In Neil Gaiman’s novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane, he writes: “Adults follow paths. Children explore.” When facing a problem, it is easier for us to follow in the steps of those who have come before us than to explore and seek out creative solutions. But it’s not uncommon that the “tried and true” solutions whose paths we are following aren’t as great as we envision them to be.
Have you ever read a franchise agreement or other business contract? Most of them were originally drafted a decade ago. Since then, new contributors have added paragraphs and bullet points as new situations have arisen. Nothing ever gets deleted. There may even be conflicting language. By the time you start using the time-tested template, the contract is so unnecessarily complex and imposing that you can barely understand it, much less explain everything to your client. This is what comes of mindlessly following the paths before us.
Explore Your Options Like a Child
I’ll give you a personal example. As I entered my fourth year of practice in 2016, I was approaching a crossroad in my practice. I was either going to continue to be a good associate (and good associates are a dime a dozen) or I was going to take steps to position my firm to need to make me a partner within the next few years in order to keep me around. I needed to develop my own business and make myself invaluable. As it stood at the time, I had plenty of work to do, but it was someone’s else’s work and someone else’s clients. I needed to put things in motion to effectuate a change. But what? And how?
The well-worn path was to go to mega-conferences focused on your practice areas and try to rub elbows with people who do or might in the future send you business. I did that a couple of times and decided that tact wasn’t going to work for me. To be fair, I still go to conferences, but smaller conferences, and have found a way to do the homework and make those opportunities worth my while.
I had to engage some childlike creativity to find a solution that worked for me. I put a great deal of thought into things and assessed my strengths and weaknesses. Major weakness: I’m an introvert who does not enjoy small talk and hordes of people. Major strength: I enjoy writing. For me then the new path I wanted to explore was blogging. Have a law blog has kept me engaged in developments in my practice areas and within the business of law that I did not previously experience. I have developed relationships and opportunities that would not otherwise have surfaced. I have a book, Building a Better Practice, that has directly resulted from this blog. All this writing has given me opportunities to provide information and data to clients and potential clients, which helps build trust equity.
I can’t tell you I have clients now as a direct result of my deviation from the standard path. But I have developed confidence and a platform I would not have without having explored another option.
Don’t Limit Your Exploration Application
Engaging your childlike curiosity is not limited to any one particular part of your practice. You can get creative in your motion practice, in considering arguments to be made in support of your positions, in business and financial planning, and of course in marketing. While the well-worn paths may serve their purposes, you will not know what other, and perhaps better, opportunities await you, unless you deviate from the path and explore.