I spend a lot of time writing, preparing presentations, teaching, researching, and doing all the other things you would expect a Lean Law Evangelist and Adjunct Professor to do. In other words, I create a lot of content. At one point, I was turning out the equivalent of a full-on blog post every day in addition to preparing weekly presentations and class materials. I often get asked how I can generate so much material each week.
It is an interesting question. I don’t think I turn out a lot of written material. In fact, when I compare myself to other writers, I find I lag behind. Take, for example, Sean McCabe. Sean got in to writing as something ancillary to his true love, hand lettering. Sean then expanded his empire to podcasts and YouTube videos and today Sean keeps several people employed. His businesses include teaching people to hand-letter and teaching people how to build businesses through content. Sean estimates that he writes over 1,000,000 words each year. For those without a calculator handy, that is about 2,700 words every day of the year, though for Sean the word count actually is higher. He takes every seventh week off to refresh.
Another writer with a decent work ethic is Monica Leonelle. Monica has an impressive background, with a bachelor’s degree in physics and computer science and an MBA from Chicago Booth. But what is really impressive is Monica’s writing speed. She puts 3,500 to 4,000 words on paper each hour. Think of it this way: blog posts usually run 500 to 700 words, so Monica writes four to eight blog posts an hour. Now, she doesn’t do that eight hours a day, day in and day out. But even one hour a day gives Monica about 1,460,000 words per year (compared to Sean’s 1,000,000).
Creativity and Process are Bedfellows
As you can see, compared to writers like Sean and Monica, I’m a piker. At my present pace, I turn out around 4,000 – 6,000 words a week, or about 200,000 to 300,000 words a year (not including writing for articles and books). Obviously, writers fall all along a continuum of writing speed. But, it seems like many who succeed do so not just because of creative talent (whatever that means). They succeed because they have some process which helps them succeed.
This mix of creativity and process is important for lawyers to understand. When many lawyers are confronted with ideas such as project management and process improvement, they roll their eyes and mutter about these mundane techniques impairing their creativity. “I’m a lawyer, not a toaster maker,” some say. “You can’t treat legal services the same way you treat manufacturing – the creative process is different.”
Let’s look at another creative person, Sunni Brown. Sunni is a writer and an artist. Obviously, she falls into the creative camp. She has written two books on creativity and is working on her third, so she also gets things done. (Note the subtle point here. How is it that creative people get things done if they are so anti-process?)
Sunni says she doesn’t follow a consistent routine each day, but she is consistent in her commitment. As Sunni says, “For me, it’s not about a consistent time in my routine. It’s more about a constant commitment to that process, to being creative.” Now she goes further. As a business person (she runs a consulting firm called Sunni Brown Ink), she has confronted the need to have a more consistent schedule. Listen to how Sunni describes her way of combining creativity with process (the emphasis is mine, just to make sure you get my point):
Up until about three months ago, I didn’t know if it was Monday or Saturday. I just recently started putting parameters around that. If you run a business, you’re very consumed by that. So I just learned the great art of structuring your week as a workweek. I have a coach—a creative coach—she and I over time realized that consistency is one of my biggest challenges. What I’ve seen is much less anxiety. For creatives, I think we have more of a tendency to move into anxiety and instability. So I think one of the best-kept secrets for long-term, sustainable creativity is consistent discipline and sustainable, predictable actions. It’s kind of like getting a container for your creativity so that it doesn’t wear you out.
The creativity-and-process story doesn’t end with Sean, Monica, and Sunni. As I’ve written before, great chefs become great not just by being creative, but by consistently delivering a great experience. Great companies that innovate don’t get there just by having really cool ideas, they have cool ideas and execute on them.
Marry Creativity With Process For Success
Creativity and process live hand-in-hand. Try to name a famous creative person who didn’t execute. You couldn’t, because it was a trick question. Without execution – without some process that gets the creative idea to the public – creativity is just an idea in some person’s head.
Lawyers who cry that process improvement will destroy their creativity fundamentally misunderstand both ideas. Process improvement doesn’t stop a lawyer from coming up with a brilliant legal tactic, a new legal theory, or a stunning solution to a complex problem. Creativity doesn’t preclude efficiency in bringing that legal tactic, theory, or solution to life. They work together, with a time for creativity and a time for execution.
As Steve Poor recently wrote, hyperbole is the new fashion in writing and talking about the legal industry. The pendulum has to swing one way or the other. In a way, I suppose, this fashion matches the world at large where hyperbole is the way to get noticed in a sea of voices. If you want to get on the evening news, don’t say the economy is slowly improving and is likely to continue doing so. Either say we are in another bubble and it will burst any day leaving all of us destitute, or say the economy is about to take off and we will see economic growth like we have never seen before. Extremes play; middle of the road is boring.
At the risk of being boring, then, I’ll go back to creativity and process. We see real value when the provider, lawyer or organization, finds the right balance of the two. Creativity without process leads to great ideas that never see the light of day. Process without creativity leads to drudgery where the next incremental improvement becomes more important than the goal. Hit the sweet spot and like the great writer, painter, or chef, you will find success. Nothing makes a client happier than a brilliant idea delivered early and under budget.