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Attorney Technology Adoption: The Activation Energy Advantage

Posted by Gaby Isturiz on January 17, 2015 at 11:04 AM

19566476_sWould you be surprised if I told you that smoking leads to cancer and we should exercise every day, eat healthy and do good for others? All of these things are considered “common knowledge” in our society, but yet are often viewed as difficult to implement. In the book The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor, poses the question “But does this common knowledge make doing things any easier?” His answer: “Of course not. Because in life knowledge is just part of the battle.”

If this was true,  attorney technology adoption would be a piece of cake. Attorneys would consistently make good use of all of the technology and policies that have been put in place to make them more productive right?  If we know, for example, that  contemporaneous timekeeping will make time records more accurate and the firm more profitable, surely attorneys will follow through, right?  Well, that’s not necessarily true. With the beginning of the New Year,  this discussion has plenty of context: 75% of people who make a new year’s resolution will break it within two weeks.

Attorneys are Creatures of Habit

We have written a number of articles that highlight the importance of excellence and good habits. Good habits are hard to keep, at least at the beginning. Attorneys are used to doing the same thing all over again, and they find comfort with that - even knowing that it can cause inefficiencies and additional lost revenue to the firm.

“Habits are like financial capital – forming one today is an investment that will automatically give out returns for years to come”, says Achor in his book.

The Human Brain vs. Willpower

Behavior is typically driven by one of two things: habit or willpower. Consider both of these in financial terms. In his book, Achor compared habits to financial capital, “forming one today is an investment that will automatically give out returns for years to come.” Habits, therefore, are sustainable. When a habit is formed, the brain actually changes.

Willpower, on the other hand, is a limited resource. Research suggests that willpower is so ineffective at sustaining change, because the more you use it, the more it depletes.  When this happens, we tend to revert back to old habits. “Old habits die hard,” remember? The reason for this is that as humans, we will always seek the path of least resistance.

Enter, Activation Energy: The Gateway to Habit Formation

Activation energy is the amount of effort we need to put forth in order to get an activity or task started. The more activation energy something requires, the harder it gets to get started. This makes a lot of sense right? If the TV remote control is very far away, chances are you are not going to change the channel. So, if we can decrease the amount of activation energy required to get started on a given task, we’re more likely to see that task become accomplished. Sleeping with your gym clothes on will probably make it easier to go to the gym in the morning, right? When this happens repeatedly, it leads to habit.

How low does activation energy need to be? According to the 20 second rule, the threshold is 20 seconds, meaning that getting started with a behavior that you want to adopt should be achieved in less than 20 seconds, and avoiding a behavior should mean that it takes more than 20 seconds. 


Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Barak Obama: The Genius of Wearing the Same Outfit Every Day

What do these three personalities share in common?  They wear the same outfit every day. Why? Because they want to reduce the number of decisions they need to make in a day. According to Achor, “Every additional choice people are asked to make, even if they are small, depletes our energy a little further, until we just don’t have enough to continue with the positive habit we are trying to adopt.”



The Key to Attorney Tech Adoption is Low Activation Energy

When it comes to getting attorneys to adopt new technologies, the most important thing to do is to reduce the barriers to getting started. This is easier said than done. Legal technology still falls behind other industries in terms of innovation and usability. Technology vendors need to understand that in order to engage with the attorneys, simplicity and a user-centric approach is the only way to win.  

Attorneys’ work, by nature, is about making decisions. Therefore, any technology they use cannot get in the way of that.

How has your firm embraced the power of activation energy? Share your comments below.

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Topics: Habit

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