::.law + strategy.::.law + governance.::.law + politics.::. ::.you get the jist.::
Given that my blog is called “the Strategic Lawyer” (and that I test as the so-called “mastermind rational” on the MBTI and Kiersy scales), it can come as no surprise that I’m a fan of strategic thinking. But I’d go further than that. I actually believe the world would be a better place if people thought and behaved more strategically at work and in life. There would be less energy spent in pursuing directions that a brief “big picture” analysis would have revealed as dead ends. Similarly, knowing those bigger picture outcomes would minimize many of the garbled communications that arise because a given party to a discussion or negotiation doesn’t actually know what he or she wants out of the undertaking.
It comes down to this:
you have a greatly reduced chance of getting to a place you want to be in your life if you don’t know where you’re going or the route you hope to take.
Obviously, that doesn’t address the question of how to decide where you want to go in the first place—or whether the goal you’ve chosen is the right one for you. More on those in future posts.
But, assuming you have some notion of where you want to be in life, you may or may not get there if you’re simply going into work every day, putting in the long hours and getting all your work done competently, without taking the time to look up, to see what marks you need to hit in order to meet those goals. It’s like throwing darts at a board with one eye covered. You know the general direction, but are depriving yourself of key criteria that will allow you to aim properly.
You can’t assume that the Universe will somehow divine your overall goal and shower you with the necessary opportunities, like manna in the wilderness, simply because you’ve shown yourself to be a hard worker. Though hard work is necessary, particularly in the practice of law—you simply have to put in the time—it is unlikely to be a sufficient condition except by purest luck, to realizing your goals. The danger is that you’ll work hard, and the days, weeks, months and years will go by. Then, three or five years later, you’ll look up to find that because you didn’t keep sight of those larger goals and keep taking small, incremental steps towards them, you’re in largely the same place you were at the outset, even though you have acquired a depth of knowledge and skill vis-à-vis your day to day work.
The converse is also true. If you take a little time to check in with yourself, identify larger goals, and key milestones along the road to reaching them, then formulate specific actions and practices that you feel will move you towards those milestones in an efficient, effective manner, then you’ve formulated a strategy. Following through on those actions in small, but incremental ways, and regularly checking in on your progress are also key steps, required in order to determine if you’re still on the right road.
I am reminded of the first essays I wrote, back in grade school. I’d start writing, ramble, and eventually have written enough to turn to the task of cutting down all the superfluous commentary and side trips. Sure, I’d eventually have something that, with extensive editing and reworking, I could hand in. But it was profoundly inefficient and involved lots of wheel-spinning. Then, in high school, I learned about outlining. Everything shifted—I’d still have to do my research, and during that stage of the process, I would take any necessary side trips, casting far and wide to gather the information I needed to distill my topic and my argument. But, before I sat down to write the essay, I’d outline the thesis, arguments, and structure. The results would take far less time, overall, to produce, and the product would be a far more focussed and effective piece of writing.
If more people took the time to strategize, rather than merely behaving in a reactionary manner, there would be fewer wheels spun, less energy wasted. Now, don’t get me wrong: sometimes a lack of focus, or an openness to serendipity, can be a great source of creative inspiration. And, as I will discuss in a future post, openness is a key element of my overall process of distilling a strategy, then monitoring the strategic and tactical levels on an ongoing basis and adjusting them as needed. But, ultimately, it’s about keeping space for that openness, while moving towards your goal, rather than eschewing the process of determining a goal–and an effective strategy for achieving that goal–altogether.
Note: this is part of a series of blog posts related to my upcoming book for new lawyers, law students and students considering a law degree. The project is tentatively titled “Strategy for New Lawyers: Career, Practice, Life”. Posts in this series are tagged “strategy for new lawyers” and are listed in the category “Strategy.” If you are interested in learning more about this book, please subscribe to this blog, as I will be posting posting updates and information as it becomes available, in the weeks and months to come!