Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Learning a New Game

"It's a different ball game out there now." "The rules of the game have changed."

These cliches apply to how some lawyers perceive marketing and business development in the last few years. Some lawyers might be thinking things like "I've never had to play this game before." "I don't know how to play." "I don't want to play." "Why do I have to play?"

Learning a new game can be harder now than it was when we were younger. As children, learning a new game was relatively easy. Our minds were still relatively empty, uncluttered by a long life of experience and accumulated knowledge. Free from a history of successes and failures. We were willing to take chances because we didn't know we were taking a chance. We were unhampered by "what if's" and "yeah, but's". Now as adults we know more. We are cluttered, hampered and often unwilling or reluctant because taking chances and making changes are hard things to do. As lawyers we are used to doing familiar things and doing them well. We don't like the idea of doing something new at which we are not yet skilled. We might fail. We might look foolish or incompetent.

So what can we do to help ourselves learn a new game, take a chance, make a change? Although it's not always easy, here's a basic game plan that works for many of my lawyer clients and other people, including myself:

1. Know what you want to change and why.
2. Identify the benefits and rewards.
3. Make the commitment to change, to learn the new game.
4. Learn the rules. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Then prepare some more.
5. Join the game. Take the plunge. Start.
6. Self-assess and evaluate as you go along and afterwards.
7. Congratulate yourself for joining the game, taking the plunge, doing something new.
8. Identify what you did well and congratulate yourself.
9. Identify what you will do differently next time.
10. Rinse and repeat.

Recently I had an uncomfortable evening playing euchre at a friend's euchre tournament. (The party was lovely and the players were friendly. The discomfort was my own. ) Another friend had taught me the basics in the last two weeks so that I could participate. I was tense and quiet doing something new in which I had no real skill. I knew I was the only rookie. I had to concentrate so much that I couldn't do the things that come more naturally to me like getting to know new people. That internal conflict made me even more uncomfortable. I made several mistakes during the evening. But of course by the end I had learned a lot, and after the cards were over I relaxed and had a good time.

My sister asked me if I'll do it again. Even though the idea still makes me physically uncomfortable, I will. I can use my game plan. I know I'll get better only with practice and by playing.

For now, I hope that this experience makes me a better coach and a better friend. I appreciate again how hard it is to take a chance and do something new with the fear that we could fail or look foolish.