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Provoking Disruptive Thinking at #LTNY

Provoking Disruptive Thinking at LTNY

Likeminded people tend to network or hang out with likeminded people – it’s a phenomenon that may hinder innovation in any industry, let alone legal. This was an underlying theme to Professor Luke Williams’ Legal Tech 2014 session: “Disrupt” for Lawyers – Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in the Legal Industry on Tuesday.

Mr. Williams offered five steps to disruptive thinking:

  1. Draft a disruptive hypothesis
  2. Define a disruptive market opportunity
  3. Generate several disruptive ideas
  4. Shape a disruptive solution
  5. Make a disruptive pitch

Social proof with RFID

To prove the likeminded hypothesis, researchers challenged professional executives to attend a networking event with the goal of meeting as many different people as possible. Many accepted the challenge, noting they network to this end often, according to the presentation.

The researchers slipped RFID chips into their name tags in order to track every engagement. The results of this social experiment were telling: The lawyers met with other lawyers, the marketers chatted with other marketers and the accountants talked shop with other accountants. In other words, the likeminded hung out with the likeminded.

Provoke disruptive thinking

Disruptive thinking generally needs a provocation. Mr. Williams pointed out that people are creatures of habit, for example we function in daily commutes as if on autopilot.

What would provoke disruptive thinking during rush hour in a New York train station? Movement…or better still, the absence thereof, amid the hustle and bustle of commuters moving to and from trains.

A group of improvisionalists tackled this point in an event captured in video and widely circulated on YouTube. Two hundred people collaborated  to freeze in place for two minutes during the middle of a rush in New York’s Grand Central Station. Few things might jolt the mind into disruptive thinking like a break from the norm. The video shown nearby was shown during the session.

Disruptive opportunity lies in what is NOT broken

Socks are sold in pairs for a reason; after people generally have two feet. Mr. Williams briefly walked the isles of the Legal Tech 2014 session inspecting socks to ensure the audience was wearing a pair that matched.  He proved his point.

To that end, it may seem a tough case then to start a company on the idea of selling socks that do not match – and the concept sounds even more absurd when sold as a pack of three. Who would buy such a product? LittleMissMatched is a company that found a niche by thinking differently about a product that clearly was not broken.

A print magazine is an iPad that doesn’t work

In another example, Mr. Williams played a YouTube video, also posted nearby, of an infant playing first with an iPad and later a magazine. It appears quite convincingly that the child does in fact think the magazine is an iPad that does not work.

Parents come to realize that children often speak (or act) with a frame of reference that is absent from the confines of our world view, or the view based on the experiences we’ve gained with time. Perhaps it’s the perspective of innocence; changing the frame of reference is quite literally thinking differently and a path toward disruptive thinking.

Cliché: widespread beliefs that govern the way people think about and do business in a particular space

What is the biggest cliché in the legal industry?

Mr. Williams defined a cliché as “widespread beliefs that govern the way people think about and do business in a particular space.” What is the biggest cliché in legal work? According to Mr. Williams it is billable hours.

It’s a process to with which the legal industry is comfortable. While certainly it’s not the only area, it is, Mr. Williams argues, one example within legal circles prime for disruption – think AFAs as a competitive advantage. Perhaps one way to put the ideas from this session into motion and begin disruptive thinking is seek out people that think differently at Legal Tech.

Your turn…what thoughts, comments or additions would you share with respect to Mr. Williams’ presentation?

Photo credit: Flickr via Creative Commons

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About Frank Strong

Frank Strong
Frank Strong is the communications director with Business of Law Software Solutions (BLSS) a division of LexisNexis. In this capacity he directs communications strategy and execution in support of BLSS products including those for large law, small law and corporate counsel. With 15 years in experience in the marketing communications for the high-tech sector, Strong previously served as director of PR for Vocus, which develops marketing, PR and media monitoring software. He’s held multiple roles in PR both in-house with corporations, and has also endured the rigors of billable hours, having completed gigs at PR firms both large and small. A veteran with two deployments, Strong has concurrently served in uniform in reserve components of the military for 20 years, initially as an enlisted Marine and later as an Army officer. Strong holds a BA in Film and TV production from Worcester University, an M.A. in Public Communication from American University, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University.


  1. […] for lawyers and marketing, Luke Williams a professor at NYU Stern, gave a key note speech on how to provoke disruptive thinking. The […]