Canada: A Different Perspective On Strategy

Last Updated: November 2 2015
Article by Stephen Mabey

Writer's Note – This article is a simplistic interpretation of Vijay Govindarajan's teachings and research. He is the Coxe Distinguished Professor at the Tuck School at Dartmouth. Vijay, a New York Times and Wall Street Journal Best Selling author is an expert on strategy and innovation. He was the first Professor in Residence and Chief Innovation Consultant at General Electric. In the latest Thinkers 50 Rankings, Vijay is rated #1 Indian Management Thinker.

As Abraham Lincoln is attributed as having said – "The best way to predict your future is to create it".

Never has this been truer for law firms. While this seems perfectly logical, rarely is common sense common practice in the legal profession.

So what is this different perspective? Simply put "Strategy should be about unfolding the future back versus pushing the current forward".

For visualization purposes you need to think about three boxes:

Some would say that creating the future while you manage the present is like trying to change a tire on a moving car. Rather we have to start differentiating the type of thinking that is required. Efficiency thinking is about managing the present and creative thinking is about creating the future.

Boxes 2 & 3 are about strategy, as strategy is about competing for the future.

Therefore we can now combine boxes 2 & 3.

There has been some confusion within the legal profession about various "new processes / procedures" that are being embrace to varying degrees.

So a basic but logical approach is that any actions taken to improve any gap in performance is about managing the present and anything that is focused on what may be possible or entirely new opportunities is about competition for the future.

Some "students" of strategy and innovation break it down like this:

Measures taken in response to clear signals or those that are linear in nature, are performance oriented and any non-linear or those that are in response to big but unclear signals are opportunity focused.

A non-linear change is a change that is not based on a simple proportional relationship between cause and effect. Therefore, such changes are often abrupt, unexpected, and difficult to predict.

Linear changes are obviously the opposite and include such methodologies as lean six sigma; continuous improvement; best practice benchmarking. While some of the foregoing are new to the legal profession and therefore seen to be "futuristic" they are simply focused on narrowing a performance gap (more often than not client service in its broadest sense from the client's perspective) and not creating new opportunities.

This different perspective on strategy is premised on a real change in what a strategy does.  In keeping with the opening thought by Abraham Lincoln, strategy should imagine not predict. It is a series of hypothesis not linear facts.

The strategic intent of law firm strategies will play a significant role in the determination of their success or failure in the future.  By strategic intent we mean three elements:

  1. Direction – does it deal with the "big picture" and not the steps to move the firm there – these steps are best dealt with at the annual business plan level;
  2. Motivation – there has to be a deep personal meaning to the strategy or it will not engage lawyers or staff; and
  3. Challenge – inherently people want something bold / something they want to and will talk to others about – an unrealistic goal (rarely do you hear people bragging on having achieved a mediocre goal).

The last bullet is deceptively critical as more and more societal surveys are indicating that rarely does society exceed expectations, so setting them high or at an unrealistic level does not mean failure but rather an opportunity to achieve extraordinary results (but even if the partners do fall short it exceeds what they have accomplished in the past).

This different perspective applies not only to the strategy but also the annual business plan which is designed to create a bridge between the present and the future.  The "box analogy" works for a revamped annual business plan.

Core competencies - what is your firm best at as an organization? Core competencies are the combination of pooled knowledge (intellectual capital) and technical capacities that allow a firm to be competitive in the marketplace. Theoretically, a core competency should allow a firm to expand into new end markets as well as provide a significant benefit to clients.

While the future is important, without today there is no tomorrow!  So it is reasonable to spend almost half your annual resources strengthening these core competencies.

Adjacent space is as simple as leveraging your core competencies into new approaches to an area of law or an industry market or a client that you may already be working in or with. Some 20 to 25 percent of resources should be focused on taking the things you are already good at and leveraging them in directly related areas of practice.

Part of the competition for the future is developing new core capabilities. It's the most challenging proposition for most law firms given the risk adverseness of lawyers in general combined with a corporate structure not conducive to investment. Roughly 10 to 20 percent of resources should be devoted to his kind of experimentation.

An interesting exercise would be for law firms to take the current projects / actions they are working on, allocate them to the three boxes and see if the percentages match up to the suggested ones. The percentages raised are meant to guidelines and not hard and fast rules. I would simply suggest a rethink should your firm's current allocation of resources if they are totally at odds with the suggested percentages. The simple question you and your partners need to address is the firm's allocation ensuring it has the best chance to be able to compete for a future.


You can't get to the future by leveraging your current competencies. Real effective strategy does require you to think in terms of opportunities that arise from the active use of your imagination and not predictions predicated on precedent and the past.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Stephen Mabey
In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions