Of dinosaurs and dancing elephants 2: Be fearless and listen to new voices

Of dinosaurs and dancing elephants 2: Be fearless and listen to new voices

by Chris Marston | March 01, 2023

Part two of a four part article on breaking through to better business performance
by Chris Marston, chief executive of LawNet

As we face up to economic and political turmoil and change, all of which will directly impact our businesses in the months ahead, what can we learn from the experts: how should we drive leadership in this complex world?

As outlined in the earlier introduction to this series of articles, we are reflecting on the leading edge thinking outlined by the keynote speakers at our annual conference.

Concepts alone are of little practical use; we needed practical ways for our members to take action within their firms. So, each speaker drilled down to demonstrate how we could truly embrace their ideas to build organisational resilience, nurture talent and high-performing teams, and so make the breakthrough to better business performance.


For our keynote speaker Matthew Syed – renowned broadcaster, thinker and commentator – the focus is on the power of learning from mistakes.

He emphasised the importance of having a growth mindset, founded on an organisational culture which is always open to learning, willing to adapt and to seize new opportunities. As he explained, that comes from the psychology within a team or organisation, with open minds, attuned to growth opportunities.

Such cultural agility is the cutting-edge asset, according to Syed. Firms need a mission-critical approach which involves trial-and-error learning, with innovation as iteration, a hunger to identify deficiencies in the organisation, and an appetite for customer feedback.

The risks are complacency, which can shut down dissonance and potential change, and having a fixed mindset, which can be suppressive and encourage people to focus on what they see as their limitations.

This can be particularly problematic for a profession trained to have the right answers. As Arash Dinari of Wolferstans, one of our members, said after listening to Syed’s presentation: “A growth mindset can be quite difficult for lawyers. We are so used to coming from a closed mindset, where we don’t like to ask a question if we don’t know the answer. But Matthew’s approach – making a shift to a more collaborative approach, pooling ideas for innovation and progress – was about a real change in attitude and something we were certainly able to take away.”

One of the ways closed thinking is reinforced, according to Syed, is when leadership takes place in an echo chamber. There needs to be cognitive diversity on the team, with evidence showing a symmetry between such diversity and the development of a growth mindset within organisations.

This was supported by other speakers. For Julian Birkinshaw, professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the London Business School, a tolerance of unorthodox views is vital, and we must find a home for the maverick voices in our organisations, giving them a place where they can be the spark of the unexpected for what we do next.

This particularly resonated for Paul Kite of IBB: “It was fascinating and the concept of the echo chamber was excellent. I could see how that comes into play and it made me think about how to conduct meetings and bring in more diverse thought processes in future.”

Hear views from Matthew Syed and LawNet members (2 minutes 30)

Part three: Of dinosaurs and dancing elephants 3: Resilience and the avoidance of bureaucracy is key

A longer version of this article was previously published in Solicitors Journal.

Photo: Matthew Syed at the 2022 LawNet conference.