Everybody knows that Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent perspiration, ninety-nine percent inspiration.” And everybody knows, or at least with a quick Google search can find out, that Dr. Alexander Fleming discovered the first antibiotic in a dish of bacteria.
But does anybody know that James H. Solomon created a key to legal methodology, a human algorithm that can predict legal outcomes? Of course not, because I just made that up.
Here’s the point: lawyers can be creative and it doesn’t have to be fiction. Sometimes it comes through trial and error. Sometimes it just appears in the trenches.
In any case, creativity is a process that attorneys can learn. It’s like improving your memory, but more fun. Here are some pointers from Jay Harrington with Attorney at Work:
Make Time for Creative Thinking
“Carve out dedicated time each week for creative thinking,” he says. “Try to spend this time away from the distractions of the office.”
He noted that Google allows its engineers to take one day per week to work on side projects. It’s good for the employees and a key to company innovation.
“Creative brainstorming sessions with colleagues — no smart phones or negativity allowed — are also a key catalyst for coming up with marketing and business development solutions,” Harrington says.
Doing something the same way over and over again may move a car along — because the wheel has already been invented — but ultimately it will fall behind. “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads,” said that actor from Back to the Future with Einstein’s hair.
As legal technology and economic realities continue to change law practice, lawyers need a fresh perspective. Robots are already taking over many legal tasks, so real-life lawyers may need to get back to basics for ways to keep up. Sometimes it’s better to think like a beginner, Harrington says.
“Experts often think they have all the answers,” he says. “Beginners like to ask lots of questions. Think like a beginner.”
Stick With It
Harrington says that creative problem-solving doesn’t always happen like a bolt of lightning. It’s more like Edison’s light bulb. It takes time.
In 1968, for example, a chemist accidentally developed a weak adhesive that was sticky but not too strong. It didn’t go anywhere for years because no one had a practical purpose for it.
In 1974, however, a colleague told the chemist about a problem he had at church with bookmarks that kept falling out of hymnbooks. That’s when Post-It was born.
Oh, James H. Solomon was Jimmie Reese’s given name. Baseball player, second baseman.