The 5 Ps of professional happiness

A recent survey listed lawyers (specifically associates) as the unhappiest occupation in America. This isn’t a huge surprise. I know about a kajillion lawyers (which is one followed by a wad of zeroes, or ten to the wad), and way too many of them are fairly unhappy with their profession. When I stopped practicing (escaped?) two years ago, many of my colleagues gave me that look you saw as a kid when you told your friends that you’re going to Disney World — you know, that wistful, pleading look that says, “Take me with you. Please?”

In this short talk (just six minutes) at the LexThink Conference in Chicago, I explain why unhappiness abounds in the legal world. Then I give five simple steps for fixing it. And this advice doesn’t just apply to lawyers; any professional or creative person can use them to find happiness at work. So take six minutes and watch. See if it can help you find your own professional happiness.

Don’t do what you’re good at

Here’s a short (19:47) video of a talk I gave recently at Super Conference II in Boston. In it, I warned over a hundred lawyers that the advice that they’ve been given — “Do what you’re good at” — is actually bad advice. Instead, they should find their outstandingness. (Yes, I know: that’s not in your dictionary. Well maybe your dictionary is broken. Or quite possibly, I made it up. Either way, you already know what it means.)

By the way, even though I was addressing lawyers, this advice holds for anyone in business.

Thanks to the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program and the Massachusetts Bar Association for hosting the conference and providing the video.

Every little bit doesn’t add up

Back when I had my law firm, we would sometimes take business that didn’t really seem ideal for our practice. Either it wasn’t the right type of client, or they didn’t really have enough money to truly be able to afford us, or something else was wrong with them. But in the end, we would compromise our principles. There was always pressure to bring in more revenue. We had to pay the rent, the payroll, and other expenses. You couldn’t have too much revenue.

Every little bit added up.

And that’s what a lot of people say when they’re trying to justify doing the wrong thing. “Every little bit adds up.” The only problem with that is, it’s not true.

Every little bit doesn’t add up.

Taking on business because it’ll bring about a marginal amount of revenue even though it’s not the right type of client for you is a bad approach. Sure, it’s true that incremental amounts of revenue add up to more revenue. But what that fails to take into account is the hidden costs of taking on bad business.

The time you spend doing the wrong kind of work or doing it for the wrong type of client is time that takes you away from the work you really want to do. And when professionals are doing the wrong kind of work or doing it for the wrong kind of client, they tend to be unhappier. It becomes harder to do the work. Quality suffers. Morale suffers. Yes, every little bit of revenue adds up. But too many professionals fail to account for the emotional costs of doing this incremental work. And they justify it by saying that every little bit adds up.

All kinds of companies make this mistake. For example, look at this rate card from a Las Vegas hotel. I’m not going to name the hotel, because I’m staying there in the near future. But it’s one of the largest hotels in the world. They do a robust business, and they make plenty of money. And yet they have this rate card of incidental charges connected to its business center. This is serious nickel-and-dime nonsense. Eight dollars for the first page of outgoing faxes; a dollar per page for incoming email. (Of course, who even uses faxes anymore?)

hotel price list
While I am not privy to the strategies and mindset of this particular hotel, I am certain that someone there reasoned that every little bit adds up. If they can make a little bit of money on every fax, email, and package received, it will add up to a lot of money. But what they fail to take into account are the costs associated with that. I’m not talking about the actual expenses of receiving packages or sending faxes. Those costs are negligible anyay. I’m talking about the emotional cost of ticking off its customers. Nobody likes to see this sort of nonsense on their hotel bills.

Look at the airlines, and their growing tendency to nickel-and-dime passengers for almost anything they can charge them for. What used to be covered in the cost of buying a ticket is now an additional charge. Baggage fees and change fees are the biggest offenders. Last year, American Airlines took in half a billion dollars in baggage fees and change fees. Arguably, this mitigated its $2 billion net loss for the year. You could say that this is an example of the mantra “every little bit adds up” coming true.

That is, until you look at Southwest Airlines. Southwest is the only major airline to show a profit. Not coincidentally, Southwest is also one of the few airlines that eschews baggage fees and change fees. By avoiding the emotional costs that those nitpicky charges exact on passengers, they run a more successful business.

I’m sure that the bean counters at American Airlines look at the revenue that comes in from baggage fees and change fees and say, “Every little bit adds up. If we didn’t have these fees, we would have suffered an even larger loss.” But I believe that if American were more like Southwest, they might actually make money from flying passengers rather than charging fees.

Another area where the “every little bit adds up” mentality comes into play is in cost-cutting. A lot of companies believe that if they skimp on certain things, “every little bit” that they save will add up to substantially lower expenses and higher profits. But that mentality is misguided.

At one point, someone at my law firm raised the suggestion that we start using less-expensive paper. The paper that we had been using was an expensive, heavier bond that was brighter, whiter, and more substantial than what most other law firms used. It was also much more expensive. And over the course of a year, we spent thousands of dollars on paper. If we switched to cheaper paper, we would save money. Every little bit would add up.

But I wasn’t willing to compromise on that. To me, the written documents that we filed in court or sent to opposing counsel or delivered to clients represented a major part of the value we provided. Sure, it was the words on the paper that mattered, and not the paper itself.

But there is an emotional quality that attaches to the physical documents and to the paper. The paper sent a message that our firm cared about the details. That we cared about how our documents looked. That we put a lot of effort into making sure that our documents were just right. That’s why our documents used a carefully selected font rather than Times New Roman. That’s why our document design was painstakingly developed, rather than merely relying on the default settings of Microsoft Word. And that’s why the paper we used was expensive Hammersmith rather than the bargain Staples generic copy paper. Because every little bit didn’t add up.

Now don’t get me wrong about expenses. Paying attention to important expenses is good business sense. You can make a much bigger difference by saving money on expensive office space rather than using chintzy, generic copy paper. It is the major expenses that actually add up onto you bottom line.

But enough about expenses; let’s go back to revenue, where most professionals have difficulty.

I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to worry about where the next bit of revenue is going to come from. I know what it’s like to not have enough in your firm account and have the rent or the payroll due. It is very difficult in times like those to turn away any client that comes in with a pulse and a checkbook. But trust me: it’s worth it.

Here’s what you can do to help get through it:

  1. Tell the client that it’s not a good fit. Turn away the work politely. If you can, refer them somewhere else.

  2. Figure out how much attention you would’ve had to pay to doing that not-right work.

  3. Commit to spending that time and attention doing tangible things that will lead to getting the right work and the right clients. Get a speaking gig. Teach a continuing-education class. Get an article published. Write a couple posts for your blog. If you don’t already have a blog — hey, it’s 2012: time to start a frakkin’ blog.

Do these things and you will soon find that you’re doing more work that you want to be doing for more clients who you want to be working with. Because here, every little bit does add up.

How to get people to do what you want

Here is the six-minute “LexThink .1” speech I gave in Chicago in March at the ABA TechShow. In it, I explain the three simple steps you need to take to get someone to do what you want. LexThink follows the “Ignite” speech format: six minutes, 20 slides, 18 seconds per slide, advancing automatically with no control by the speaker.

Enjoy. And if you want the free Result Triangle worksheet, it’s right here. You can print it out and use it right now to help solve whatever problem you’re facing.

The Result Triangle: Getting people to do what you want

You know how hard it is to get someone to do what you want them to do?

It’s pretty hard. And you know what? We make it harder. We get lost in the details. We fuss about incentives and penalties and policies. We overcomplicate problems.

So if complexity is our problem, then it stands to reason that simplicity is the solution. We need to figure out exactly what we’re trying to do and how best to do it. Well, that sounds fine. But how do we actually make simplicity solve our problems?

To find out, I went through nearly two decades of case files, looked at thousands of business interactions. Where had I messed up? Where had things gone smoothly?

And a pattern emerged, where complexity caused problems and simplicity led to success.

That same pattern appears in hundreds of business books, in all kinds of business interactions. This pattern teaches us the best way to get someone to agree to do something. It comes to down to three simple points. And these three points make what I call “The Result Triangle.”

The Result Triangle works in every business context: negotiations, sales, customer service, management, litigation, pricing. Whatever field you’re in, you can use the Result Triangle to simplify your problem and get someone to do what you want them to do.
The three simple points are:

  1. clarify the goal
  2. show you care, and
  3. address the fear

The Result Triangle

These three points help you figure out what you want … and how to get it. Let me give you 3 quick examples to show how they work in real life.

Clarifying the goal

I usually fly Southwest Airlines. And many of you know that on Southwest, you have to check in early so that you don’t get stuck with a middle seat. Southwest doesn’t do seat assignments. Instead, you check in and get assigned a number. Get a lower number, get a better seat.

Why does Southwest do this? Because their goal is to keep their planes in the air as much as possible. Open seating, flying only one type of jet, and even “bags fly free” all lead to more time in the air. And more airtime means more profit.

Planes make money in the air, not on the ground. Their planes spend 30 percent more time in the air than their competitors’, and they’re the only airline making a profit. By clarifying their goal — “planes in the air” — Southwest gets their people to focus on doing what’s most important.

We tend to take our goals for granted without giving them a lot of thought: To close the deal. To win the case. To make the sale. But a goal needs to be more precise. Clarifying your goal — boiling it down to its essence — is the first step to achieving it.

Show you care

The second point is “show you care.” Let me give you an example:

My dad had this winter coat that he loved and he wore it until it finally fell apart. Turns out my brother was planning a trip up to L.L. Bean in Maine, so my dad asked him if he could pick him up a new coat while he was there.

So my brother brings the coat to try to exchange it and of course he has no receipt because my dad bought it so many years ago. And the folks at L.L. Bean can’t find the same coat. So instead of sending him away, they give him a different one, brand new, without any hassle. Because L.L. Bean cares so much about customer satisfaction.

So my brother gets back and gives the new coat to my dad. And my dad says, “Thanks. But I didn’t get it at L.L. Bean!”

And you know what? L.L. Bean must have known that, but they gave him a new coat anyway. Because they were focused on showing how much they care.

Showing that you care makes people want to do what you want them to do. Because of the coat, my family keeps coming back, and we’ve told this story to hundreds of people. By showing they care, L.L. Bean gets people to keep shopping there and tell others how great they are.

Address the fear

The third point is “address the fear.” I was at a Denver steakhouse recently. Great food, fantastic service. This place focuses on a great experience. When it came time to order, we picked out our steaks and we were trying to settle on a side dish to go with the steaks. The waiter recommended this fancy Brussels sprouts dish.

Now, I like Brussels sprouts as much as the next guy, I really do. But this dish sounded a little too daring for me. The waiter said, “Why don’t you just give them a try? If you don’t like them, I’ll whisk them away and replace them with anything you want, no questions asked.” So we tried them, and you know what?

They tasted like feet.

But even so, we didn’t ask him to replace them. We just moved them around on our plates. Because we didn’t want to ruin the experience. The waiter had addressed our fears about not liking the Brussels sprouts, and that made us happy, even though our fears actually came true.

People’s fears are what keeps them from doing what you want. By addressing those fears, you help people get past them. Even if you can’t prevent those fears from coming true. Simply addressing the fear helps make them want to do what you want them to do.

And that’s the Result Triangle:

  1. Clarify the goal
  2. Show you care
  3. Address the fear

You can start using it today. Anytime you need to get someone to agree to do something, whip out your trusty Result Triangle. You’ll be amazed at how this focuses your efforts.

When you do these three things, you simplify the problem you need to solve and you improve your chances of success. People will want to do what you want them to do.

Download a handy PDF of the Result Triangle Worksheet that you can use right now to help solve whatever problem you’re facing.

Airlines struggle with cuisine, common sense

Interesting piece on airlines’ attempts to improve the quality of inflight dining. The article, by Jad Mouawad in Sunday’s New York Times, showed the efforts and difficulties of making food suck less while you’re trapped in a metal cylinder six miles above the ground. And I’m happy to give the airlines credit for trying to make the food better.

But one thing jumped out at me: the airlines’ focus on cutting costs. For example, Delta carefully tracks how much money it can save by diminishing its culinary offerings:

A decision a few years ago to shave one ounce from its steaks, for example, saved the airline $250,000 a year….

Delta also calculated that by removing a single strawberry from salads served in first class on domestic routes, it would save $210,000 a year.

I appreciate that the airlines have struggled financially since 9/11. But for every nickel saved on removing a passenger’s strawberry (who puts strawberries in a salad, anyway?) or fifty cents saved on offering an ounce less steak, there is a passenger whose experience on a long and expensive flight just got a little bit worse. Delta and the other airlines would do better to focus on improving their customers’ experiences, and then add 55 cents to the price of the ticket to cover the strawberry and extra steak. I’d pay it. Wouldn’t you?

What George Lucas can teach you about business by making Star Wars worse

Confession time: I’m a Star Wars geek. I was born in 1967, so I was nine going on ten when Star Wars hit the theaters. I went to see it with my Little League team, and it changed my life.

But the truth of the matter is, Star Wars is only one-third good. The first two movies are excellent. Return of the Jedi has its moments, but they’re lost among too many Ewok hijinks. The prequel trilogy is basically a honking mess.

But many fanboys (and fangirls) of my generation get particularly worked up when George Lucas trots out yet another “special edition” of what is supposed to be immutable canon. This all started in 1997, with the first “special edition” rerelease of the first movie — the version that created the “Han Shot First” rhubarb. Fans screeched that Lucas was making the movies worse!

This issue has returned because Lucas has just rereleased a new version of The Phantom Menace, widely regarded as his worst work since Howard the Duck. But in this hysterical piece, Chris Bucholz explains why we fanboys ought to just shut up and let George do his worst:

Really, if Lucas wants to fix something he thinks was a mistake in an earlier film, that’s his business. Our lives aren’t affected in any serious way if he changes it, nor does he have a contract with us to preserve The Phantom Menace as some kind of cultural monument to poor plotting. We’re just not talking about something that’s that important — it’s not the Constitution, or the Bible, or The Godfather.

The bottom line is, successful businesspeople create the things they want to create, not what they think the customers want. Henry Ford famously said that customers would have asked for a faster horse. (Actually, it turns out, he may not have said it.) Steve Jobs’s Apple didn’t use focus groups, and never asked us if we wanted a physical keyboard on our iPhones. Geniuses — like Ford, Jobs, and Lucas — create the things that they feel passionate about. That’s what geniuses do.

If those things fill a need with customers, then the success will follow. But success does not come from slavishly following the whims and wishes of fanboys. Don’t listen to your customers more than you listen to your passions.

Simplicity at Reader’s Digest

Here’s Dan Lagani, the (relatively) young (he’s 48) president of Reader’s Digest North America on how he learned how to keep management simple. From the excellent Sunday New York Times column “The Boss.”

I feel as if I’ve spent the last 25 years getting ready for what I’m doing now. During that time, I’ve found that simplicity is crucial in running a business, from keeping your mind open to ideas that present themselves in everyday life to ensuring that your processes are straightforward. It’s a matter of paring complex problems to the essentials.

Simplicity at Davos

Author Chris Zook, writing on the Harvard Business Review blog about discussions on the need for simplicity at the Davos economics forum:

We just completed a multi-year study of the root causes of enduring success. We found an increasing premium to simplicity in the world of today — not just simplicity of organization, but more fundamentally to an essential simplicity at the heart of strategy itself. In every industry, we discovered companies that were enjoying an inherent advantage in dealing with the increasing tension of faster moving markets and increased internal complexity due to this ability to keep things simpler and more transparent than their rivals.

John Gruber on Apple’s Mountain Lion

On his world-class Apple-related blog Daring Fireball, John Gruber reports on his impressions of Apple’s forthcoming new operating system. As usual, he deftly sums up the key to Apple’s success — simplicity:

The changes and additions in Mountain Lion are in a consistent vein: making things simpler and more obvious, closer to how things should be rather than simply how they always have been.

How the Five Guys menu can help your company

A few months ago, when I was visiting my brother in Denver, he introduced me to Five Guys hamburger restaurant. Now I’m hooked. Each restaurant is clean and well lit, decorated with bright white and red tiles, and easy-to-read signs. There is a big box of peanuts for you to help yourself from while you’re waiting. The burgers themselves are as fresh as you will find (they use no freezers), and the french fries are fantastic.

But what really sets Five Guys apart is its menu. Check it out (click it to biggify):

As you can see, there’s not much there. They basically sell only five things: burgers, hot dogs, veggie or cheese sandwiches, fries, and soft drinks. You can add cheese or bacon or both to your burger or dog. You can choose a single patty (called a “Little Hamburger”) instead of the regular double patty. You can have your fries Cajun style instead of regular. And you can add all the usual toppings for no extra cost. And that’s it.

The menu is simplicity itself. They focus on a handful of items and they make them exceptionally well. Customers are not overwhelmed with a bunch of choices. It’s basically, “Burger, hot dog, fries, and what do you want on them?” Couldn’t be easier.

Contrast this with the complexity of the current menu at McDonald’s. There are too many categories with dozens of items, many of which aren’t even clear about what species they’re in. (Just what the heck is a “Big ’n’ Tasty” anyway?) Customers who don’t go to McDonald’s frequently and order their usual are forced to wade through too many choices while people wait in line behind them.

mcdonalds menu flickr | matt mcgee

What is more, with so many different food items to prepare, it’s unlikely that they’re all going to be good. Better to do a few things well, like Five Guys does (Five Guys do?), than to do too many things mediocrely.

The biggest irony here is that when McDonald’s started out, its menu looked much like Five Guys’: just burgers, fries, shakes, and soft drinks.

original mcdonalds menu credit: ebaumsworld.comMany businesses think that customers want a lot of choices. But too many choices tend to annoy customers and paralyze them with indecision. Too many choices takes away from the pleasantness of the experience, and eventually drive customers away.

No matter what business you’re in, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to offer your customers a lot of choices. Instead, focus on doing what you do best, and don’t do anything else. It’s easier for you, and easier for your customers.

One word that will reinvent how you serve clients

Want to know what that one word is? Here are two easy ways to find out:

  1. Go grab your nearest unabridged dictionary. Turn to page one. Start going through each defined word one at a time. You’ll get to it eventually. (OK, maybe that’s not so easy.)

  2. Go to the LexThink.1 site and vote for my proposed talk, “One Word That Will Reinvent How You Serve Clients.” Just click on the handy “vote” icon (see image).


Voting ends February 24. There are 23 other proposals from a rogue’s gallery of big legal thinkers, and only the top 12 will be selected. Your vote will make a difference.

Then come to the ABA TechShow in Chicago starting March 28. The LexThink.1 program is Wednesday night at 6:30 CDT. You can sign up for free tickets here.

So what is LexThink.1? Well, it’s an evening of very short presentations with a challenging constraint: 20 slides, 18 seconds a slide (equaling six minutes exactly, or 0.1 to you lawyers who still use timesheets). The speaker has no control over the slides, which keep advancing like sands in the hourglass (or something) every 18 seconds. It forces the speakers to keep it brief and pithy, and to leave home all the boring bits. It’s inspired by Japan’s Pecha Kucha Nights, which allows a luxurious 20 seconds for each of the twenty slides. This is its third year; it was previously called “IgniteLaw.”

To see an example, here is my talk from last year: “Quantum Leap: How You Will Practice Law in 2019.”

No matter which proposals get chosen, it promises to be an amazing event. Hope to see you there. And thanks for the vote!

Business strategy, emotions, and Inception

First of all, if you haven’t seen the movie, do. It’s one of the smartest movies of the last few years. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the general idea:

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, an expert in extracting information from people’s dreams. But he’s put to the test by a new client who wants him to do something much more difficult: plant an idea in a business rival’s dreaming mind. That’s “inception.” They want their target, Robert Fischer, to break up his late father’s business empire.

As Cobb and his team map out their heist, one of them raises a question central to the movie:


“I will split up my father’s empire.” Now this is obviously an idea that Robert Fischer will choose to reject — which is why we need to plant it deep in his subconscious. Subconscious is fueled by emotion, right? Not reason. We need a find a way to translate this into an emotional concept.


How do you translate a business strategy into an emotion?

That’s a question that all businesspeople should ponder. We tend to focus on creating the ideal business strategy. But we often forget that customers don’t respond to business strategies. Instead, customers — like all human beings — are led by emotion.

You want to increase sales and make your company more successful? Then figure out how to translate a business strategy into an emotion.

Adapted from a Client Revolution post

Simplicity and lawyers

A friend of mine recently complained how things become so much more complicated once the lawyers get involved. And quite frankly, he’s right. Lawyers do tend to make simple things more complicated. Part of the reason for this is because lawyers are trained to spot issues and raise them before they turn into problems. This is a legitimate and valuable role for lawyers. They are trained in law school to become experts at issue-spotting.

But for many lawyers, this becomes a habit. They end up focusing too much on spotting issues and detecting things that can go wrong. Trying to plan around these issues necessarily complicates the job at hand.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead of just focusing on spotting issues, the better lawyers look for ways to help the clients do what they want to do.

This isn’t a new concept. More than 100 years ago, legendary financier J.P. Morgan explained the proper role of lawyers to his own counsel:

I don’t know as I want a lawyer to tell me what I cannot do. I hire him to tell me how to do what I want to do.

What a beautiful and simple concept. Telling your clients how to do what they want to do.

Want to learn more?

Get in touch with Jay today