“Here today no human heart was trampled”

I’m considering how to bring the work of Nancy Kline (author of Time to Think) to law firms in SA. Perhaps there are law firms somewhere embracing the Thinking Environment…please let me know.

Regardless of the industry you work in,   Time to Think is a beneficial read. It deals beautifully with the concept that our ability to listen to others has a direct affect on their ability to think.

I believe the methodology in Time to Think is very well suited to solving some of the issues that stifle the quality of lawyer’s thinking.  There are studies on the way that lawyers think (will definitely write more about this and cite sources)  which suggest that the fear of ever being wrong results in very little creative thinking. Creative thinking involves risk and lawyers are very risk-averse.  Another facet is that law so often works on a precedent based system. We have a precedent based judicial system which has been in operation for hundreds of years. Also we use “precedents” meaning previously drafted contracts whenever clients want  a contract.  Although there are various arguments in favour of these systems which I shan’t deal with here, we need to consider the downsides too.  One such downside is the constant shutting down of opportunities for creative solutions.

While I’m not suggesting we abandon the precedent system, I do believe we would do well to heed the words of Albert Einstein (he was pretty smart in his approach to things)

“You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.”

Some of the reasons that innovative thinking is not cultivated or celebrated in law firms include:

  • The emphasis on always being right
  • Solutions must be found fast or alternately…
  • Billing by the hour means it’s not in the firm’s best interest to solve problems fast
  • Clients often have the best solution to their issue, sometimes subconsciously, but lawyers do not know how to listen to their clients and clients are often intimidated by lawyers and cannot express their thinking.

To better understand Nancy’s concept of a Thinking Environment, here are some extracts from an article she wrote called The Thinking Environment Organisation that I highly recommend (2 pages long)  that you can read in its entirety on the Time to Think site.

If you worked in a Thinking Environment Organization, you would know as you walked in the door each morning that people would be interested in what you really think on issues big and small…

You would know that as you spoke, you would not be interrupted, You would value that so much that you would take responsibility for being succinct so that everyone could have a full turn, too. You would know that the generative effect of these uninterrupted turns to think and speak would raise the energy of the group. You would look forward to the pleasure of a work day with so much positive, not frenetic, energy.

In organizations in which people truly value each other’s thinking and truly listen to each other, targets get met better, budgets get set better, products and services get delivered better, the quality of work increases. But, more importantly, other things increase: things like self-respect, inspiration, innovation, confidence.

This is because when we know our thinking is valued, we know our very core is, too.

And in such an organization, you would get to the end of your day, close the door behind you, and be able to say to yourself,

“On my watch, people thrived. Here today no human heart was trampled, and no human mind was wasted.”

Can you imagine a law firm like this? Personally I find it mind-blowing.


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