4 Traits Of Innovators That Lawyers Can Use

by rocketmatter-admin April 21, 2011

Early Facebook investor, PayPal co-founder, and venture capitalist Peter Thiel recently made some very controversial statements concerning whether we’re in the middle of another technology bubble.

His position: We’re not in a technology bubble, we’re in an education bubble. In short, Thiel opines that the technology bubble of the ’90s never really burst; rather, it just shifted into the housing market.  The housing bubble then shifted into education, particularly as the issue is viewed on a world-wide scale.

Agree or not with that specific assertion, the thinking (and the action that accompanied it) is a great example of several traits that successful innovators possess:

  1. A unique ability to assess a situation, often a big problem, and draw out potential patterns and thought-provoking angles that aren’t widely identified.
  2. The skill to surface non-obvious ideas, and to do so in a way that makes it easy to understand.   In fact, the best insights, when surfaced, are often explained by the innovator in such a way that makes the idea appear almost self-evident.
  3. A willingness to express new ideas without regard to the expectation of negative feedback or ridicule.   The value of the concept outweighs the downside of dealing with widespread, sometimes institutional, criticism.  (Questioning the value of education is hardly the way to win a popularity contest.)
  4. Possessing enough real curiosity about their own insights to take action on them, to test them. To form hypotheses and gather some empirical data. For instance, participating in the “20 Under 20” program, where the concept is to find young people and finance them to prioritize starting companies over focusing on school.   Calling that disruptive is an understatement.

Whether Thiel is ultimately correct or not about an “education bubble” is, of course, a complicated question with plenty of room for opinion and analysis.

However, I think there’s a great takeaway here aside from that specific debate.   We can learn a lot from how innovative people think, and how they approach big problems.

Lawyers in particular have a great opportunity now to take aggressive, innovative positions on multiple issues currently facing the profession, from the adoption of new technology to how legal services are best delivered and priced.  Lawyers are also frequently facing big, complicated problems in their own daily practice that require these kind of traits to solve.

Most societal advancements, from social justice to technological breakthroughs, were once highly disruptive and championed by radical thinkers who were willing to see things in a different way and then swim upstream.

The more of those we have, the better.

As Apple said:  “Think Different.”

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