Overcoming lawyers’ resistance to change (Part 4): Find the bright spots

Overcoming lawyers’ resistance to change (Part 4): Find the bright spots

In this post, I would like to review the tactics leading law firms have used to complete the transition to what Paul Lippe described last March as "the new normal," a world in which law firms deliver enhanced services with predictable pricing, and generally do more with less. 

There's just one problem: no firm has completed this transition.  Lawyers want precedents and proven solutions.  But in this case, there are none. 

Firms that want to promote change are therefore reviewing tactics that have worked in other professions, and analyzing how they could be applied in the legal marketplace.  The first three parts of this series described key concepts from the book Switch: How to change things when change is hard, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, including find the feeling, create short term wins and raise the urgency level.  To that list, today I will add a fourth tactic: find the bright spots.

The Heaths illustrate this principle with an example from the work of the charity Save the Children on the problem of malnutrition.  When Jerry Sternin went to Vietnam in 1990, he had limited resources and few ideas of how to tackle this huge problem.  So he started by doing some research in rural villages "searching for bright spots," things that were already working and that might be spread to others for a relatively low cost. 

Sternin found that in every village there were always a few bright spot children who seemed better nourished than the rest.  When he interviewed villagers about their eating habits, he found that most children ate twice a day along with the rest of their families.  But bright spot mothers were feeding their children four small meals each day rather than two large ones.  The children's stomachs were better able to digest these smaller meals, and they ended up better nourished.

There were other differences as well.  In most Vietnamese families, the children fed themselves.  But bright spot mothers actively fed each child, which encouraged them to eat more.  These mothers also added some foods to the diet - shrimp and crabs from the rice paddies, and sweet potato greens - which other mothers did not consider appropriate for kids. 

You might think that Sternin's next step would be to make an announcement to publicize his findings and recommendations.  But Sternin knew that "knowledge does not change behavior.  We have all encountered crazy shrinks and obese doctors and divorced marriage counselors" (p. 30).  So instead he took more active learning approach in which groups of families prepared food together, with the assistance of a Save the Children representative.

This assured that villagers tried the new procedures, and saw that they worked.  Within six months later, 65% of the children who had been through the program were better nourished.  Within a few years, Save the Children had spread the program to 265 Vietnamese villages with a total population of 2.2 million.

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