squirrels support the creative process!

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Questions I’ve pondered often: does technology really support me, my goals, my practice, my creative efforts? Or does it distract me more than support me?

As in: “Look! A squirrel!” I feel that’s often my reaction when I learn of a new app or digital toy I must play with. I get distracted, run off (and away from my present work), and chase it.

The perspective offered in this article  by Greg Satell helped me identify the context for answering these queries. Or maybe not even asking them anymore.

The answer: technology (aka my “squirrel”) does support me, my goals, my creativity. When used to do so. What’s important to understand is how technology functions to support what and how you create, no matter how defined.

Because we all create. Even lawyers stuck in rather dull, uninspired practices create. May I suggest that leveraging technology to handle the dull and uninspiring minutiae may even open up the wellspring of creativity in your practice? Yep.

The Creative Process. Satell offers the following three steps as key to this process:

1. Forming intent. You have a purpose, a problem to solve, a goal to reach. This process of forming an intent to create is inherently human.

2. Searching the domain. As a student of your craft, you search your domain — your toolbox of techniques, approaches and philosophies — to create solutions, combinations, purpose.

3. Tangling hierarchies. When you synthesize across domains [discovering and/or creating connections among the seemingly unrelated], creation rises to the level of innovation.

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So where does technology fit in? A few spots, actually.

Eliminating barriers to creative excellence. Access to new knowledge and information contributes to our creative toolbox. As Satell observes, “The sum total of human knowledge is merely a few clicks away.” Searching this technologically flat Earth makes it much easier, and more likely, that we’ll discover just the connection(s) we seek to create (and perhaps even innovate).

This applies to everything we do, really, but isn’t it absolutely apropos to the practice of law? With so many rich (and mostly free) legal resources online , barriers to discovery in the legal realm are almost non-existent. Not to mention the sheer volume of information about pretty much anything else you may need to know, floating about on the internet, just waiting for you to find it.

Simulating failure. Great work is the result of producing a lot of work. Because a lot of it isn’t going to be great. But the more work you do, the greater the chance you’ll do the great work. Lower the cost of producing the work? It’s easier (and cheaper) to produce lots of it. Lots of it will fail. But the cost to do so can be minimized, if not nearly eliminated, by using the right technology. So we’re encouraged to increase output, thereby leading to a greater likelihood of achieving greater creative success.

I think most every human has a natural aversion to failure. Us lawyers? Especially so. We’re programed (if not hardwired) to be right. All of the time. Technology gives us some breathing room. Using the right software, for example, we can analyze, project, predict. With ease and speed. We can work out options, test them, experience virtual failure. Before we create the bestcourse of action for the client. Whew, isn’t that a relief?

Rise of the creative class. Satell posits that creativity is becoming a daily part of work life for all of us: “The man in the gray flannel suit has been replaced by the hipster with spiky hair and tattoos.” How so? Because technology is taking over the rote, the mundane, the stuff that can be turned into a tech-driven process precisely because it doesn’t rely on the inherently human act of creativity. So what’s left? The work that does.

Yes, even in the staid, traditional legal profession. (Though the tattoos likely will remain concealed under the gray flannel.) Why? Because technology is taking over a lot of the rote stuff for us, too. And freeing up our time and mental energy to focus on the really creative part of solving legal problems. By automating documents, processes, internal and external systems, your brain is involved less in that and more in the part that only a trained human brain can do.

The dangers? I like that technology frees my brain. I know I do better work because I have the tools (and information they provide) at my disposal. But I know that technology can give us a false sense of security and confidence, too. Automate too much, make everything a process, remove yourself from it, and the creative opportunities start to flatten out. You may end up being less creative then you were before technology stepped in to help.

And we aren’t entirely free of the squirrel effect. Every day, some new app comes along, offering to help you do something better, faster, easier. That new app may be great. Maybe you should take the time and mental energy to explore it. Or maybe you should ask if the problem it solves is one that you need to fix? If the answer is not really, then ignore the squirrel. Stick with the one you have. The right squirrels are what you seek, not the shiny new ones.