Hacking with Empathy and Purpose

An interview with Law Firm Innovation Consultant Mitch Kowalski in the run-up to the 2nd annual Global Legal Hackathon (Feb 22-24, 2019)

by Ellen Hayes

What excites you about the Global Legal Hackathon?

It’s always exciting when people come together on a global scale. But to have the entire world working on solving problems at exactly the same time is pretty magical! The fact that teams know that they’re not alone and that they’re part of a global effort, adds fuel to their passion and enthusiasm. I look forward to seeing some really amazing things – especially since I’ll be a judge at the New York City location!

What suggestions do you have for the teams?

Innovation must have a purpose.

It must solve a problem as well as create value or benefit to the customer/business. If it doesn’t solve a problem, or if it doesn’t create value or benefit, there is little point in proceeding with the innovation. In other words, the benefits gained through the innovation must not only be appreciable (and hopefully measurable!), they must be greater than the costs (money, training time to user and to consumer, etc.) of implementing the innovation.

As a result, before embarking on any innovation journey, the following questions must be asked:

  1. What problem do we have?
  2. How does the innovation solve that problem (from the user’s perspective)?
  3. Do the benefits of the innovation outweigh its costs?

That seems a bit obvious, doesn’t it?

Indeed! But I’ve seen too many cases where people get really excited about using technology and rush to create a solution that they think would be “cool” because it involves technology. So, beware of creating solutions in search of a problem.

And avoid falling in love with technology and viewing it as the magic balm that solves all of life’s problems. It might, but we need to start with the hard (and unsexy) work of understanding what problems clients are experiencing and ideate solutions to that problem with lots of user feedback. Empathize with the user! There is a hashtag making the rounds on Twitter #BringBackBoring which exhorts innovators to take a steady, disciplined approach to innovation.

That’s good advice for hackers seeking to change the world.

Sure, but innovation is not necessarily about changing the world. Innovation doesn’t create some new thing that never before existed; innovation restructures, reorganizes or transforms some process or thing that already exists. Clayton Christensen, author of perhaps the most famous business book on disruption through innovation, The Innovator’s Dilemma, determined that there are three types of business innovation:

  1. Sustaining Innovations that improve existing products or services.
  2. Efficiency Innovations that allow more work to be done at less cost; and
  3. Market-Creating Innovations that bring a product that is widely used by one customer segment to another unserved customer segment.

So when hackers are considering what direction to go in, it may be helpful for them to focus on one of these three types of innovations, no matter if they are in the public benefit stream of solutions or the private benefit stream of solutions.

Final Words?

We all have busy lives, so it’s not often that you get the opportunity to solve problems that can assist thousands, perhaps millions of people. Savour this chance. Block out the rest of the world for these days, focus on making some magic – and most of all, have fun!

Further information can be found on the Global Legal Hackathon website.

Ellen Hayes, is the Managing Director at Legalis and Contributing Editor of the GC Grapevine. A champion of law firm innovation initiatives, Ellen will be a mentor for The Global Rise Of Women in LegalTech (GROWL), launched as part of the 2019 Global Legal Hackathon to support and amplify the efforts of up-and-coming women leaders in legal innovation and LegalTech around the world.