The Courage to Innovate
We can take a page (or a few pages) from Larry Fink’s Playbook.
Innovation is not just about incorporating the latest technological advancements — automation, enhanced computing power and machine learning, among others — into one’s work; it is also about one’s mindset and building, through practice, the skills to question how the “status quo” can be changed to optimize the value realized over the long term.
As we lawyers and other legal professionals strive to become innovative or to become more innovative, we should consider taking a page from the success stories of those who have already demonstrated the courage to innovate in other industries.
In their book, Innovator’s DNA, Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen talk about the “courage to innovate,” among many other qualities that comprise an innovator’s DNA. The courage to innovate refers to an “an active bias against the status quo and an unflinching willingness to take smart risks [and] to transform ideas into powerful impact.”
Which leaders, entrepreneurs, athletes, engineers and creators
have demonstrated the courage to innovate?
Who has transformed the industry, business, sport or community
in which she or he works, leads, plays and/or creates?
Which leaders, entrepreneurs, athletes, engineers and creators have demonstrated the courage to innovate?
Consider: Jeff Bezos of Amazon. Axel Dumas of Hermès. Suh Kyung-bae of Amorepacific Group. Elon Musk of Tesla. Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo. Leonard S. Schleifer of Regeneron. Meg Whitman of NewTv (and of eBay and of HP). Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. See, for example, the 2018 list of “The World’s Most Innovative Companies” to see other innovators. https://www.forbes.com/innovative-companies/list/.
There are a vast number of individuals who have demonstrated the courage to challenge the status quo, and not all of those individuals appear on the Forbes list or any “list.”
And, one such individual is Larry Fink.
Fink is the Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of BlackRock, Inc., which as of June 30, 2018, had approximately $6.3 trillion in assets under management. Each year, Fink pens a letter addressed to CEOs. Reading this year’s letter to CEOs back in January solidified in my mind that, for decades, Fink, an icon of Wall Street, has, in the words of authors Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen, demonstrated an active bias against the status quo and an unflinching willingness to take smart risks and to transform ideas into powerful impact; Fink has demonstrated the courage to innovate.
At the helm of BlackRock, Fink has not only brought financial solutions and “financial wellbeing” to investors, Fink has also championed investment stewardship and long-term value creation by the world’s largest, most influential corporations. Fink challenges the status quo by pressing corporations to define and communicate their framework for value creation and to demonstrate good corporate governance, all of which are necessary for sustainable growth. Fink challenges the status quo all-the-while embracing BlackRock’s fiduciary responsibility to its investors. Fink’s team has even been at the forefront on deploying tech applications in the creation and management of ETFs.
▪ See, e.g., https://www.barrons.com/articles/blackrock-unveils-7-a-i-powered-sector-etfs-1521826251 and https://www.blackrockblog.com/2018/03/08/artificial-intelligence-blackrock/.
What is remarkable is that Fink is not only transforming how asset management firms operate and deliver “financial wellbeing” to their clients, Fink is also transforming how corporations think about their businesses and how they lead and govern them. Fink is even shaping how external service providers, such as investment bankers and lawyers, advise and guide client corporations. Informed by corporate governance experts on BlackRock’s team (like economist Michelle Edkins), Fink has given lawyers a playbook for helping their clients navigate shareholder engagement, proxy contests and other governance matters. Robust governance practices are an essential element of an effective corporate risk mitigation strategy. One could argue that Fink has done at least as much to advance sound corporate governance as have the lawyers and the jurists (like one of my own personal favorite jurists, Chief Justice Strine of the Delaware Supreme Court) who practice in the governance space every day.
Who in the legal profession is actively challenging the status quo?
How can lawyers develop the courage to innovate?
In challenging the status quo, Fink has asked corporations to consider some fundamental questions, which are also relevant for service providers in the legal profession to consider.
- Are we adapting to technological change?
- Are we providing the retraining and opportunities needed to adjust to an increasingly automated world?
- Are we working to create a diverse workforce?
With this blog post, in particular, I am intentionally leaving questions unanswered. And, there are additional questions to consider as we look to Fink as a role model displaying the courage to innovate, among other attributes of successful innovators that he has displayed. Fink and his team have built BlackRock into the organization it is today and, more broadly, they have begun to cultivate corporate cultures of “long-termism” across the globe, something no one else on Wall Street seemed to have the moxie to do until Fink raised his hand.
- What can we learn from Fink’s his ability to cultivate innovation and “long-term is” not only within BlackRock but within and among the world community of corporations?
- How can we take those lessons and share them with teams of professionals within law firms, law schools, corporate law departments and other legal service providers?
- How can we develop and encourage legal professionals of all demographic characteristics to possess the courage to question the status quo?
- Who among us has the courage to ask the tough questions about our profession, whether the questions relate to:
(1) the integration of tech apps into our practice,
(2) diversity within the legal profession and the meaning of “equity” and “equitable” in the context of being a member of the legal profession; or
(3) the “real impact” of the billable hour on maintaining the status quo?
Over time, Frontier of the Law will work to address the topics in the above questions. We — all of us legal professionals — have the ability and obligation to help our profession evolve for the benefit of our clients and ourselves.
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