Our conversation with Mr. Frans Johansson was somewhat of a seminal moment for us on the podcast. We’ve had amazing speakers over the past 3 years (if you can believe it has been 3 years already), many of which were authors. It just happened that The Medici Effect was one of the biggest personal influences for me in 2021.
This text inspired a few of my favorite articles over the past year, including What if “What Makes You Different” Isn’t as Different as You Think, helping us consider “Intersectional Ideas” to propel new concepts and approaches to our marketing, advertising, business operations, company culture, and just about everything in between.
It was a real pleasure speaking with Frans and talking about how his creativity can apply to the legal sector. When we’re in a rut conceptualizing how to take our business to the next level, the conversations in both this podcast and his own collection of publications will be sure to set you out on a unique, inspiring track.
The following interview has been transcribed for our readers from rev.com. Please excuse any discrepancies from the transcription.
AI’s going to impact every single aspect of the legal system over time, and so the question is, do you want to be part of that or do you want to be leading in it? Wherever you see your role in that space, you’re going to be in it one way or another. Can you take that and recombine it with some of your assets, skillsets, processes to create something new?
Today on the Legal Mastermind Podcast, we have Frans Johansson, CEO, speaker, and author of The Medici Effect and The Click Moment. Welcome to the Legal Mastermind Podcast.
Thank you very much. Excited to be here.
Frans, for our listeners that aren’t familiar with who you are or what you do, can you give us a brief rundown?
Sure. So, I am the CEO of The Medici Group. We help organizations drive change at scale to innovate at scale inexpensively and effectively, we have a platform to help organizations do that. They do that based upon principles that I developed in my book, The Medici Effect. So that book, I’m sure we’ll dig into it here, but that’s really the background of where I am at today.
Awesome. Core focus we’re really going to speak about is going to be how to innovate, which ties into your book, and then what diversity inclusion actually looks like. I thought it was interesting, me and Ryan were speaking beforehand, we’re talking about diversity and people are so focused on diversity, and looking that from a level of female, male, black, white, and what we’re talking about is something totally different.
So for those listeners that think we’re going to be talking about diversity in that sense, we’re not. We’re talking about diversity in terms of background, in terms of … and we’ll get into it, but I’m going to let Ryan ask the first question, because he’s read your book and he said it was one of his favorite books he read in all of 2021. How many books did you read last year, Ryan?
It’s not as impressive. You’re really put on a pedestal here, it’s probably 50 books. I was shooting for one a week and-
Oh, only 50? Ryan, what are you doing with your time?
[inaudible 00:02:22] a team that casually say 200, but definitely, Frans, you made a great point in the pre-interview too, we were talking about how, especially in industry such as legal, back in 2013, ’14, people were talking about the should we innovate? Since then, it’s changed a lot too. It’s been [inaudible 00:02:42] for a while, so now it’s not really should, because the answer’s clearly been yes, so now it’s how? So, I think that we want to start there and see how that’s already changed so much in the past six or seven years.
Yeah, and the forces that are driving change are just everywhere and they’re multiplying, so this is why we’re going from the should to the how, right? Whether it’s AI and blockchain, which has the technological forces, or whether it is cultural forces like diversity, equity, inclusion, or new ways of working, business model innovation. So, all this is happening at once. You’re seeing layers upon layers and it is really driving this need.
So, anybody listening to this are probably finding themselves caught up in one or two or three or more of these forces right now. Once one is recognizing that we have to innovate, we have to change in some way, I think it pretty quickly gets to, well, how? What does that mean? What are the approaches to it?
The core central point in the book that I wrote, The Medici Effect, and I also wrote a sequel called The Quick Moment, but the core of those ideas are really that we have the best shot at innovating at the intersection of different fields, cultures, industries, perspectives, backgrounds. When we’re able to bring together to disparate concepts and find a way to make them connect, that we sort of really are upping the game on it.
I can give you an example kind of right off the bat here of how one can think about this. This is an example I’d like to give for organizations sort of similar to law firms. So there’s this hospital in Cambridge, in the UK, and they have a problem, and the issue that they have is that when they’re transferring patients from the surgical unit to the intensive care unit, you have two separate teams working on this patient.
But because of that, there’s sometimes a lack of collaboration, a lack of coordination, and when that happens, there are flaws or errors introduced, and sometimes those errors are fatal. So, now the hospital’s trying to solve this problem. Now, what would be the obvious thing for the hospital to do? It would be to reach out to other hospitals and say, how have you solved this problem? What have you done? What are best practices?
But they didn’t. Instead, they teamed up with a pit stop crew from a Formula 1 car racing team, from McLaren actually, and they said, how do you as a pit stop crew think about collaboration, about coordination, and are there lessons that we can borrow from that? Are there concepts, processes, ideas? It turns out that there were, and they started to really drop this error rate, bring it way down, and so now the pit stop model became one that started spreading to hospitals around the world.
This is what I mean by bringing together two seemingly disparate fields, Formula 1 and hospitals or healthcare, and through that actually developing something new, something innovative.
I think that’s what I love about the concept of intersectional ideas is that there are only so many fields of study or disciplines or areas of expertise that exist, and they don’t come around too often. You’re not going to come up with the next geology or biology, and if you do, it’s not going to happen probably anytime soon, so you work with what exists.
There’s just really interesting, and frankly, innovative things when you kind of try to meld it together, and that does happen in law. You did mention with AI, where in law and AI’s using algorithms to help judges make decisions about the outcomes of criminal and civil cases, and blockchain for safer contracts or more secure contracts. So it exists and it’s happening, it’s a matter of who’s going to get there first.
That’s right. I think that often when we interact with leaders in organizations, so there’s tons of ways to approach this, but one way literally is to, when you’re thinking about a new technology or a new cultural norm, just pick those two categories, because I think they are really pervasive now, both of them are driving innovation. When you think of new technology or norm, explore it, take it, ask yourself, is there any way that we could make use of this? If you wanted to find a place to start.
Because AI, you mentioned impacting judges’ decisions. That is absolutely true, but we’re also seeing it impacting document review, right? So, you’re able to just step up and be able to get a lot of the really would’ve been thousands of man hours try to review documents. Well, some of that can now be done increasingly through an automated way, but that’s just scratching the surface. AI’s going to impact every single aspect of the legal system over time.
So the question is, do you want to be part of that or do you want to be leading in it? Wherever you see your role in that space, you’re going to be in it one way or another. Can you take that and recombine it with some of your assets, skillsets, processes to create something new?
I think a lot of lawyers think that they’re innovative by implementing a new CRM, or a new I’m in the cloud now, and that’s really not innovation. I listened to one of your YouTube keynotes and you brought this great example up about the car companies and how Volvo, and I’m going to butcher it if I try to replicate it, but it was basically a rat race. One lawyer does this, the next lawyer is going to do the exact same thing. So, how do you differentiate yourself when you’re such … I mean, legal’s such a crowded marketplace and the easiest way to differentiate is you pay, but-
That’s right. You just, “Hey, I can do it cheaper.” “Oh, okay.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
So yeah, the point that you were sort of getting at about the cars, really the point that I’m making there is this, that one of the biggest traps around innovation is unfortunately logic. If you do an illogical analysis as to what you need to do next, it is pretty obvious that you’re going to land at the same place basically all other law firms are landing on, because it’s a logical place to be. So, what is really happening is that really at best you’re just keeping up with other law firms.
That’s at absolute best, because presumably there are some law firms that started a particular trend, that started a particular move somewhere. They’re the ones that are sort of leading ahead, and so it gets to the key question you’re asking, if you’re looking to break out, stand apart and you don’t want to use your fees as the way to do that, something else needs to give, right? What is that least likely to be? It is insights from other law firms as to what they’re doing. This is the counterintuitive idea.
So if you find yourself always talking to lawyers, if you find yourself going to legal conferences all the time … I’m not saying you shouldn’t do some of that. That makes absolute sense, but that can’t be your only source of inspiration from how to differentiate yourself, because you’re really just talking to each other and effectively arbitration ideas, concepts, moves. “Oh, we’re using this software, oh, we can use that too.” “We sign up for that, oh, we can do that.” Oh, we’re doing Slack? Oh, Slack, great.”
So this becomes the idea that can sort of quickly spread, but it’s not really a differentiator. It’s not something that you necessarily could charge more for or be better able to gain new clients from. For that, you need something else, you need to really stand apart.
So I think that there are barriers of course to innovation, and for a law firm it can be just a stubborn partner or old school partner that says I don’t want to do any of this. That’s a very obvious one, but then it could be the environment and it could be the people, which I know that we’ll talk about further along.
I also think that people just don’t even really know the best way to kind of execute the brainstorming or ideas. You have exercises that you actually have that are just things I would never think of, frankly, in a million years. Do you think that there’s any particular maybe exercise or way to even approach it to get people thinking on the team that you see working maybe more often?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, in fact, our whole sort of … we took our, just to give you a sense of a service innovation can look like. A couple years ago, my company was a service company, it was a consulting firm, and today we’re a SAS platform. It took us three years to go from one to the other. Very painful I will say, so, I mean, it wasn’t like it was a walk in the park to make this happen.
This platform what we call Renaissance, because Medici Effect and these things are connected, this platform really enables teams and organizations to adopt what we call moves. These are really tools, what you sort of call tools or approaches to accomplish various types of business goals and turn them into habits. What are some of those moves? What are some of those tools?
I’ll just give you one example here, because I think it’s easy to … I’ll give you two on this podcast, because it’ll be easy to visualize for a listener. One is the idea of reversing assumptions. There are a lot of built-in assumptions about how something needs to get done when you’re starting on any project, any engagement. They tend to be so encoded into how we operate that you might even think of as assumptions, these are just foundations for how the legal industry works and you’re not really even reflecting upon it.
A good exercise to get yourself out of that mindset is to identify assumptions and then reverse them to see if you can still solve this problem. So, in the book I share the example of a restaurant, and there’s some assumptions that we might make about restaurants, that they have menus or that they charge money for food, or that they serve food, right?
Yeah, if you go to a restaurant, I want some food, but what you can then ask yourself is what happens if I reverse these assumptions? The restaurant does not have menus, it does not charge money for food or it does not serve food. Now, where can you go with that? What happens is that when you try to solve that problem, you open yourself up for new ideas. It’s basically a mental hack to give you access to new concepts.
What happens? Well, all of a sudden if the restaurant does not serve food, well, maybe it is some other type of experience where you’re going somewhere, because in a city maybe it’s difficult to get to a picnic outdoors, so maybe you can do that in the restaurant, and it’s really an experience that’s being sold. You’re not charging for food, you’re charging for an experience. That can sort of set you off and start thinking about how to solve for that.
Well, the same thing could be done if you’re a lawyer or in a law firm, what are some of the assumptions that you make? Write them down, literally just take out a pen or type it down on a screen, and then ask yourself if I reverse this assumption, what would happen? How would I solve for that? Some of these ideas would seem as completely outlandish, but some of them would be, you know what? That’s not bad. I think we can do that, and then you would start running with it.
For the reverse assumptions, I was thinking for a personal injury law firm, if someone’s in a terrible accident and they’re going to have to go to the doctor for a lot of treatment, the reverse would of course not be to not go to treatment, that’d be a horrible direction for that, but what happens if they’re one of the only law firms that actually arranges for treatment to come to you?
Because people are always having to go out when they’re hurt and have all these injuries and they have to keep on going to the doctor. What if you’re the one that arranges the doctor to go to them?
There you go.
That’s how these ideas get started. It’s sad, but-
No, Ryan, no joke.
It’s a start. It’s a start.
Honestly, no joke. I mean, I think that is really it. Let me tell you something about our ability to make a judgment call on whether an idea is good or not. I mean, people say when we ideate then brainstorm, there are no bad ideas, but it turns out that nobody can really hold to that rule, because they would like to sort of start cutting down ideas before it’s even been articulated.
But let me just say that most ideas that today are game-changing, they didn’t appear that way when they started. It’s only in the retrospects when we can look back at it and go, “Oh wow.” They didn’t realize that that was where it was going to go. That this was the possibility of this, that we could take it all the way there.
It’s very rare that an idea is baked, and not only baked, but it is obvious to you how this idea can be game-changing. So even as you say that, even as you take your idea and you’re sharing, and you’re talking about how to actually make that happen and whether it’s good or not, the key is that that idea can lead to other ideas. If you’re trying it, if you start putting it into practice, you start realizing other pieces of this puzzle that you didn’t see or do before.
This gets to the second part of innovation. I talk a lot about this in my second book, The Click Moment, so much of innovation is in the act of doing. It’s not just coming up with the perfect idea, because as I said, you won’t even able to tell when you see it, it’s in the act of the doing, of trying, of testing, of experimenting. I have something, I’d like to try something different. When you do that, it may or may not work out, but in either way you’re likely to think of new things simply because you did that one thing. It’s the thing that gets you to the thing.
So to really innovate, it obviously helps to hire people with different backgrounds, educations, values, beliefs, thought processes. How do you actually find these people? Because if I’m a law firm looking for somebody, a paralegal, I’m going to want somebody that’s a paralegal before, or I’m going to want somebody with this specific background that has a law degree. How can that translate over to the legal field?
So first, let me take a brief moment here to define what we mean by diversity, and certainly in our company. We have sort of four dimensions of diversity that we classify. The first one is who you are. So that is your gender, your race, your age, your sexual orientation, and so on. The second one is what you do. That’s your education, your function, your industry, and so on.
The third one is how you do it. That’s your are you extroverted? Are you introverted? There’s lots of other types of neurodiversity dimension stuff beginning to learn about now. The fourth one is with whom do you do it? The with whom part has to do with the networks that you built in your community, in your industry, in your company. So, these are the four dimensions that we find are really, really effective to think about in a work context.
So now, now that you have these four, you can start asking yourself, where are we strong or where are we weak on the diversity? Are we able to bring together people from different fields or industries, or different sectors even, or can we bring in people from different backgrounds, whether it has to do with their age or gender or race? Or do we have some sort of mix of extroverts and introverts?
So, basically what that really gives you is a way of thinking about where’s the delta, the biggest, if you will? Where do we have some of our greatest challenges? It can help you start thinking about how can you fill in that diversity along some of those dimensions. So, that’s one piece around it.
Now what happens when you do that is quite fascinating, because I believe that across the board we tend to be overestimating the value of hiring somebody like ourselves, or who we’ve seen be a good hire from the past. Now, why do I say that? I say that, because the world is aesthetic. If the world was static, didn’t change at all, then hiring somebody that did really well in the past, hiring another person just like that might be a good move, but the world is aesthetic, so it is constantly changing.
That tells you that actually if you’re doing that, you’re kind of hiring for the world the way it used to look. What you really need to be hiring for the world as it is today and into the future. That means that our experience from virtually every industry is that when you start asking about people’s intuition on these matters, and that’s often how hiring decisions are made, where they sit, their intuitions before that worked in the past.
Basically, it is likely that when people are struggling finding talent, the struggle could be real, but it could be eased if they open the aperture a bit about who can actually contribute within your firm. Who can be a contributor? Yes, it is very likely that if they’re going to be a lawyer, they need to have a law degree. That seems to be a very high likelihood of that. Although, I guess it’s technically possible to pass the bar and get away with that, but you’re likely to see a lot of people with law degrees.
That’s sort of same thing if you go to a hospital, you’re likely to see a lot of people with MDs and RNs, nursing degrees, because you kind of need it. That’s an entry requirement for it. But once you have that, you can start asking yourself, how do I think about diversifying that pool?
Let me also add, I do think that there is a place for people to add in, particularly for somewhat larger firms that have a little bit of a maneuverability, to have people that could have other backgrounds than legal and have them actually be part of helping you think through how you’re serving your clients, how you’re attracting clients, because again, you’re likely to just get most of those ideas from other lawyers. Make use of the people in your firm that have different backgrounds from you and tap into them to ask how can we think about this differently?
I completely agree that a team should be comprised of those unique backgrounds and experiences too in their own networks. We’ve heard of law firms that hire people that are more client-facing, non-lawyers, but they’re client-facing potentially doing sales, and they’re like, “Yeah, I hired a hostess that was super charismatic, or barista or a server that just had a big personality.” They didn’t even care what they were doing before, and it just turns out to most of time be a good hire. It just-
No, I mean-
No joke. I think that is a great way of starting to think about it. Asking yourself, how do we think about the process? How do we innovate it? How do we get creative with it? Because it is very likely that even as we speak right now, there are hundreds, thousands of experiments going on on how to innovate on that process. Whether it has to do with client acquisition, client retention, talent acquisition, talent retention, making sure that you stay abreast around all types of new laws or impacts that has to do with on your clients.
So new techniques to run discovery, the list goes on and on and on. Law firms are involved in a tremendous amount of pieces, and traditionally it’s kind of been up to one person to handle all of it. “I’m going to do everything.” I think you’re going to find increasingly that each and every one of those elements are innovated upon.
So I’d like to ask you one more question, and we covered a lot and appreciate your time up to this. It’s been a great conversation. I definitely think that a lot of people are doing great things to create a unique team. That’s not always the you were a paralegal 30 years ago and I want a paralegal with 30 years experience. No offense to anyone that’s been doing it decades, but I don’t know if they’re in that position to want to innovate or be as expressive with what can change within a firm. That might not always be the case, but there’s different things at work there.
So as far as the team, there’s lots to be done, and as far as individual, we were talking about your networks and then going to conferences. I want to touch on that briefly, because, I mean, Chase and I know from doing this for a while, that there’s a lot of conferences and they’re a good time to meet up with your buddies and play some golf, and catch a couple drinks, eat dinner, and it’s the same crew, same speakers, same thing. The point of it is also partially to get more ideas or learn a couple things you bring back to the firm. Sometimes that’s not always the case if it’s literally a replica of the same event more or less every year.
I mean, actually, I’m being brought in to speak at the LMA in a couple of weeks in Vegas, and part of that is to bring in diversity, bring in a different perspective, different thought to the legal field and provide that to the people that are there. So, I’m very excited about that. But how do we think about this from a more systemic perspective? I would say that start looking into conferences that are not necessarily 100% always legal.
I talk about this in my second book a lot, a lot of the best innovative ideas are serendipitous, they come to us unexpectedly. So you have to ask yourself, how often do you do something that invites unexpected? Because if you’re doing the expected thing, you’re basically eliminating the chances of unexpected pieces happening. I.e, in other words, what would it look like if you went to a marketing conference, or what would it look like if you went to an accounting conference? Or what would it look like if you went to design conference? Or what would it look like if you went to a hostess conference, or a hotel and entertainment conference?
What’s going to happen is this, as you go, you are going to start making connections between what you’re seeing and hearing to what it is that you’re doing. It will start happening automatically. Wow, this is how marketing agencies interact with their clients. Is there something here that we could pick up? Basically seek out your pit stop crews, right? Seek out who it is that is doing something that maybe on a process way might be similar to what you’re doing, but they’re approaching it completely differently, and start building networks in those conferences. Break out of the networks that you have now, or at least broaden them, diversify them, because that is going to be an engine of new ideas, of new concepts that you might be able to use to drive innovation within your own firm.
Thank you so much, Frans, for your time. Do you have any final parting words for our listeners?
I would say innovation is not just here, it is accelerating, so I would be really focused on trying to understand how you yourself can innovate. Tap into diversity, tap into different perspectives, different backgrounds, and if you happen to go to the LMA conference in Vegas, I’ll see you there.
Also, people should buy both your books. Very important.
Oh, that too.
Thanks for listening to the Legal Mastermind Podcast. If you’re interested in working with Ryan and Chase, please email email@example.com. Make sure to join the free mastermind group for growing and managing your firm at lawfirmmastermind.com. Ryan Klein and Chase Williams are the managing partners at Market My Market, one of the top legal marketing companies in the United States.