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Last week, I talked about the revolution to figure out new ways to collect, store, categorize, retrieve and present information. Today, I continue the discussion with how I applied this to business law.
As a business lawyer working with companies in different industries, I was always looking for the one book on business law that summed it all up and showed me the questions to ask. I hoped for a holdable, quotable explanation of the legal problems involved in the life of a company; a field guide, that mapped out the journey of legal issues that a business encounters. I could never find the book, so I wrote it.
The hardest part about writing the book was deciding what went where. For me, this was a very big deal. I have never sat through a discussion or read an article about how to think through a company’s legal problems. Most lawyers who do what I do just brainstorm without direction.
Imagine making chicken soup the same way. Don’t break down the soup into its components – just try and remember what you saw floating in your last bowl. This is how most professionals solve problems. Lawyers, doctors, accountants, shrinks – we all rely on what we’ve learned and expect the information to be available to our conscious and then for our brains to correctly apply it.
This method of brainstorming based on memory made me nervous. It should have. My brain has limits. It forgets things, it tries to stay on budget, it gets tired, scared and bored; it goes too fast, too slow; it wants to move on. I began to suspect that there was just too much information for my brain to have it at my disposal at all times. And, I know I’m not alone.
A physician and writer named Atul Gawande wrote a book called the “Checklist Manifesto” that argues that competence and consistency requires standardized processes and checklists. Why?
The volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably.
Part of why I wrote the book was just to create a storage room for all of the knowledge that had passed through my brain over the years.
Finally, I divided the legal topics into 7 milestones:
These 7 milestones don’t go in a straight line, but in a maze with a series of loops, but it helps me to think of them as a journey from start to finish.
Not only did I craft Birth to Buyout in these seven sections, but I also think holistically about all legal problems inside of this frame. And, it has made a world of difference. I have a standard, repeatable way of identifying issues, documenting projects and solving problems. I have a greater command of my past work and I’m able to access old research and information quicker since it is organized. Applying these seven stages to my day to day work has become second nature. So, in the end, the best thing I did as a lawyer was to take some time to think and process everything I had learned. I encourage you to use this way of thinking about business law and to point out ways it can be improved. In the coming months, I intend to organize content on my site at www.profitandlaws.com in the seven stages from Birth to Buyout.
1) Get organized.
The first and last part of every business involves getting organized. That includes:
- creating a business plan
- getting help from advisors, employees and contractors
- setting up your company
- agreeing on the rights of you and your fellow business owners
- setting up your operations, including accounting, taxes, office space and a website
2) Get funded.
When you have a reasonably developed business (or sometimes business plan), you need to get funded. Funding includes:
3) Get the rights.
If you have a plan to make or sell things, you probably need to get the right to use intellectual property. Intellectual property rights include:
- trade secret
- strategies to get the rights
4) Get it made.
Once you know you have the rights, you can get your product made or service produced. To get it made, you need to:
- make a prototype
- source the regulations that govern you and your product or service
- figure out your fulfillment strategies
- hire a manufacturer
5) Get it sold.
You have to – always- get your product (or service) sold. To get it sold, you have to:
- pick a sales strategy
- comply with advertising and marketing laws
6) Get protection.
And, of course, at every stage, you must manage your risks and get protection for the risks you cannot eliminate. There are three legs on the risk management stool:
- vigilant due diligence
7) Get rich – get gone.
Finally, how does it end? Your business cannot continue forever on a straight line – it either grows, gets sold or dies. That’s the cycle of life. Unlike in life, sometimes you can take steps to plan your exit.
There is a revolution going on in information. The revolution involves millions of people figuring out new ways to collect, store, categorize, retrieve and present information. These efforts involve coders, mathematicians, database wizards, graphic designers and any other professional with design sensibilities. Evidence of progress appears daily in USA Today, Time and New York Times – papers with departments devoted to taking complex information and showing it to us visually and clearly. Click for full size image:
Why is this necessary? Because there is too much existing information for our brains to hold it and process it and associate it and call it into consciousness whenever you really need it. If you read the New York Times, you get more information in one day than you would have processed during your entire lifetime in the 1600s.[i] More information has been created in the last 30 years, than in the previous 5,000 years.[ii]
Complex pieces of information can be presented more efficiently with pictures, using spatial relationships, visual cues and color than using 1,000 words of black and white prose. Information will increasingly get filtered, compiled, categorized and displayed. We will lose nuance, but we’ll pick up speed and beauty and access. And the revolution will be colorized.
[i] Wurman, Richard, Information Anxiety (1989).
[ii] Fifty years ago, a writer wrote this in The Atlantic:
“Thus far we seem to be worse off than ever before—for we can enormously extend the record, yet even in its present bulk we can hardly consult it.”
…and things have only gotten worse.
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