How innovation happens among managers of law departments

An article in Sloan Mgt. Rev., Summer 2006 at 85 explores how management innovation happens. After the triggering stage of dissatisfaction comes the stage of “inspiration from other sources.” The authors reach the conclusion that “Inspiration for new management innovation is unlikely to come from within a company’s current industry.”

Based on their research, “Most companies get sucked into a pattern of benchmarking and competitor-watching that leads to highly convergent practices within an industry.” They cite examples of innovators at 11 companies who gained inspiration from many sources other than their industry peers. That observation applies to law departments; don’t limit your comparisons and stimuli to your competitors’ legal functions.

The authors also found that “eureka moments” – when someone sees the light bulb about a new practice, process, or structure – “are rare in management innovation.” A manager (or team) in a law department who innovates brings together the various elements of a problem (dissatisfaction over the status quo) with the various pieces of a solution (the inspiration elements), “but the manner in which these elements are brought together is usually iterative and gradual, rather than sudden.” It takes time, thought and experimentation – not blinding insight – to solve most management problems.

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