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Beware “active inertia” in your law department!

“Active inertia,” according to Donald Sull, a management professor at London Business School (Fin. Times, Oct. 3, 2005 at 10) shows up as “responding to even the most disruptive market shifts by accelerating activities that succeeded in the past.” Successful general counsel, especially those praised by journalists and conference organizers, should be wary of rigid adherence to past commitments in five areas.

Strategic frames – “what we see when we look at the world,” can help us make sense of it, but also lock us into pre-conceptions. Processes – “formal and informal routines put in place to get things done,” can increase efficiency, but also block change. Resources – “tangible and intangible assets we control,” can be specialized and productive or can weigh us down. Relationships – “established links with external stakeholders,” such as technology providers and outside counsel, can boost our capabilities or drag us backwards. The fifth category of commitment is values – “beliefs that inspire, unify and identify,” that create loyalty and joint effort, or can harden into dogmas that oppress.

A truism, yet difficult: watch out for sclerotic allegiances to these five commitments.

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