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Navigating the Course of Change

by Larry Bridgesmith, JD | CEO of Legal Alignment

The summer film viewing audience soon will be enjoying the first wave of disaster films with many more yet to come. Whether watching California fall into the Pacific or inner space being claimed by private commercial interests intent on weaponizing the sky above us, we love to watch chaos being tamed by the brave, the bold and the brazen.

As entertaining as disaster movies can be, when chaos becomes reality, the fun is much less enticing.

Our son and his family recently left the safe confines of the Tennessee hills for San Andreas country. Further, Lance has disaster response and preparedness responsibilities in his new role as chief of the department of public safety for a university sitting squarely on the fault line. Proximity to the possibility of chaos can quickly lose its entertainment value.

In the world of legal innovation, the noise of change and uncertainty can seem every bit as chaotic as a blockbuster movie. Where are the Bradley Coopers or Dwayne Johnsons on the set to root for? What's the plan to bring calm to the chaos? Who is going to risk her life to save us?

The legal industry admittedly is in an era of often chaotic change. Law firm leaders acknowledge that the changes are permanent and the pressure for even greater change will not abate. The recent Alman Weil annual survey on Law Firms in Transition for 2015 reveals there will be no return to "the good ole days".

However, the path to greater clarity and the security of a new status quo is not obvious. In fact, the volume of the noise grows greater each day as clients and law firm leaders seek the calm of a new order which is no where in view on the horizon.

Such is the path of change. Rarely, if ever, does the new order come into view until the shores of security we have left behind have become invisible in our rear view mirror. Before the new world takes shape, there are many nautical miles of endless waves, wind and cross currents to traverse. We should not be surprised.

Nor should we lose hope. The land we have lost was also once only a dream on the horizon, imagined more than real. How do we navigate the winds and the waves? "We learn to sail."

When you realize there is nothing firm on which to stand,

but only shifting sand and sea and sky, the mature

do not bemoan the lack of fixity. They learn to sail.

Sailing does not control the forces of nature, it harnesses them to propel your craft in the direction of travel you have chosen.

"That's exactly the problem," you say. "How can we know which direction to take?"

Complex system theory can improve our navigation skills. In my work with business leaders, biomedical ethicists and others who desire to navigate the winds of change, we often explore how complex adaptive systems effectively manage the chaos of change. Complex systems are interdependent organisms which adapt to change organically. Like flocks of starlings, slime mold or our human bodies, complex systems respond to change through intrinsic signals that highlight the paths which are in our ultimate best interest. Complex systems are not autocratic, they are the result of interdependent self-organized groups of individuals acting in their own collective best interests. They cannot be micromanaged. They can only be influenced. What emerges are the "best practices" of the new order.

The legal service delivery industry is such a complex adaptive system. No one is in charge, but all can influence its path.

Take three minutes if you wish to be convinced that complexity does not have to be complicated. Eric Berlow is an ecologist with a compelling approach to solving complex problems. It only requires that we identify the nodes of interdependent influence. Sound simple? It is.

We each have a circle of influence with whom we have credibility. Engaging those with whom we have influence directly changes our circle of complex adaptive system input and leads to emerging behavior which helps define the new order.

It's like learning to sail. Let's get on with it. It's time to weigh anchor.

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