Posted by: johnocunningham | August 15, 2015

Discontent: The Key to Growth?

A tweet about the role of dissatisfaction in sales caught my eye this month just because I have never seen anything written on this subject. The tweet linked to an article entitled, “Dissatisfaction Leads to Growth.” In this piece, Author Anthony Iannarino artfully made the case that satisfaction leads to complacency and dissatisfaction to positive change (or at least action in search of positive results).

This called to mind the many times I have interviewed managing partners, CMOs and other change agents who have successfully launched sustainable growth initiatives in their firms. In each case involving significant cultural and institutional change, I recall that discontent with the status quo was the catalyst for change.

For example, I remember Reed Smith’s former managing partner Greg Jordan telling me that his firm launched a number of successful growth initiatives, instituting fundamental operational changes right after the late 90s, when some of the firm’s “Rust Belt” clients were slumping in Pittsburgh and other cities where the firm was located. These clients had suffered economic disruptions related to technology, outsourcing and global competition, and the firm needed an action plan to capture more business in both good times and bad.

Of course, Reed Smith soon went from being a regional firm to an international powerhouse, but the many changes that caused this to happen all began with widespread, though not unanimous discontent with the status quo. (For a look at how this happened, check out “The Reed Smith Rocket Formula.”

Authors, inventors and sports coaches have also recognized the role of dissatisfaction or discontent in making forward progress. Oscar Wilde famously said that “Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation” and Thomas Edison once quipped that “Discontent is the first necessity of progress – show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I’ll show you a failure.”

Closer to home and more contemporarily, legendary football coach Bill Belichik has said “We can’t afford to look back on our record. We always try to work harder on looking at things we’ve done in the past, asking is it still what we want to do, and who can make plays that we haven’t looked as closely at… as soon as you are satisfied with yourself, you’re in trouble.”

So perhaps what legal marketers and business developers first need to cultivate in their firms is a little bit of educated discontent, based on knowledge of the competition, understanding of evolving client concerns and demands, and the inevitable disastrous consequences of being satisfied with the “way we’ve always done it.”

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