“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” — Milton Berle
Now is a time for finding unique opportunities. A time of crisis, and particularly a time of economic contraction, can create anxiety on both personal and professional levels. However, new possibilities are always presented in moments of upheaval. Below are some exercises to help with developing insights into unique opportunities for your firm.
STEPPING OUT OF THE STREAM
The noted behavioral economist, Peter McGraw, has studied the business and marketing utility of logic constructions that great comedians use to create jokes. While this might sound ridiculous at first glance, it has led to some excellent insights that can help your firm. A simple one that can quickly be incorporated is asking questions over and over again (as a child would) to break rote thinking, what he calls “stepping out of the stream.”
An example of this is found in the following Jerry Seinfeld quote:
- “You know when you buy socks, they never just give you the sock. They always give you that little hanger with the sock. Do I need that hanger? Do you need that hanger?”
- Side note, Seinfeld was a great utilizer of this exercise. His trademark “what’s the deal with…” construction is an ongoing example of “stepping out of the stream.” By doing this, he was able to build one of the greatest comedic careers of all time on normally mundane observations.
Now, do this exercise for your practice:
- Start by framing a current negative business assumption your firm is making: “We are in the midst of an economic recession, so our clients (ex: commercial real estate landlords) are likely panicking and will be pulling back on all spending, meaning they won’t be looking for a new attorney.”
- Then ask “why,” over and over again, until we get to a realization.
- “Why are landlords in a panic?” – because they are concerned their income will contract.
- “Why will their income contract?” – because their tenants are experiencing business closures leading to lack of income on their own behalf, and so they are breaking their lease terms.
- “If they’re breaking their leases, why don’t landlords evict the tenants?” – because there are temporary laws in place to stop evictions, for good reason.
- Realization: There is a legal need here – commercial landlords are experiencing historic levels of leases being broken with no clear resolution at hand. They are in need of legal counseling to figure out how this can be managed in the near term and resolved over the long term. Furthermore, this legal need is directly related to their bottom line, so they will not cut back on this specific cost.
Here we have quickly identified a unique and specific need that many commercial landlords likely have at this exact moment. This need could be marketed too, and intake can be set up internally to rapidly onboard good leads in this category.
Originally an idea that originated in the sciences and academia, David M. Kelley (co-founder of IDEO) adapted the idea of “design thinking” for modern business, leading a revolution in how businesses now determine what products and services are truly needed. This kind of thinking is valuable for law firms as well when trying to determine where new opportunities and needs may be arising.
- Empathize – Put yourself in the shoes of your current or potential future clients. If possible, gather actual data that illustrates their current conditions. What are they experiencing at this moment in life and in business?
- Define – Construct a point of view and enumerate important questions to be answered based on what you’ve learned in the “empathize” phase.
- Ideate – Brainstorm and come up with creative solutions to the questions and issues raised in the “define” phase. There is no such thing as a bad idea when brainstorming (truly), and in fact, it is sometimes even helpful to begin by first listing absurd ideas to get the juices flowing.
- Prototype – Create the most basic representation of your best ideas as possible. As a law firm, this may mean determining ways you can revise your intake process or pricing to account for the specific needs of this client-type at this time. This may also mean changing the focus of your firm to hone in on a practice area that is particularly needed right now.
- Test – Move your “prototype” into the world and see how it performs. Refine the product or service based on your learnings while testing.
Warren Buffet famously stated, “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” While both of the active words in that statement carry a negative connotation, it’s easy to see the positive realization that is applicable to this moment in history. When the world zigs, it’s time to zag. Well, the world has zigged very hard in the past few months – now is not a time to bury our heads in the sand, but to lift our heads up and scan for new opportunities on the horizon.