Change (especially uncertain change) is the stuff of opportunities—provided you have developed a way of thinking that prepares the firm to take advantage of whatever the future brings. The French scientist Louis Pasteur said it in one short sentence: “Chance favors only the prepared mind.” If Pasteur had been English, the quote would have been, “Luck favors the prepared mind.”
When consulting with a midsize law firm a few years ago, I suggested that the partners adopt the practice of meeting monthly for a half-day session where they did nothing but think about things that could happen and then thinking about how they could happen differently. The mission would be to identify strategies that would allow the firm to benefit rather than suffer from these events.
Suppose, for example, that a member of the law firm is arrested for unsavory activities unrelated to the law firm. What steps should the firm take? Suppose a major local corporation with significant legal needs loses its general counsel unexpectedly. How could the law firm respond in a way to take advantage of the situation? Suppose a single-payer health system is adopted by the U.S. government. What problems and opportunities occur if Mexico nationalizes American businesses? How would the firm respond to another Enron? What happens if outside investors are allowed to own U.S. law firms? Suppose a major client of the law firm contemplates moving its headquarters to a state where your firm doesn’t currently practice? How should your firm respond to a news release that a major U.S. corporation is relocating its headquarters to your area? What if events similar to those that destroyed Arthur Anderson occur with respect to a U.S. mega law firm?
Could the firm have anticipated the events involving Big Tobacco, the rise of the overnight letter business, the advent of Amazon.com, or the wave of refinancing sparked by falling interest rates? Could the firm have been better positioned to take advantage of Sarbanes-Oxley? Is the firm prepared for the next Katrina? Does the fact that 3.6 million Americans will turn 65 in 2012 open opportunities for your firm? Can the firm take advantage of a major changing of the guard in corporate America?
If the firm follows my suggestion, that “thinking outside of the box” exercise is likely to become the firm’s vehicle for rapid response to real-life events which will position the firm to capitalize rather than suffer from uncertain future events. Chance, Luck, Opportunities—whatever you call it—it can best benefit those who are prepared. Practice prepares a business team to take advantage of events that surprise others.
Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New Career, Mark Rollins and the Rainmaker, Mark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders. For signed copies go to http://store.markrollinsadventures.com. Print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes' iBookstore.