For no imaginable reason, one of the (heavy) rock and roll stations that Melissa enjoys on Sirius XM Radio has been playing a song by the country star, Blake Shelton. I love the line from the song, “There ain’t no map, there ain’t no plan.” The song appears to be about a romantic breakup, but the title Makin’ It Up As You Go reminded me of how entrepreneurs often have to figure things out as they go, sometimes under pressure and “on the fly.” Some might call this “winging it” and others go as far as to say “fake it until you make it.” I don’t think we have ever gone as far as to fake it. Winging it, maybe, in the sense that we are seeking to find a way to answer a client’s unique question about their case or other business needs. We have used our experience and expertise to approach questions that have been posed to us in corporate as well as litigation matters. In the corporate world, I think back to a bank mystery shopper program we designed with input from the client. The specifics of that research were new to us, but because Melissa and I have a variety of research and business skills, we felt like old pros once we got underway. Most of our business is in the litigation world however, and after 30+ years, we have worked through most of the potential scenarios. But, we can never be complacent about this as two examples illustrate. Recently, we had a client who was concerned about how his, and the opposing, witnesses would be perceived. We were asked to evaluate all of these witnesses. While witness evaluations are often a part of our mock jury research, scaling things up and focusing only on the witnesses was new. In reality though, it was only ½ step removed from the norm, but this is an example of “customizing” our research to meet the clients’ need. Again, we were not winging it, we knew how to fly the airplane, it may have just been a different airplane. The other example in the last few years, due in large part to the pandemic, was figuring out how to conduct online research in a way that would provide clients with reliable information in a different way than in-person research. While competitors have been conducting online research longer than we have, we had many concerns and reservations about the methodologies being used and many related limitations. Only when, out of necessity, we studied and refined the procedures did we feel comfortable using online studies for our clients’ cases. It is necessary to devise ways of doing things to meet clients’ needs. It is part of what it means to practice a profession.
The key to making things up as you go along is acting like you know what you are doing. I have been doing this for as long as I can remember. The first time in my career that I acted like I knew what I was doing, when I actually had no idea about the subject, was during my interview for the first job I had upon completion of my Ph. D. My prospective boss asked me if I knew how to conduct focus groups and surveys. I knew something about survey research, however, I had never heard the term, “focus group.” With as much confidence as I could muster, I answered “Yes, I sure do,” convincing myself that I had time to learn prior to starting my new job. I figured that conducting a focus group, whatever that meant, had to be far easier than the rigorous graduate school program I had just completed! I was right, of course! As soon as I was offered the job, I bought a textbook used in the business school of the university where I went to graduate school and learned about focus groups, discovering that, in fact, I knew about them after all. Focus group is a term used in marketing research to describe what we social psychologists call a discussion group, group interview, of focused discussion, a type of qualitative research. My confidence about being able to do things I have never done before continues to the present time when clients ask me to perform research or modify other aspects of my work to accommodate their needs. I always say, “Sure, I can handle this for you!” knowing full well that, compared to what I went through in graduate school, whatever the task is, it will be a whole lot simpler than anything I did when earning my Ph. D. As I write this post, I am looking at a paper weight on my desk with a quote by Lady Bird Johnson that says “Can Do.” If I haven’t done it, I can do it, whatever it may be.