Old School Thinking About Modern Technology

Tinker Toys have been around for over 100 years. I loved them as a kid. Maybe you did too.

Over the past few weeks I’ve encouraged audiences at a couple events to look at them as the fundamental building blocks of their professional aspirations and opportunities, as well as the ideal gateway to understanding the potential of innovative technologies. More than merely a collection of spools, connectors and dowels, Tinker Toys provide limitless ways of imagining how to take on challenges and get things done.

Look at this picture, and think of the tinker toys as the fundamental elements of your profession. Think of them as rights, duties, privileges and obligations. Think of them as assets that exist inside and outside the legal profession and the administration of justice. Think of the different pieces as information, knowledge, process, constraints or technology elements that can exist independently, or that can be combined together to create tools and resources.

At its core, any piece of legal tech is about information going through one or several process to create actionable knowledge. Sometimes that knowledge output is itself combine with other knowledge resources before going through a further process.

What’s interesting is how we select, define, limit, expand, combine, share, or exclude the inputs, and how we determine what process will lead to the desired outputs.

If we look solely at the input and processes in our control, or if we refuse to consider bringing what we have together with the contributions of others, opportunities will be lost.

Similarly, legal tech “solutions” brought forward by others that fence the best processes or best inputs within closed systems that don’t play well with what you’ve built or don’t enable the possibilities of what you want to build are undesirable limits on your potential to achieve what you need.

Would Tinker Toys be enjoying their second century of success if there was only one kind of connector? Or if they were only sold in pre-configured designs? Or if you could only buy the red dowels if you also bought a pre-configured design that contained the red dowels and a whole bunch of other pieces you didn’t need?


Over in the legal tech world, we are deep into our second century of accepting pre-configured, bundled and limited designs. Why aren’t we demanding better?

While we are also seeing an explosion of new players arriving with their versions of spools and connectors, adoption is hampered by limitations on interconnecting with existing tools, and by a general reticence among those with information resources to imagine and demand a better world than the one that was built for them.

A Knowledge Management director once confided that a great frustration of their firm was the recurring bill they paid a legal publisher for access to content that the firm’s lawyers had created and supplied to the publisher. Among the many contributing factors to this state of affairs was that the publisher bundled the knowledge with other resources in ways that were useful the publisher’s clients – including this firm.

But looking beyond legal tech, we can see how if the firm had the option of pulling out from the publisher the third-party content it required, it is now possible for the client to create a superior and customized internal bundled solution. On a seemingly weekly basis we see announcements from the likes of Amazon, IBM, and others enabling low-cost subscription access to computing processes that could be harnessed to extract, organize and deliver knowledge from all manner of information resources. For an organization willing to evaluate its needs and design the solution to suit, action is immediately possible.

Making productive use of the spools, connectors and dowels in our respective Tinker Toy collections, and going further by actively seeking and demanding opportunities to connect our collections with those of other provides limitless ways of imagining how to take on challenges and get things done.

What are we waiting for?

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