Epiphanies, Cocktail Napkins, and Preventing Stupid

What Gets Me Up in the Morning – My Why

Everyone has different motivations for getting up in the morning. Coffee, children, early runs (these are for the real nuts out there). What motivates me to do my best every day? I certainly love my coffee, but more than that, I despise seeing people make stupid mistakes. Mistakes that rob them of their bottom line and peace of mind. The joy I find in changing families’ futures through smart business decisions is my Why. Helping people get where they want to go by preventing and avoiding problems gets me out of bed.

My Journey to Prevention

So, I’m a lawyer – and don’t they fix problems? The obvious answer is yes. That is the traditional role of lawyers. I run a law firm that helps businesses fix their problems and capitalize on their opportunities. But this is just reactive work. The problem or opportunity is already present and accounted for. Lawyer hired, problem solved, done. That’s what lawyers are for—or so everyone thinks—and I suppose I did, too, until I had an epiphany.

One of my firm’s clients, a husband-and-wife team, were running a good-sized oilfield contracting business. They were making substantial income. They generally only contacted me, as their lawyer, when they had a problem. That is the key point to understand—they called me when problems occurred, but not beforehand.

They had thirty or so loaded-down Ford F-550 trucks out on the rural highways and country roads every day. Almost in passing, I asked how much insurance they had and learned that their policy was only $2 million. I was horrified, as I both admire and care deeply about these clients. All of this was in jeopardy if even one of those drivers ever made an error and caused a catastrophic car wreck. I stopped the ongoing conversation and immediately explained the reasons why the $2 million policy was not nearly enough for their needs. It was a sobering moment for them. Frankly, it was for me, as well. I had had numerous opportunities to prevent, rather than to fix, this vulnerability.

My Moment of Epiphany

This incident caught my attention. I realized if I wanted to make a real difference in my clients’ lives, my firm needed to change its focus from being reactive to being proactive. Within a few days, my clients resolved the discovered vulnerability and the insurance limits shot up to a level sufficient to protect the company. It was not costly, nor was it time-consuming to fix. We had simply missed the need because we did not have a system in place to catch it.

Then, the accident I had feared happened. In a split second, one of their trucks hydroplaned and crossed the center-line on a two-lane highway. It was horrible. Two children were left parentless. My client, the company’s owner, was in surgery when the accident occurred. It was left to me, the insurance agent, and the owner’s key man to handle the initial regrouping of the company at the time. As we were fortunate enough to have that insurance in place, we were able to settle the case without litigation.

That near miss made me wonder. Was there a way to use my legal skills to proactively help our business clients prevent problems or be ready for those they cannot prevent? I mean, I just did. But could it be systematized to provide effective and efficient protection?

Building the System

I got to work figuring out how we could create such a system. That is how I built my firm’s “Custom Legal Department Program” where we work proactively with clients to protect, improve, and grow their business. We work from a highly-structured system that covers all the legal needs of our clients: contracting, claims, regulatory compliance, and all that gobbledygook that makes normal humans’ eyes roll back in their heads and shiver in dread. We call one part of that system “Corporate Governance and Administration”. I thought this was going to be the most routine, paper pushing, boring, dull part of our job as General Counsel for our clients. Boy, was I wrong!

Way Past Corporate Resolutions to Risk Management

Once we started integrating into our clients’ operations, I realized that I looked at things differently. I saw threats everywhere—probably because I had spent my career cleaning up messes. As a lawyer, my perspective was different. As a part of the team, I had to figure out how to make a constructive contribution. Business leaders look at a company from a perspective of Improve, Grow, and Protect. As a lawyer, my priorities are different: Protect, Improve, and Grow. I had to figure out how to deal with the threats without throwing a wrench in the machine.

I started beating this question like a piñata, swinging at it in the dark. Then one day on a flight back from a conference it all popped into my head. On a cocktail napkin I scratched out the “Business Immune System Report”. I took the “Seven Working Systems” of every business and cross referenced them with the “Three Sources of Failure” to create a system to comprehensively assess, prioritize, and deal with the threats to the business. Wow, did it work. Our clients use it as a tool to steer their business away from troubles and toward their goals. That’s why I persistently say—prevention is direction.

So Then I Wrote A Book

This discovery further spawned a book. I titled this book The Art of Preventing Stupid. I liked the title because I want to agitate businesses to think about their risks. Not doing so is pretty stupid, because we all know problems are heading our way. Of course, I want to encourage you to buy my book. It’s available on Amazon in hardcover or Kindle version.

And Now The Blogs

For a more in-depth look into The Art of Preventing Stupid, stay tuned. As you might imagine, I keep getting more ideas. Kind of like those post-argument revelations we all have in the shower about what we should have said. I’m going to cover, and expand on, the book through these blogs. I’m going to drill down with business leader guests about the parts of the Business Immune System Report. We are going to have some deep dives with our guests and come up with some great examples of how to protect your business. The next few are going to be about the foundations of how and why you can build a “Business Immune System” – and Prevent Stupid. I’m looking forward to teaching you how to Protect, Improve and Grow your business. Let me teach you, so you can focus on the really important things in life!