimes ascribe the label ‘Thought Leader’ to what I do. I hate the term. I don’t think that way, and, certainly, I’m not on any path where I hope you’ll blindly follow me. In fact, if anything, what I wish for is more people, more brave souls, who don’t give a fig about the status quo, and, shorn of their social conditioning, set out on a path of discovery (not for the glory — hell no!) but instead because they’ve no choice. It’s their calling.

And in case you think this an exhortation to start a business, it’s not. All I’m doing is inviting you to consider how you summon forth your muse to face the challenges of life and pursue those to the bitter end.

Global warming.

Community.

A gift culture.

The environment.

The lack of compassion, care and love.

What really floats your boat?

But the thing is, if you have to ask the question, then perhaps you don’t possess the Pioneer gene so many of our early ancestors manifested. Perhaps it was the do or die nature of life that brought forth the best in them but they weren’t apt to sit on the sidelines waiting for others to show the way.

I don’t know, but perhaps it’s time we all started something deliberately at odds with the system just to see what arises. Pioneer? Probably not. But it’s bound to get under the skin of someone.

Onwards, forever onwards.

One moment at a time

“I live my life in growing orbits which move out over this wondrous world, I am circling around God, around ancient towers and i have been circling for a thousand years. And I still don’t know if I am an eagle or a storm or a great song.”Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God

I’ll make this brief.

There is only now. This moment. And yet, we spend most of our life thinking, ‘What’s next?.

How sad.

Yes, there are places to go (physical as well as spiritual), people to visit and things to do, but if your life is lived over there or out there, you’ll never see the beauty and pleasure beneath your feet.

Holding the moment is hard. Breathing, meditation and mindfulness all help, but however you arrive at that place of no mind doesn’t really matter. What matters is you know that’s where wholeness resides — true love if you will.

In case you think this a recipe for escapism, you’ve missed the point. Rather than running away from yourself, you’re getting in touch with who you were born of all those years ago.

Blessings.

Coming home

“There is neither creation nor destruction,
neither destiny nor free will, neither
path nor achievement.
This is the final truth.” ― Ramana Maharshi,

Life.

Isn’t it amazing?

But, we take it for granted until something death-dealing happens. And then we’re confronted with a few homes truths, not least the fact that we’re mortal.

The trouble is, as a species, now largely conditioned by our circumstances, we take everything for granted, even the fact that we’re alive by dint of this amazing, dynamic, self-repairing machine.

If you’ve read any of my material, it might appear metaphysical (and I’d accept that) but that’s not where I’m at. If my work means anything, it’s “to become what we truly are” (Nietzsche). In praying in aid those few words, I don’t mean to suggest a deluded version of yourself but true self, i.e. one devoid of egoic identity.

You might think that I’m setting up a scenario where to become the ‘being’ in human being you have to set goals, strive constantly and make each day another uncompromising mountain to climb. If that’s your take on things, then you’ve missed the point. No, to become what we truly are doesn’t mean we have to do anything or become anything, particularly something bearing the rubric ‘success’. As Tony Parsons says in The Open Secret:

“When there is no longer that which seems to stand apart then life is nakedly, passionately all there is. This is freefall, life full on, not my life, not anyone’s life, but simply life.”

I accept that making the distinction between true self and false self is difficult, but unless we examine life from the inside out, we’ll never make sense of things.

Let me try to put this in less prosaic terms. When I’m working with a coaching client, one of the first things I’ll ask them to do is write down what’s going on in their life. Specifically, to write down those thoughts that routinely appear. The bit that comes next, which I’ve termed self-inquiry, is no more than a reflection back of those thoughts and to invite a number of questions which (a) test the veracity of the thoughts and (b) to invite who or what might be witnessing those thoughts. For me, this is the essence of Socratic dialogue: we’ve got to get under the skin of the thinker. I accept it’s not for everyone but all I know, from many years of chasing the next (personal) dream, is that we won’t get to the root of the issue(s) by allowing our egoic mind to go to work on another faux objective or to change the external world to make us happy.
Think of it this way, we’ve been conditioned to believe that if we strive to become something, get something or to avoid something, we’ll be happy. But it never works. Oh, it does for a short while, but we soon get bored and return to the field of consumerist play.

(I’m not sure who it was who said I’m here to shatter all illusions but you can see why, for many people, to be told they’ve set their success sail in the wrong direction can be very disturbing.)

Of course, some people never get to the point of questioning their thoughts — the conditioning is too strong — and that’s fine, but once you recognise that ‘happiness’ exists independently of any-thing or better still no-thing, life becomes much easier. Think of it this way, if you ever find yourself in a state of flow or a place of quiet mind — nature usually takes us way out of our thinking mind — things feel a lot easier. (In that bliss-consciousness state we’re apt to have some of best ideas but that’s only because we’ve less on our mind.)

In the final analysis, I can’t predict or control those people that will eventually step out of their egoic identity but I do have this sense that we’re on the cusp of change as more and more people start to question the material world they’ve created or inherited that takes them out of and away from true self. In concrete terms, people would much prefer to live a simple life than to constantly chase the next fix.

What about you?

Which side of the true/false self divide do you stand?

Meaningless work

 

“There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them.” ― Anthony de Mello

I’m sure, for most people, work is just work. You know, a means to an end.

Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people: for as long as I can recall, I’ve seen work as a spiritual pursuit, or at least I’ve seen it as more than economic endeavour.

Of course, in my zeal for the often mundane, I could be masking a whole slew of existential issues but I don’t think so. Let’s face it, given our tenure at the coalface, I can’t imagine a life devoted to the £/$ as being anything other than soul-less.

What about you?

What does work mean to you? Something to make the most of your life, or a crushing defeat of your greatest gifts?

If you fall into the latter camp, I suppose the next obvious question is what are you doing to make the most of your genius?

Incremental is infinite, too

Peace of Mind Matters

Reading all the social media posts from people who are newly discovering the Principles at work behind life, I’ve been noticing how easily we become disappointed in ourselves, dropping quickly from gratitude for an insight to discouragement that we’re not where we want to be. What we forget is that gratitude and contentment nourish the rich soil in which further insights blossom; discouragement is the drought that turns the soil to dust where insights cannot flourish.

It is rare, though never impossible, that an individual experiences what we call an epiphany, an insight so profound and remarkable that the person is totally transformed in an instant. It is common, though often unappreciated, for all of us to experience life-improving insights as we go. Some are so ordinary as to pass with scarce notice. Some inspire new ideas about how our lives work. Some surprise us into major changes. The gift…

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The Sad Fate of Totnes

Georgina and Co.

In 2013 Totnes was riding high. It had successfully seen off Costa Coffee,  become one of the world’s first transition towns and a survey done by Prime Location, cited Totnes as one of the most desirable places in the UK to live. It was applauded for its ‘funky’ lifestyle, its alternative inhabitants, the beauty of its location and its buildings, its access to the coastline and its rows of independent shops, all of which made Totnes a rather special place, loved by locals and tourists alike.

Cut to 2015 and its a very different story. Totnes has become a victim of the government’s 2012 relaxation of planning laws.  The failure of South Hams District Council to produce a new Local Plan has given developers and landowners alike a loophole, through which they have swarmed, eager to build all around and over this popular historic town. Landowners like the Duke of…

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Perhaps I should just write

I know, I’ve not been here for ages.

The problem is, I’ve already got too many sites, and it’s a wonder to know where to post let alone what to write.

If you are following me on this site, it would be good to know what you’re interested in.

For me, I’m moving into new areas — particularly how social technologies can be used for the greater good of humanity and living a more spiritual life devoid of material reward (or much less of it).

Anyhow, let’s see how things unfold.

10 (Ten) Reasons why all Lawyers should Blog

Why all lawyers should blog

Yes, I know this subject has been done to death but I am convinced that there are many people in the legal profession who know next to nothing about blogging, let alone have any inclination to start a blog.

I hope that whoever gets to read this post will think carefully about the process and why all lawyers should immediately start a blog.

If, having read the post, you think there are other reasons, then I would very much like to hear from you in the comments section.

  1. It gives you the best possible opportunity of being found in your target market. If you do a search for your name or your specialist area on Google or Bing (or even YouTube) you will be surprised how little, ordinarily, there is about you. Your profile on your firm’s website might appear or you LinkedIn profile (if you are doing something with it) but very often it will be like searching for a needle in Haystack. If you want to go a bit deeper use the Google Adwords Keywords tool which will show you how many searches have been made against your name in the last month both domestically and internationally. Of course, if you have a common name it may not in fact be you that comes up. Just imagine a situation where, by writing a blog on a fairly regular basis, you might just find someone finding you or something about you.
  2. It is free. Yes it is. I don’t buy the time argument. You have the ability, even if you firm doesn’t have a CMS behind its site to support a WordPress blog or the like, to start your own blog on TypePad, WordPress, Blogger or Posterous.
  3. It provides you with a Unique Selling Proposition (USP). How many lawyers can say that they maintain their own free publishing platform where a client or referrer can check you out? If you use video then so much the better.
  4. It is easy(ish). If you are disciplined enough to bill then blogging once a week, as a minimum, should be no different. You just need to make time for it over the course of the week. There is always something going on in the legal world or your life to provide you with the material to feed your blogging engine.
  5. It will, over time, make you a better lawyer. There is no doubt that having to apply the mental discipline to create original content will force you to understand your audience and what makes them tick in instructing you.
  6. It gets results. What sort of results is entirely a matter for you. If need inspiration then there is no shortage of material out there. I would start with a search on Technorati or Google blogs in your chosen area. I would also consider your competitor websites and see if they have a blog, how often they blog and the sort of comments (if any) they get.
  7. It is your legacy. Subject to your backing up the material or saving it to disc, what you write will be no different to creating a book. You will have something you can look back on with pride.
  8. It gives you a platform to grow your practice and create another stream of income. If you want to there is no reason why you could not consider creating a members only site, producing content that has to be paid for or using the platform to sell a book of yours. Just think of it like a website.
  9. It gives more meaning to what you are doing. When all you do all day long is slog it out with someone on the other side, it is easy to forget why you went into law. As I have said repeatedly, you become numbed by the process and if you were anything like me, you felt, in the end, that you were working on a production line. Blogging gives you an outlet to distil you best thinking.
  10. It keeps you from going mad. Law is stressful, and you need to understand it and why you decided to commit such a large part of your life to becoming, I assume, a partner. Absent meaning you might as well have pursued you real calling whatever that was. For a lot of people they won’t be comfortable pouring out their soul to an undeserving audience, but, as a process, even if you don’t decide to publish the blog post, you will be able to provide an outlet to your frustration.

For me, had I known what I know now, then I would have been leading the charge at my last 2 firms for every partner, associate and lawyer to go grab a blog and have a go. Of course, very few people would have taken up the cudgels and engaged, but for those few that did engage they would have found something quite spiritual about the process.

~ Julian Summerhayes ~

How to Rapidly Grow Your Profits: Think Cross-Functional Excellence

How to Rapidly grow your profits: Think Cross-Functional Excellence

Yes, you have heard it countless times before – at least I hope – but how many of you are working on developing the most radical, mind-boggling, cross-functional programme that your firm has ever seen? Arguably, right now, this issue is more pressing than anything else. You can enshrine it in the credo: It is far better to market to existing clients than to chase your sorry tail looking for new – “OMG not another lawyer trying to sell me” – clients.

Cross-functional excellence has the power to literally explode your client base and start delivering supreme, bottom-line growth. No BS.

One easy exercise to consider, whether your cohort of clients is (largely) private or corporate (or some other shade in between), is to enquire internally how many service lines they have bought since they first instructed the firm. My guess is that the majority will be on the bottom rung: one service line or at best two. You should be aiming with the lifetime client to assess their complete needs and to sell every conceivable line that you can.

This is not some grand, take over the world plan, but rather you should see it as acting (completely) in the client’s best interests. Let’s face apart from losing out commercially, do you really want to see the client go off and instruct someone else when they could just have easily instructed your firm who would have done just as good a job or, more likely, a better job than your competitor, given, at the very least, your intimate knowledge of the client’s affairs.

There are many reasons why cross-functional excellence is not made of supreme importance but, chief amongst those, is the breaking down of barriers that go towards the lack of trust.

You have heard about the Ultimate Question framed by Fred Reichheld: “Would you recommend the firm to a friend?” but that could just as easily be couched in terms: “Would you recommend this client to one of your colleagues?”

In my experience the answer to this question is seldom straightforward, but the reality is that most lawyers never actually believe that even their most illustrious colleagues will do as good a job as them. If anything, the majority are forced into doing something that they do not truly believe to be the right thing. Now, of course, there are exceptions to the rule but things don’t happen as often as you think.

The trust issue, internally, can be broken down into a number of layers:

  • Layer 1: I DON’T KNOW THE PERSON;
  • Layer 2: I KNOW THE PERSON BUT I HAVE HEARD THAT THEY CAN BE AWKWARD TO DEAL WITH;
  • Layer 3: I ASKED MY COLLEAGUE TO DEAL WITH THE JOB BUT UNBEKNOWN TO ME THEY WERE TOO BUSY AND REFERRED IT TO SOMEONE WHO I WOULD NEVER HAVE REFERRED THE JOB TO IN A MILLION YEARS; and
  • Layer 4: I WOULDN’T TRUST THEM TO DO THE JOB: THEY SCREWED UP THE LAST TIME I GAVE THEM A NEW JOB/CLIENT.

There is no point assembling everyone from all the relevant departments and delivering a message from on high that henceforth everyone needs to give greater attention to cross-selling, if the trust issue is not first of all addressed. This brings into relief the point of yesterday’s post on straight talk. You need to get past the hurdle of going to speak to someone who may take a very dim view of a more junior fee earner impliedLY criticising their work. You will need to handle the situation very carefully and with a heightened sense of doing the right think.

But if you can crack the trust issue then you will move well beyond the talkers (for the sake of it) to the doers. And more than that if everyone plays by the same rules then you will start to see many more introductions made between departments and a much more collegiate feel to the firm.

There will no longer be the slip of the tongue comments referring to this client as “my client” and each client will be viewed in the round.

The firm will want to undertake some filtration process so that not every client is considered suitable to grow with the firm or to be cross-sold. You may want to ditch some clients, the alternative being that they will be OK for transaction work but they are unlikely to have the potential to grow in the long term.  There are no absolutes here but statistically it stands to reason that the more service lines that the client buys from you, the more unlikely it is that they will go elsewhere.

As an aside it would be a good idea to have some minimum service standards so that whichever part of the firm is dealing with the client, they will see no difference in how they are treated.

If you do succeed in breaking down the trust issue – no mean task – then agree a programme that involves:

  • a sharing of information on each client relationship;
  • how the introduction from one fee earner will be made to the next;
  • how you will organise yourselves internally – will you have regular meetings?
  • are you comfortable with the scope of the retainer? You don’t want to get into a nasty, drag down dispute where the client sues you for not giving general advice and you then seek to rely on the scope of your retainer;
  • Are you going to reward staff if they do make a cross-functional sale?
  • Are you content that you have the skills to service the client’s professional needs (think about financial advice) or do you need to collaborate with a competitor?
  • Will you offer the client a new fees arrangement if they do decide to put all their business with the firm? It would be as well to consider this from the off before you start trying to up sell.

The critical issue of cross-functional excellence is that you are trying to make your life easier. Why keep banging your head against a brick wall when it comes to identifying new work when it potentially lies at your feet? If you haven’t noticed this is the way that the larger firms continue to structure their business.

Now is time to seize the moment. See the future with less competition but with more of your current work under one roof.

Straight Talk your Way to Change (of some sort)

The soft skills in legal practice are the hardest to grasp but are essential if change is to take place.

Far too much time in professional practice is spent looking at fees, billable hours and work in progress. I am not sure now if it was Peter Drucker who coined the immortal expression “What can be measured can be managed” but that is entirely apposite to law firms.

But when it comes to soft systems – people principally (and to a lesser extent information systems) – most partners work on the basis of management by abdication. In addition, and despite the risk issues, they feel they can afford to keep things at arms length on the basis that leaving someone to sink or swim is a way of providing a benchmark of success but too often it only serves to demotivate or demoralise.

For me the sine qua non of professional practice both within and outwith is … trust – trust in your people. Charlie Green and David Maister have written extensively on this fundamental area.

But one issue that I think could be addressed now is the issue of straight talk. This is dealt with in Stephen M R Covey’s, Speed of Trust under the 1st behaviour of the second Wave of Trust. As he says:

“”Talk straight” is honesty in action. It is based on the principles of integrity, honesty, and straightforwardness.”

Of course straight talk can be taken too far and is sometimes used as mask for cruelty, rudeness or a lack of thoughtfulness. But a lot of the issues that remain to be dealt with in law firms – under-performance of partners, profitability and the right people doing the right work – is just not being addressed as quickly or as meaningfully as it might otherwise be. In a sense this is perfectly understandable given the fragility of the economy; and no doubt those in charge will not want to rock the boat, particularly if in doing so there might be a domino effect.

You can picture it now: the partner who is challenged on his or her department’s profitability who in a fit of pique threatens to leave the firm and take their clients and/or their team with them.

But we all know that this is storing up problems for the future and things will be even worse if under-performance or a poor attitude has been tolerated in the tough times.

Most of the time the reason why people don’t like addressing issues in a straightforward manner is for fear of the consequences, and no doubt that means weighing up the pros and the cons. However, the need to develop this area, if a firm is going to embrace and progress change, should be considered a priority.

Whilst of course there is no easy answer to this conundrum, perhaps one way to address it is to make it clear that the atmosphere of suspicion, mis-trust and a ‘them’ and ‘us’ culture has to change if the firm is to grow sustainably.

Consideration could be given to saying that each party will be able to talk in confidence and invite constructive feedback on the nature and tone of what is being said. Now I accept that this sounds weak but like all soft issues there are no cut and dried solutions but rather a need to change the status quo gradually, thoughtfully and with tact. It is not sufficient to skirt round the issues and spin should be banned. But don’t be under any illusion when someone is tackled on an area which they know exists but has been overtly avoided for such a long time it will usually result in an extreme reaction. You have been warned. You also need to keep the conversation from straying into your or their autobiography, meaning that a lot of the old wounds are likely to be reopened.

Perhaps one way to address this is also to tie in the mode of communication. Too much of what we say, the non-verbal communication, has been completely lost with the over reliance on emails. Even telephone calls seem to be a rare occurrence. And it is certainly as well not to make a big issue of it. “Can we meet up for a chat” or more threatening still “We need to have a chat” is hardly likely to put the person at ease and produce the best outcome. Lawyers being lawyers will simply be primed for the worst.

In the long run if this area can be tackled and significant improvement made it will transform a culture that may previously have resisted change to one that encourages it.

Professional practice, perhaps because of the label, may fall back on the notion of “If it ain’t broke, why fix it” but we all know that that is simply wrong. The profession needs to modernise and whilst technology, outsourcing, efficiencies and a focus on value based billing are all important they will count for nothing if: (a) you cannot have an open conversation with your people about the need for change; (b) you are not trusted and your word is meaningless, particularly around job security; and (c) change will be harder to bring about or bring about in the time scale that you would like to see.

Next time you are tempted to avoid a subject area stop yourself and ask the question: “What is the worst thing that could happen?” Yes your mind might move to a doomsday scenario but the contra position has to be that those on the other side will not be so secure as you think and will or at least should recognise that without change the firm will simply not grow and that means going backwards. How quickly will not be determined just by the economy but more so by the emergence of other brands or business models coming into the market.

On a final point perhaps one of the reasons why straight talk is not part of the culture of legal practice is because of the lack of leadership. Can you imagine any of the great leaders being as indecisive as is often the case? My own experience is that by and large the most accomplished leaders that I worked under were the ones that I respected most for having the ability not to sugar coat, say it like it was and be clear in their point of view without being rude or nasty. I may not have liked what they had to say but I would much rather have heard it from them than some half-baked message being delivered from on high.