The smartest person that I’ve ever known was my mentor when I was living and working in Europe in the 1980’s. I learned a great deal from him about differences in personal management styles and how to build collaborative workgroups in technical environments. Of all of the people that I have known, he is the only one that truly had infinite patience while attacking key issues. Our strategic operating plans would literally stretch over years and as the headstrong ex-pat American executive, I would chafe at what I considered to be the glacial rate of progress. Each time that he saw I was getting frustrated, he would smile slyly and say, “You’re thinking about this as a business process. Remember – It’s not business, we’re creating art. Art takes time.”
I have to admit that time after time he was proven correct. By forcing me to wait for the unprepared to fall victim to their poor planning, to watch the overconfident get hoisted with their own petard (yes, I was in Denmark at the time) and to sit quietly on the banks of the river watching for opponents, he helped me to learn patience in planning as we developed campaigns that slowly and methodically built operational processes that survive to this day.
I began to wax nostalgic today on my old mentor’s processes as we started the first day of the annual EDRM yearly “kickoff “ meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota. This is the seventh annual meeting where a consortium of clients, law firms and discovery vendors have come together to discuss exactly how we can work collaboratively to provide more structure to how all of us handle eDiscovery.
I was lucky enough to be one of the inaugural members of EDRM. Over 125 different organizations have been working together for years now to develop standards and agree on best practices for addressing eDiscovery challenges. Although the number of organizations has grown, the actual members of the EDRM teams have been impacted by changes in companies, changes in careers and changes in the economy. The organizations may stay the same, but the faces representing them change. Today it was confirmed that I am one of five people left from the original box lunch meeting that started EDRM several years ago. I no longer work for the same organization that originally sponsored my EDRM involvement, but I have continued to participate in the workings of EDRM during my post corporate life because I honestly feel that the work done by EDRM helps to provide valuable guidance in what can be a complex and challenging field.
In the past six years, EDRM has become the framework of choice for discussing the eDiscovery process, endorsed by vendors, jurists and end users alike. It is always interesting to listen to the presentations of the various work stream leads as they review accomplishments from last year and their projected work plans for the upcoming year. Just when you think that all has been said that’s possible on a particular issue – metrics, XML standards, ethics or a number of other areas – changes in case law, operational processes or technology raise entirely new issues that have to be taken into consideration. Those that originally thought that their involvement EDRM would be a short term engagement rapidly learned that there are no short and sweet answers to eDiscovery questions and that we’ll have plenty to do for some time to come.
When training new managers, I try to encourage them to be “constructively dissatisfied” with their work product. That was a construct that was burned into my psyche during my years at UPS. By “constructive dissatisfaction”, we mean that one should celebrate success (and proclaim victory whenever logical) but the effective manager is always looking for the next variation, the next nuance, the next process improvement that is going to ensure long term success. It has often been said that once you think you know everything, you’re doomed to fail. Another version is “adapt or die” – if you stop adapting to new environments, your only alternative is extinction. I don’t know about my readers, but personally and professionally I hope to continue adapting for years to come. Participation in groups such as EDRM helps me to remain open to new ideas while polishing the tried and true.
Today at lunch, some of the newer and younger members of the work teams asked me about “the early days” of EDRM, marveling that there could have been a time where the ubiquitous EDRM diagram hadn’t been posted, let alone followed. They ask about the evolution of the XML standard, the development of the Code of Conduct and the search for universal metrics as though the work plans for those activities were found along with the Dead Sea Scrolls.
When they shook their heads at considering both the amount of work that has already been completed and yet how much more there is to be done, I provided the only words of encouragement that seemed appropriate: “You’re thinking about this as a business process. Remember – It’s not business – we’re creating art. Art takes time.”