We’ve been having trouble with one of our pieces of technology at work. It’s part of the age-old process of trying to adapt the way we do things to the needs of our clients, but this one has been problematic. Yesterday, I finally figured out an effective way to address one of the issues that has been deviling us. I was kind of proud of it – it’s a simple, relatively elegant solution that saves time and gets the job done.
“If it’s that easy, why didn’t you come up with this sooner?” I was asked. I replied whimsically that I’d been spending my time trying to come up with something more impressive. It’s not the first time that my creativity has gotten in the way of effective solutions, though.
Back in 2000, when I started at my first law firm, I was living the stereotypical life of the associate. A lot of time shut up in document review or the firm library, analyzing documents to be produced, begging to be taken along to depositions or court, and chasing the occasional legal argument in the form of a memo. It was the legal research I enjoyed. I’d be faced with an issue and would try to come at it from some direction that no one else had tried.
Finally, a good friend and mentor at the firm sat me down. I’d just turned in a memo the day before to the partner for whom we both did work, and it had come back heavily laden with red ink. “Your problem,” said Damon, “is that you’re so busy trying to look outside the box … that you don’t see what’s in the box.” I thought that was amusing and it wasn’t until years later than I fully understood what he meant.
There are things that don’t necessarily need to be re-thought. Don’t get me wrong – we should always we re-examining our assumptions, and “the way things have always been done” are not always correct. But there is also a body of knowledge out there and it isn’t cooly subversive to question every single thing you think someone knows. I’ve always been in love with the idea of examining and deciding things for myself, but as I’ve grown older, I realize that there are times when you can go with the way things are done. There just isn’t time in life to live effectively while having to start from scratch on every issue in that life. “The box” can be limiting, or it can be liberating.