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“Just 3 Stories … No Big Deal” – Taking a Deeper Look at Steve Jobs’ Advice in His 2005 Stanford Address

The Hidden Message in Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford AddressIn 2005, Steve Jobs spoke to the graduating class at Stanford University, and told three main stories about his life and work. (Click here to view the 2005 Stanford Address.)  His talk has inspired many. But were there hidden messages in it? Was there deeper wisdom than most of us think?  Absolutely.  Let’s see if you agree.

But first, why this is so urgent and important? It’s because millions of people from career-changers to career-starters have been fed the line, ‘just follow your passion.’ Aside from that advice being wildly ambiguous, it’s often dangerous and misleading.

And although many people have attributed the line to Steve Jobs and his 2005 talk, the truth is Jobs himself never said the words. Not. Even. Once.

There are in fact deeper messages Steve Jobs was trying to tell us, and your career will likely only be more successful if you absorb these deeper messages.

A first clue about the deeper message is that Jobs says at the outset that he’s going to share his secrets in the shape of three stories: “Today, I want to tell you 3 stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just 3 stories.” [at 0:47 in the talk]

Actually, giving us three stories was a big deal. Jobs believed almost religiously in the rule of 3’s – the principle from rhetoric that you should communicate something in three parts. (Remember his launch of the iPhone? He said he was about to announce “three revolutionary products … an MP3 player, a phone, and an internet communicator …”. The magician’s surprise turned out to be that the three things were all in one device, the new iPhones.)

Story 1 = Passion 1: A Passion for Your Area and Learning It Deeply

On the surface, Jobs first story is about how he dropped out of Reed College. But if you dig deeper, it’s really about how he allowed his curiosity to draw him to certain subjects, and how he developed from his early days the habit of deep learning that lasted a lifetime:

“I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting. [2:56] … I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example … . [3:21] I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif … about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful … artistically subtle … and I found it fascinating.” [3:49] [emphasis in bold added]

Notice that Jobs says he was following his “curiosity,” not ‘following his passion.’ There is a difference. Curiosity is very specific.

In other words, he went to classes to learn, not just cram for exams and get an A. The course on calligraphy was not just about fonts, it was about design, an area that came to dominate Jobs’ life – and lead him to many breakthroughs.

The words Jobs uses are a test for whether you have developed this same passion: interesting, curiosity, intuition, learn, beautiful, fascinating. Do you use words like these when you describe the area you’re in?

Key Message from Story 1: the first passion you need is a passion for the area you’re in, and a genuine desire to keep learning it.

Story 2 = Passion 2:  A Passion for the Processes in Your Area … especially the Collaborating and Learning from Failure

In all work, there is a process – or more accurately, processes.  Story 2, with all due respect, is often misquoted. The first key lesson in the story is in the first two lines:

“I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents’ garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us … .” [5:42] [emphasis added]

The lesson is that he developed a passion and skill for collaborating. And not just collaborating in an average way. Jobs developed – from the age of 20 – a passion and habit for collaborating closely with highly talented people, experts who often had far more expertise than he did. That takes courage and confidence.

It’s that part of the process that Jobs continued to love and engage in throughout the rest of his career: he collaborated with all kinds of highly talented people, from the animators at Pixar to the designers at IDEO to his own Apple designers and programmers.

A further implicit message in this story is also found in that first quote: the better you get at what you do, the more you tend to have a passion for it.  It’s a virtuous cycle (the opposite of a vicious cycle).  Some psychologists call it a ‘cycle of accelerated returns.’  Others call it the 10-year rule, the idea that it usually takes about 10 years, through deliberate practice, to become really expert in a field.  Notice how Jobs’ and Apple’s first major success occurred after 10 years of collaborating:

“We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with 4,000 employees.” [5:50] [emphasis added]

The next part of Story 2 tells how Jobs came to value a part of the process you’ll  find in any field, especially today: learning from mistakes or failure. It’s the story of his 1985 dismissal from Apple:

“But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. [6:57] … And so I decided to start over. … it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” [7:11] [emphasis added]

To illustrate, then, the real message in this second story, consider what happens when someone doesn’t grasp the lesson. Take for example the Yoga aficionado who decides to ‘just follow her passion’ and open her own Yoga studio. If she doesn’t have or at least develop a basic passion for the process (finding clients, finding a partner, collaborating, doing the admin, doing the marketing, renting the studio, handling the finances, etc. etc.), it’s a sure bet she’ll struggle, if not fail.

Key Message from Story 2: you need passion for the process that makes up the work you do – and, in particular, collaborating and learning from failure.

Story 3 = Passion 3: A Passion for What Gives You Meaning, a Sense of Purpose or Progress and How You Help People

If you want to watch your life ignite, listen to this third story once a day for a month.  Story 3 is about the deepest kind of passion of all: developing a passion for what your life and work are really all about:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life… [9:39]. … And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. [12:05] … Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” [12:31] [emphasis added]

How you develop your passion in this third circle is deeply personal, but Jobs ably points to the three main things that invariably give both life and work meaning – working to achieve real progress in your field (“Don’t be trapped by dogma”), developing your own sense of purpose (listen to “your own inner voice”), and, ultimately, make your life about serving other people:

The Hidden Message in Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Address

So there you go. When you look at the 2005 speech from this perspective, the talk can serve as a powerful set of career guidelines. Ask yourself:

  1. Do you have a passion for the area you’re in, and in learning it more deeply?
  2. Do you have a passion for the process in the work, and in particular for genuine collaborating and learning from failure?
  3. Do you have the passion that comes from a sense of purpose, striving for progress, or helping people?

Jobs’ wise counsel to us is not at all some vague idea about just following a mythical, single passion. It’s about three key passions.

If you can make your way to the intersection of those three circles, that’s when you’ll almost certainly have a life and career that are both truly successful and meaningful.


(Note: A version of this article can also be found on Linkedin.) 

Do You Buy into the Myth of the ‘Lone Genius?’ Here’s Why You Shouldn’t

Do you think Steve Jobs was a one-off, ‘lone genius.’  It’s tempting to believe that, and according to most tributes to him, he fit that so-called model. Surely only a lone genius could changing four different industries, as Jobs did, in one lifetime. The more romantic tributes suggest he did this virtually singlehandedly.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak - courtesy of

L to R: Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, founders of Apple Computer.

Jobs obviously had an extraordinary life and career, but we make a great mistake if we portray him as the lone genius.

The reality is that Steve Jobs collaborated obsessively. Most of his pursuits were joint pursuits with others. Apple itself began as a close collaboration with Steve Wozniak. Without that collaboration, you might never have heard of either Steve. Later, Jobs pioneered the iPod and iPhone in collaboration with many at Apple, particularly Jonathan Ives, Apple’s chief designer.

Look at Steve Jobs’s own words about collaboration: “Process makes you more efficient. But innovation comes from people meeting in the hallways or calling each other … it’s ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea.” (emphasis added)

So why do we perpetuate the myth of the ‘lone genius’? Because it’s romantic, and it sells copy, that’s why.

But it’s also wrong, and it’s also dangerous.

The evidence is in everywhere that great innovation comes from collaborating.

Keith Sawyer, one of the world’s leading experts on creativity, says that “we’re drawn to the image of the lone genius whose mystical moment of insight changed the world. But the lone genius is a myth; instead, it’s group genius that generates breakthrough innovation. When we collaborate, creativity unfolds across people; the sparks fly faster, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” His research shows that innovation results from a whole series of those sparks, not from just one or two lightbulb moments.

Bill Gates and Paul Allen - courtesy of

L to R: Bill Gates and Paul Allen, founders of Microsoft.

The examples are everywhere too. McCartney collaborating with Lennon. Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Elton John with Bernie Taupin. Francis Crick and James D. Watson at Cambridge teaming up brilliantly to pursue and then decode the mysteries of DNA. The Wright brothers working literally as brothers trying idea after idea to ultimately achieve the first man-made flight. Thomas Edison and his team of some thirty collaborators and assistants in what many consider now America’s first innovation laboratory.

The list goes on and on.

Yet so does the myth.

Sir Ken Robinson, another world expert on creativity, argues that even in the cases where the creative person appears to be working alone, they are in fact interacting with others in all kinds of ways, maybe even unconsciously. “Even working alone,” he says, “there is an essential cultural dimension to creative work that is of profound importance”. All human lives are lived in “webs of significance,” and creativity is the process by which we form these webs. Sir Isaac Newton said it best when he acknowledged how he achieved what he achieved: he said the if he saw further than others, it was because he stood on the shoulders of giants.

A.G. Lafley, who led Proctor & Gamble (P&G) through the 2000s, helped resurrect P&G by making it one of the most innovative in the world. He says the biggest factor in the company’s new success was to shift innovation from an old-school R&D exercise into something truly collaborative. “Innovation is a team sport,” he said, and “diverse teams make breakthroughs,” not sole individuals. He therefore institutionalized within P&G a whole series of processes that required teams to pursue innovation.

One way he did this was to create a new innovation lab in Cincinatti now known as ‘Clay Street’ (a converted brewery, located on Clay Street). Here’s how Laffley puts it: “Clay Street is a methodology for bringing together people who haven’t workd together before to become a highly functioning team. All have great expertise. Some have very human egos. They learn how to submerge their egos, listen to each other, and build on each other’s ideas –quickly and without being critical of others and without the selfishness that the owner of an idea often exhibits.”

If it’s not clear by now, it should be: it’s time to bury the myth of the lone genius and grasp the urgent need to make innovation a team sport. If you’ve been raised in a culture that glorifies the individual, you may find this difficult.

If you’re still buying the myth of the lone genius (who is more than likely also a lonely genius), here’s another example of what the research has shown to be true:

“Isolation is bad for you. It poses dangers as serious as cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, or lack of exercise, one research summary concluded. Conversely, the more good partnerships you have in your life, the more likely you are to say that you experienced the feeling of enjoyment much of the day yesterday, that you recently learned something interesting, and that you’ve been doing a lot of smiling and laughing – all key measures of your happiness. Even having one strong partnership markedly increases your well-being over those who have none.” 1



  1. Rodd Wagner and Gale Muller, The Power of Two, (Gallup Press, 2009), p. 2.

Guy Kawasaki: The First Step Is to Simplify the Goal that Gives You Meaning

Guy Kawasaki, former ‘chief evangelist’ at Apple, recently gave a colorful talk at TEDxBerkeley called The Art of Innovation.

Occasionally, Guy uses such colorful metaphors, particularly in the titles, that a humble translation may help. So here are few thoughts on Guy’s message and how to remember the key points:

1.  ‘Make meaning.’

This is number one because it’s the starting point. You need to be pursuing a real purpose, not just trying to make money. Paradoxically, the innovators who pursued a clear purpose … all made good money. And even when they didn’t, their life had meaning.

2.  ‘Make mantra.’

Translation: Guy says you should reduce your mission to 3 or 4 words – make it a mantra. He says his is “empower people.” eBay’s is “democratize commerce.” But don’t write out a long, boring mission statement and think that’s enough. The reason to have a short mantra is to make sure you really believe in your mission.

3.  ‘Jump to the next curve.’

Easier said than done. It means don’t just try to tinker. Incremental innovation is not really innovation.

“True innovation occurs when you jump to the next curve — or better yet, invent the next curve.”

4. Great products are DICEE: Deep, Intelligent, Complete, Empowering and Elegant.

The key word here, really, is intelligent. According to Guy, “intelligent means the company understood your pain and what you needed.” Translation: to innovate, have deep empathy and spend the time thinking about what your customer or client really needs.

5.  ‘Don’t worry; be crappy.’

Translation: This is an update of ‘Real artists ship,’ the phrase Steve Jobs popularized at Apple. It means don’t get nervous at deadline time: finish and deliver.

Note of course that it comes after you have already gotten your purpose right (point number 1). If your purpose is clear, it’s okay to ship even if there are a few glitches.

6. “Let a hundred flowers blossom.”

Translation: You might set out to innovate “x” and it turns out it’s better used for “y.” Let it become a product used for “y.” Let the ideas evolve. Life, and innovation, are organic. Be flexible.

7. Don’t be afraid to polarize people.

Translation: don’t try to make everyone happy. Pick your group. Make them happy. Don’t worry if you make the other side unhappy. Actually, that’s a good sign.

8. ‘Churn, baby, churn.’

This is the flip side of ‘Real artists ship’ and ‘Don’t worry, be crappy.’

If you did ship and it’s not quite right, then get to work. This is the feedback process, and the feedback process is constant today. 24/7 if you listen to it. Appreciate the feedback. Correct course if you must. Then ship a better product. Keep improving.

9. ‘Niche thyself.’

Translation: a modern version of ‘Know thyself.’ It means focus on what makes you or your product unique.

It’s also the corollary of point 7 (you can’t make everyone happy). Since you can’t make everyone happy, make the people you serve very happy.

10. ‘Perfect your pitch.’

According to conductor Ben Zander, most people have pretty good pitch; it just hasn’t been developed yet.

The same is true in the art of preparing a pitch or presentation. Most people got corporatized into preparing dull powerpoint presentations.

Guy says there are three musts: First, personalize. Demonstrate why you care. Second, sell dreams not products. Explain how what you’re selling can change lives. Third, see Guy’s 10-20-30 rule. It’s right on.

And of course, since Guy promised 10 main points, he offers an 11th. This one may be the most important:

11 . ‘Don’t let the bozos grind you down.’

If you’re honest, admit it: there are bozos in your life. If you let them, they can grind you down. Guy explains who the real bozos are. Whoever they are in your life, if you let them grind you down, forget about innovating.


These are eleven great points. Many thanks to Guy for presenting them in such living color.

Steve Jobs: “Real Artists Ship” – Here’s What He Meant

“Real artists ship.”
— Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, early years - courtesy of

Steve Jobs: ‘Real artists ship.’

According to the folklore at Apple, this was a favourite saying meaning you have to have the guts to actually deliver when it’s time to deliver.

In one instance in particular, Steve Jobs used the mantra to call the bluff of a reluctant engineer who didn’t think his code was ready.

Jobs laid down the law.

Seth Godin argues in his books that the real problem is fear.  It’s a lot safer to try to pretend that just a few more days will enable reaching perfection, but that’s just illusion. The real problem is fear.  And the solution is courage. That recalcitrant engineer, the argument runs, was simply prone to that overly-cautious lizard brain.

So in comes the ‘real artists ship’ mantra. It’s a call to arms, a suggestion that you should just fight back, suck it up, or ‘feel the fear and do it anyway,’ as one saying goes. Just do it. Give the send order. Hit the publish button. What the hell, go for it, even if the creative idea is only half-baked. The next adage you hear is that it’s okay to fail – in fact, fail early and fail often.

These just-do-it interpretations miss a key part of the quote – ‘real artists’ are first and foremost just that: real artists. And that means they actually do a few crucial things long before they ship.

If you focus on these other crucial things, you may find that the problem is not at all fear. It’s the absence of passion and purpose. It’s the absence of the drive and confidence that go hand in hand with passion and purpose.

So here’s another way to think about the ‘real artists ship’ mantra: Sure, you want to ship. You’re yearning to create what you’re yearning to create. But first ask if you’re doing what a ‘real artist’ does in the first place. The real artist does these three things:

Passion and Purpose Are the Drivers

Real Artists are first and foremost REALNotice that Jobs didn’t say ‘responsible companies ship on time.’ He wasn’t talking about mechanical operations. He was referring to how he and Apple had developed a purpose so clear it created an energy and drive that overpowered the stresses that come from doubt or fear. The lizard brain is puny compared to the power of purpose that forms in the higher parts of the brain.

Real Artists Collaborate

Even artists who appear to work alone collaborate in countless ways. Notice that Jobs himself in the example above was collaborating with the engineer. They both would have shipped nothing without that collaboration.

If you feel the tug of fear about finishing a creative project you’ve started, maybe the fear is a signal.  Maybe you need to first collaborate with a kindred spirit or colleague. Discuss it. Brainstorm. The encouraging words of a good mentor are in short supply these days, yet they’ve never been in greater demand.

Real Artists are True to Their Values, Calling

It’s hard to imagine Shakespeare feeling paralyzed by fear and saying to himself, ‘okay, Will, just feel the fear and do it anyway.’ He was pursuing what his heart called him to do. As he wrote in Hamlet, “This above all: to thine own self be true.” It was an expression of his own beliefs; like all writers, he placed his own ideas in the mouths of his characters.

So if you ever feel the tug of doubt about a creative project, maybe it’s a sign that the project is not aligned with your own values, your own true self. That’s okay, it may be a sign it’s the wrong project. It might be a sign to switch to that other project that really is in line with your true inner values and calling.

In Praise of ‘Old’ Ideas – like Justice, Service and Empathy

One of the biggest myths of innovation is that it’s all about ‘new ideas.’ “We’re stuck … we need new ideas here!” you’ll often hear someone say.

Yes, clearly new ideas are a core part of innovating. But we need to dispel the myth that they’re the sole part of innovating. Ironically, ‘old’ ideas may actually be more important in creating change.

Abraham Lincoln - courtesy of

Abraham Lincoln, 16th US President, 1861-65

Abraham Lincoln, perhaps surprisingly, illustrates this brilliantly.

Lincoln was an innovator in the sense that he helped create a new America, a United States that no longer permitted slavery. He transformed America from a country that treated slaves as assets on a plantation’s balance sheet to a nation where every human being would be free regardless of the color of their skin.

How did he do it? Did he simply champion this ‘new’ idea or go around calling for more new ideas? Not at all. He skillfully built his case for change upon some of the oldest ideas in the country: freedom, equality and justice.

You can see this beautifully in his most famous words of the period, the Gettysberg address. In this brief, eloquent plea for change, Lincoln invokes the ideals of the founding fathers – ideals they hoped would never change: a country “conceived in liberty” and built on the belief that “all men are created equal.”

Thomas J Watson, Jr., who spearheaded IBM in the 1960s, applied the same wisdom to make IBM at once both firmly grounded and innovative. He believed this so strongly he wrote a book called A Business and Its Beliefs. In the book, he captured the basic idea perfectly:

“any great organization … owes its resiliency … to the power of what we call beliefs and the appeal these beliefs have for its people. … the single most imporant factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs. And finally … if an organization is to meet the challenges of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except those beliefs as it moves through corporate life … . 1

In other words, it’s the old ideas, the core beliefs that don’t change, that actually produce the purpose that drives change and new ideas. That’s the philosophy that has kept IBM at the top of its field to this day.

Once again, it’s that kind of dedication to an ‘old’ idea that drives the search for the new ideas.

Take the idea of true customer service. It too is an old idea, as old as business itself. Unfortunately, it’s not always embraced in a world only looking for ‘new’ ideas.

Today, sadly, too few businesses really take it seriously.

Steve Jobs did, and the results showed. In fact, he took customer service to a level of near-obsession. It was all for the customer: if the customer isn’t a fan, you haven’t done your job. His mission was to provide the customer with an “insanely great experience,” not just customer service.

In the last several years, the world of Design Thinking is, fortunately, helping to bring back the ‘old’ idea of empathy. “Deep empathy for people makes our observations powerful sources of inspiration,” say Tom Kelley and David Kelley from IDEO. “We aim to understand why people do what they do … our first-person experiences help us form personal connections with people for whome we’re innovating … all to build empathy. An empathic approach fuels our process by ensuring we never forget we’re designing for real people.” 2

Unfortunately, not enough companies have yet embraced the ‘old’ idea of empathy. Often the fetish remains solely on short-term profit, and the result at best is to pretend to be innovating rather than actually doing it.

So the next time someone says “we need new ideas here!”, stop and ask, “Wait a second. What about the time-tested, old ideas we believe in? Do we really have any? What are the deeply-held beliefs that we’re not prepared to change here?

In other words, to think like an innovator, to bring about the real change you truly want, first ask yourself if you have deep beliefs that you would never change. When you find them, don’t be shy. Embrace them, and let them drive the search for the change you do want.


  1. Thomas J. Watson, Jr., A Business and Its Beliefs, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963), pp. 5-6.
  2. Tom Kelley and David Kelley, Creative Confidence (New York: Random House, 2013), p. 21.

Even Lawyers Can Change their Ways: the UK Story of Innovating in Legal Services

Several friends have asked me to write a post to explain how it is that the UK managed to massively innovate and transform its legal services sector in the past ten years, while the legal profession in other jurisdictions, such as Ontario, by comparison, virtually stood still. In many ways, it’s an example of needing to challenge old assumptions and unlearn old ways, something that always will ruffle feathers somewhere.

Among the major innovations in the UK reforms were the creating of three new bodies formally dedicated to defending and protecting consumers’ interests in legal services, and new business structures designed to help make legal services affordable. Such innovations did not also occur in Canada, at all. Why? Why did the UK become so much more innovative than Canada in protecting consumers?

Tony Blair - courtesy of Wikipedia

Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister, 1997-2007

The story really begins back in 2001. Two people in particular, Tony Blair and Sir David Clementi, are the main protagonists in the UK’s transformation, although I’m inclined to add an influential woman as well, Cherie Blair, who was a leading lawyer and the country’s first lady at the time.

(Back in 2001, I was practicing law with a major UK firm, so I’m familiar with the origins of the UK’s transformation, and even had many a discussion on the early reforms.) 1

Let’s go back to 2001.

In 2001, Tony Blair’s Labour Government published a report called ‘Competition in Professions,’ a report that drew attention to the problems created by monopolies in a profession. It called for removing any unjustified restrictions on competition. It was a first step in the direction protecting consumers better. 2        

In July 2003, the Blair Government then published a further report, this time specifically on the legal services sector. It concluded that the existing rules and framework were outdated, inflexible, over-complex and insufficiently accountable or transparent. The Government concluded that “a thorough and independent investigation without reservation is needed.” 3

The Government backed up its commitment to fairness and objectivity with action. The Report required that “the investigation will be undertaken by an independent person who commands public confidence but who is neither a practising lawyer nor a judge.” 4

Sir David Clementi, courtesy of Winchester College

Sir David Clementi

To fulfill that requirement, Tony Blair appointed Sir David Clementi, a respected former deputy Governor of the Bank of England who was then Chairman of Prudential plc.

The Terms of Reference for the investigation contained two simple guidelines, both of which focused on consumers:  first, to consider what structures or framework would “best promote” the “consumer interest;” and second, to recommend a framework that would represent both the “public” and “consumer interest,” and be  “comprehensive, accountable, consistent, flexible, [and] transparent.” 5

The mandate given to the Clementi commission was thus to find ways to specifically  protect the “consumer interest,” not just the traditional – and vague, often-used legal jargon – “public interest.”

From 2003 to 2004, the Clementi commission received submissions from a wide range of people and organizations – including “organisations who speak for the consumer; lawyers; academics; and members of the public.” Clementi described it as a “significant amount of evidence” that he used in forming the final recommendations.

In December 2004, Clementi presented his final Report. He said that the 18 months of review had confirmed what the Blair government had initially concluded: “the current system is flawed.” The final Report, also called the UK’s ‘Legal Services Review,’ was comprehensive. It contained a set of major recommendations, all built around the main theme of providing “a framework independent of Government in which to promote competition and innovation,” and protecting the “consumer interest.” 6

The Blair Government fully accepted the Review’s recommendations, and proceeded to develop the legislation to implement them.

In October 2005, the Government published an overview of the proposed new legislation in a report aptly called “The Future of Legal Services: Putting Consumers First.” 7 In brief:

“The purpose of the changes is to put the consumer first. The Government has set up a Consumer Panel to advise it as it takes forward reform. … The Government has accepted Sir David Clementi’s recommendations. …  Consumers will be clear about the system, and will be able to hold all partners in the framework to account for delivering these commitments. … These steps will increase confidence in the regulatory system and in legal professionals.

In 2006, the Blair Government tabled the first draft of the new Legal Services Act. The Bill was thoroughly debated for a year, by a joint committee of MPs and Peers.

In 2007, after a year of debate, the new Legal Services Act was adopted.

For the purposes of this brief post, the new Act brought in three main reforms:

The Legal Services Consumers Panel

Its role is to “provide independent advice … about the interests of users of legal services … by investigating issues that affect consumers.”

The Legal Ombudsman (also called the Office for Legal Complaints)

Its mandate is to be an “independent and impartial” body that handles complaints from consumers of legal services, and seeks to resolve the disputes in a neutral manner and environment.

The Legal Services Board

This is the new overall body created to be an “independent body responsible for overseeing the regulation of lawyers” in the UK (England and Wales); its stated goal is “to reform and modernise the legal services market place by putting the interests of consumers at the heart of the system.”

The new Act also brought in other reforms, such as new rules that allow ‘alternative business structures’ aimed to enable legal services to be provided more efficiently, with lower fees. (This is a major topic of its own, too extensive to cover here, and no doubt worth covering in a subsequent post).

If one were to sum up the UK’s reforms in a single word, it should be clear that the one word is consumers.

While many people talk the talk about innovating in legal services, the main reason for major reform and innovation in the UK is that the UK has actually walked the walk. The leaders in the UK embraced the reality that law belongs to the people, and accordingly put consumers first by treating the consumers of legal services with the respect they deserve.

Today, in Canada, not a single piece of regulatory legislation in the area of legal services even mentions the term “consumer interest” or creates a duty on anyone to promote and protect the “consumer interest.” Consumers, in the area of legal services in Canada, are voiceless and unrepresented.

The story of reform in the UK shows clearly that the innovations there really began with a courageous step to give consumers a voice. That courage took leadership. It remains to be seen whether any politicians or lawyers in Canada really have much regard or respect for consumers. Very odd when you remember that consumers are actually the people who make up 99% of society, cast the votes in elections, and pay the legal bills.


  1. (In 2001, I was with the UK law firm Lovells, which has since become Hogan-Lovells.
  2. Office of Fair Trading, Competition in Professions (2001).
  3. Department of Constitutional Affairs, “Competition and Regulation in the Legal Services Market” (2003).
  4. Department of Constitutional Affairs, “Competition and Regulation in the Legal Services Market” (2003).
  5. The Terms of Reference are set out in the Report Competition and Regulation of the Legal Services Market, and are restated again in the final Clementi Report.
  6. Sir David Clementi, “Report of the Review of Legal Services in England and Wales,” (December 2004).
  7. Department of Constitutional Affairs, “The Future of Legal Services: Putting Consumers First” (October 2005).

Can We Teach Innovation? For Canada’s Sake, Let’s Hope We Can

How Canada Performs - Innovation - courtesy of the Conference Board of Canada

Source: Conference Board of Canada

It’s not quite an F, but it’s pretty close. Normally a D average gets a student placed on probation, and in this case the student is Canada.

And yes, the overall grade was D.

That’s the grade Canada received from the Conference Board of Canada in its annual study last year on Innovation. 1

In all, the study analyzed 16 developed countries, and Canada placed an abysmal 13th, three from the bottom.

And the study was comprehensive: it examined 21 categories that relate to innovation. Canada got a D in 13 of them (with C’s and B’s in the other categories – and not a single A).

It’s hard to imagine a more scathing report. What’s even harder to understand is how the low grade still gets ignored in most business circles – the circles that ought to be trying to get this student to smarten up.

Is it because many Canadians still think of innovation as just inventing new products?

That’s a big mistake. The Conference Board is part of a growing group who define innovation in the broadest terms: it is “a process through which economic or social value is extracted from knowledge—through the creating, diffusing, and transforming of ideas—to produce new or improved products, services, processes, strategies, or capabilities.”

And the Study has a stark warning for Canadians, particularly those who think innovation is ‘someone else’s problem’:

“Canada’s low ranking matters. Innovation is essential to a high-performing economy. Countries that are more innovative are passing Canada on measures such as income per capita, productivity, and the quality of social programs. It is also critical to environmental protection, a high-performing education system, a well-functioning system of health promotion and health care, and an inclusive society. Without innovation, all these systems stagnate and Canada’s performance deteriorates relative to that of its peers.”

So what’s Canada’s biggest problem?

Actually, the answer jumps out at you when you read the Board’s overall assessment of Canada. Here’s the good news in the Study: Canada got an ‘A’ in Education and Skills. Well, if you get an A in Education and Skills but are lousy at innovating, doesn’t that tell you something?

How Canada Performs - Education - courtesy of the Conference Board of Canada

Source: Conference Board of Canada

It means Canada is great at teaching – it’s just not teaching the right stuff. So therein lies the potential silver bullet: Canada needs to start teaching innovation a whole lot better, such as adding more design schools, or ‘D Schools,’ to business faculties. 

The study also has another key insight: stop blaming the government. Oh if only you could collect a dollar every time you hear someone from the private sector lambaste government for whatever. But this Study shows an interesting finding: as regards Innovation, Canada’s public sector faired quite well. In fact, the private sector ranks well below the public sector. The government scored a ‘B’ in online innovation, while the private sector got straight D’s in all the areas where the private sector ought to be doing its job.

There’s a lot more to the Study, and it’s worth a careful read. But the conclusion we can draw from the above is clear.

Canada: you’re good at teaching. So just start teaching innovation better … now.



  1. Conference Board of Canada, How Canada Performs (2013).

Mahatma Gandhi: Lessons from one of History’s Most Unlikely Leaders of Great Change

"Be the Change You Want to See in This World" - courtesy of McKee Public SchoolBe the change you want to see in this world’ is the simple quote usually attributed to Mahatma Gandhi.

But did he really say that? And what does it mean? Is it the reason he managed to lead his country to overthrow the British Empire?

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi

It is certainly true that Mahatma Gandhi almost singlehandedly transformed India. In my previous post (Nelson Mandela as a Remarkable Innovator), I suggested we could look at Nelson Mandela as an innovator, and, by doing so, draw powerful lessons. We can do the same thing by looking at the life, thinking and character of Mahatma Gandhi in a similar way.  Here are three traits that made Gandhi a man who changed the world.

1.    A Singularity of Purpose, a Dominant Core Value

As mentioned in the post on Mandela, people who change the world or innovate are usually driven by an intense singularity of purpose, often by one core value in particular. Mandela’s was a life-long dedication to equality.

Gandhi too had a singularity of purpose that was driven by a near-obsession with one core value.

What comes as a surprise to many people, especially in these days of skepticism and cynicism, is that the singular core value Gandhi pursued was truth.

If you read Gandhi’s autobiographry, the first thing you might be struck by is its subtitle, ‘My Experiments with Truth.’ The entire book describes how he linked everything he did with his personal reflections on truth. The pursuit of truth even guided his thinking on policy. His conclusion that India should not be ruled by Britain was in fact based on his pursuit of truth: he simply saw no basis in truth to suggest that the Indian people were in any way lesser than the British. It followed – logically – that India should be free and rule itself.

2.    Diverse Knowledge

Once again, modern research shows that the most creative minds have not just deep knowledge in a particular field, but also diverse knowledge and understanding of a variety of subjects. Creative people and innovators are curious: they ask questions and pursue answers, wherever those answers might take them.

The evidence of Gandhi’s remarkably curious mind is found in the vast legacy of articles and books he wrote. Gandhi was unbelievably prolific, writing some one hundred books and articles, on topics that ranged from politics to policy to non-violence to history to philosophy. This was in addition to his formal training and early profession in the law.

The lesson we can draw is that while we certainly need to teach people to specialize in the field of their choice, we must equally encourage people to balance specialized knowledge with a continued pursuit of knowledge in areas they are curious or passionate about.

3.    Emotional Wisdom

Everyone faces challenges in life, and perhaps the biggest one we all face today is to fend off negatives and set backs in order to stay focused on our positive goals.

Like Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi developed the skill of what we can call emotional wisdom. It is more than just emotional intelligence. It is the ability and skill to take life’s negatives and setbacks and actually transform them back into positive ends.

Here’s how Gandhi once put it, and consider if this skill alone may have made been the key reason Gandhi was able to achieve what he did: “I had learned through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world.”

Gandhi also inspired others to do exactly the same. Gandhi’s fifth grandson, Arun Gandhi, was fourteen when his grandfather was assassinated in 1948. When it happened he was so filled with anger that he wanted revenge against the assassin. But then he recalled what his grandfather had taught him: “Gandhi taught me at age twelve that anger is as useful and powerful as electricity … but only if we use it intelligently. We must learn to respect anger as we do electricity.” Today, at 79, Arun Gandhi is a renouned advocate and public speaker who campaigns for non-violence and the peaceful resolution of conflict.

My kids and their classmates would be proud of him.


Nelson Mandela: How His Singularity of Purpose Drove the Positive Change He Dreamed Of

Nelson Mandela in 2008 - courtesy of

Nelson Mandela

It is customary to salute Nelson Mandela as a great leader and statesman, which of course he was. Against all odds, he led South Africa from an unjust, apartheid past to a new state founded upon equality and democratic rights. We salute Mandela for the incredible moral strength he developed during 27 years in prison. And we salute him for the wisdom he found to forgive, let go of resentment, and stay focused on his life-long goal of achieving equality in his country.

Can we also think of Mandela as an innovator?

We can. If we define innovating as bringing about positive change that has value to society, then Mandela is actually at the top of the list. He innovated an entire country. Without the positive change he inspired, South Africa could easily have slipped into chaos, corruption and civil war.

From this point of view, Mandela was not just an innovator. He was one of the greatest innovators of all time, and most of us can only yearn to have even a fraction of the positive impact he had on the world.

So what can Mandela teach us about what it takes to innovate?

Let me share my take on three aspects of Mandela’s life that I believe helped shape his mind, develop his wisdom, and make him the leader and innovator he was.

  1. A Singularity of Purpose, a Dominant Core Value

The people who change the world or innovate are usually driven by a singularity of purpose that other people just never develop to the same level.

Edison was singleminded in his purpose to invent not just the lightbulb but a new society that used an electric grid and electric devices. Mahatma Gandhi was driven by a near-obsession with truth, a principle that guided all his actions and thinking.

What was Mandela’s singularlity of purpose?

Mandela wrote his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, with the assistance of writer Richard Stengel, who spent three years with Mandela in the process. In Mandela’s Way, his own book on Mandela, Stengel writes, “Nelson Mandela is a man of principle – exactly one. Equal rights for all, regardless of race, class, or gender. Pretty much everything else is a tactic.” The result was that Mandela was both an idealist and a pragmatist – a “thorough-going pragmatist who was willing to compromise, change, adapt, and refine his strategy as long as it got him to the promised land … [which] meant one thing: the overthrow of apartheid and the achievement of a non-racial democracy with one person, one vote. Full stop.”

2.    Diverse Knowledge

I believe the world still undervalues a simple but significant step Mandela took while in prison. If he had not taken this one step, history might have turned out very differently. It was even an easy step to take. He started a language course in Afrikaans. I sometimes call it the language course that changed the course of history.

By taking a course in Afrikaans, Mandela did two things. First he expanded his mind. All the research shows that the most creative people have developed not just deep knowledge in their particular field or discipline, but they also develop diverse knowledge. They are curious. They develop passions in other fields and learn other subjects. Einstein the scientist was also Einstein the violinist. By studying Afrikaans, Mandela expanded his mind by coming to see life and South Africa from the point of view of his captors.

Second, by learning Afrikaans, Mandela expanded his capacity to understand people differently. He no longer saw his captors as the enemy. They were human beings. He came to know them. They were men just like him. They had families. They had children. They had fears. A surprising bond developed between Mandela and the men who guarded him, all because he had expanded his mind – through a language course.

No one can ever say what might have happened in history but for some particular event. But I think it’s a safe bet Mandela would not have emerged from prison with the depth of wisdom and understanding he had if he had not made this extraordinary effort to speak the language of the people who held him captive.

3.    Emotional Wisdom

Emotional intelligence became a popular term beginning in the 1990s. It’s a good start. But it’s not the finish line. People like Mandela took emotional intelligence to the next level, a level we could call emotional wisdom.

For Mandela, this involved a disciplined approach to staying positive and tranforming his life’s negatives and setbacks back into positive ends. In Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela described it this way: “Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

It’s a remarkable attitude and skill, and it’s another reason Mandela became, on a grand scale, one of humanity’s remarkable innovators.





Teresa Amabile: The Science is Clear – Passion for Your Work Drives Creativity

Teresa Amabile, one of the world’s leading experts on creativity, has spent more than 35 years researching what makes people creative and innovative. And the answers may surprise you.

If you are over the age of twenty, you might have been taught a very conventional way of thinking. Chances are you went through an education system that equated intelligence with logic and reason, and likely gave the so-called soft subjects like art a much lower rank. Even if you studied creative fields like literature, you were no doubt evaluated on how well you ‘critically analyzed’ the works you read. If you studied law, you would have been trained to consider reason so superior to emotion that it relegated the term passion to the dungeon of society, equating passion with crime itself, as in the common legal expression, ‘it was a crime of passion.’

TERESA AMABILE, Speaking at TED - courtesy of

Teresa Amabile, speaking at TED: 35 years of research confirms the fuel of creativity is not talent, but passion.

It’s not hard to see why society, until recently, paid little attention to whether people actually feel passion for the work they do or whether they’re engaged by a sense of purpose.

Science now shows this has all been a giant mistake.

According to Amiable, the consistent conclusion is striking. It is passion for the work, or what psychologists call intrinsic motivation. “Without it,” Amabile says, “no amount of talent will yield great performance. For 35 years, we have been exploring how motivation affects creativity. In studies involving groups as diverse as children, college students, professional artists, and knowledge workers, we have found that people are more creative when they are more strongly intrinsically motivated — driven by interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and a sense of personal challenge in the work they are doing.”  1

Further, Amabile’s research has also confirmed that most human beings are creative. “Contrary to popular notions that creativity is the sole province of a few rare geniuses,” she says, “creativity appears across most levels of human ability.” 2 It follows that creative potential is everywhere. It’s a matter of bringing that potential out in people.

On the flip side, the research has also shown that the usual creativity killers do just that: they kill creativity. In particular, the “organizational impediments” that can kill intrinsic motivation and creativity are “political problems within an organization, extremely negative criticism of new ideas, and an emphasis on maintaining the status quo.” It’s not hard to understand how bureaucratic organizations become stale and even anti-innovation.

Amabile points to photographer Craig Tanner as an example of how the presence of passion and purpose can serve not just as a source of creativity, but can actually be transformative. Tanner, now an accomplished photographer, wrote of passion’s transformative power in this way in 2008: “Long-term, focused, practice powered by the energy of passion […] leads to amazing transformations. The bumbling beginner becomes the exalted expert. The trapped and depressed become the liberated and empowered.” 3

Perhaps most surprising of all, science now is merely affirming what humanity has known intuitively for a long time. The artists and spiritual teachers had it right a long time ago. One of the most inspiring examples ever written was penned over 2000 years ago, by the Indian spiritual teacher Patanjali. It’s virtually the same message science now confirms:

“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds, your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties, and talents come alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”

Whether you call it passion or purpose or psychology’s term ‘intrinsic motivation,’ don’t expect much creativity or innovation without it.

The message is now crystal clear. If you really want to take innovating seriously, get a little less serious. Put aside logic and reason for a moment. Make sure you’re first inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project. Then go ahead, let your thoughts break all their bonds.



  1. Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer, “Talent, Passion and the Creativity Maze,” HBR Blog, February 27, 2012.
  2. Amabile, T.M. & Fisher, C.M. (2009). Stimulate creativity by fueling passion. In E. Locke (Ed.) Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior (2nd Edition). John Wiley & Sons: West Sussex, U.K., 481-497.
  3. Craig Tanner, “The Myth of Talent,” Blog: The Mindful Eye, October 24, 2008.