In defense of talking

This may be the most self-serving and hypocritical (see this here, too) post I’ve ever written. And yet, here I go.

Talking gets a bad rap these days in legal innovation circles. I’m not 100% sure why but here are a few guesses: (1) legal professionals excel at talking (it’s basically what they get paid to do), (2) legal professionals tend to talk first, and at length before doing, especially if that doing is something new, different, or may challenge, or be perceived to challenge the status quo, and (3) because tech’s mantras, especially lately, include “bias for action,” “ask forgiveness not permission,” and “move fast and break things.”

Still as I start my entrepreneurial journey I find myself pulled toward talking. While I get mild satisfaction out of teaching myself technology tricks and hacks, I get way more out of writing a blog post, talking to a legal tech entrepreneur about strategy, or working with the cohort of legal innovators I’ve put together doing awesome things in their legal careers. More than that, as I truly examine myself and my skill set it’s abundantly clear to me that talking is the thing I’m good at – and it seems to be the thing that others tell me I’m good at. That has caused me to think more critically about the doing vs talking dichotomy.

What is “doing” anyway?

One of my challenges with this obsession with doing is understanding what, exactly, “doing” is. Obviously, roofing one’s house is solidly in the category of doing. Taking at least one step away from doing, in the direction of talking, would be coding software or building a website. Still not much talking going on in that scenario but it’s not quite as active as physical labor. After that, things get more complicated. What if you realize that vision and delegation are your strengths? Is assembling a team and having them execute doing or talking? I mean, you’re not building the software yourself. What about writing a book or a blog post? What about writing marketing copy? How about making sales calls or interviewing a potential customer to understand their needs or satisfaction with your product? How about lobbying a state bar to understand your product or technology better or convincing them to rethink or even change their rules related to technology? I get that I’m making a bit of a semantic argument but my point is that “doing” is way more about getting off of the couch than what it is you do once you’ve actually stood up.

How much doing do doers actually do?

People like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg are known as the doers of our age. But how much doing (as opposed to talking) do these doers actually do? My guess is not a lot. Sure, early on I’ll bet they were all involved in development of their products to some extent but I doubt they’re writing code today. Does that make each of them less of a doer as a result? I don’t think so. Even Steve Jobs, deeply revered innovator as he was, had a technical co-founder in Steve Wozniak so that Jobs could set the vision (talk) and sell products (also talk).

We need talkers

At one point I found myself at a meeting of Open Seattle making connections between the Seattle legal tech and the civic tech communities. I was surrounded by doers. I gave a quick version of my usual stump speech about the possibilities of legal tech including some opportunities that I saw for collaboration between civic tech and legal tech. I didn’t think much of what I said, it was some off-the-cuff remarks, really. I even finished with “Of course, you folks are the real builders. I’m just tossing out some of my ideas.” But one of the attendees stopped me and said “No. We know how to build things but we don’t see the bigger picture. We need people like you to connect the dots and show us the opportunities we don’t readily see.”

Doing without talking is a hobby; talking without doing is a business

The notion of the artist or sculptor who paints or sculpts purely for the joy of it is romantic but it’s not particularly helpful if you want impact and not stuff. We also romanticize the scientist laboring away in the lab or the lone developer hacking away until they reach some genius insight but if the scientist or developer are incapable of talking or don’t have a partner who can talk, their ideas will never receive public recognition. Yes, the internet has democratized information but not every good idea gets the attention it deserves and many never see the proverbial light of day. Talking brings ideas into the world. Speaking of talking, I was talking to Haley Altman of Doxly who shared her favorite piece of advice from a Y Combinator mentor: “If you have a product and no customers, you have a hobby. If you have customers and no product you have a business.” Sure, there are some magic products that require little-to-no marketing, products for which people will pass over their money without even thinking about it. But most aren’t that way. Ultimately, if you want what you’ve made to survive you’re probably going to have to go talk to some people and convince them to buy from you.

I’m a talker, it’s true. My mom once said that I’d never had an unspoken thought. It’s also true that the next Facebook ain’t gonna get built by a bar association or law society committee merely studying the future of law practice. But it’s not going be built by a single developer working alone in his or her room forever, either. Doing may be better than talking, I don’t know. But talking is definitely important, can be very powerful, and is certainly better than doing nothing.


Trying to figure out whether you’re a “doer” or a “talker?” Are you, like me, a talker trying to own your place? Want to hire me to talk for you? Sign up for the mailing list and you’ll get opportunities to explore stuff like this and to be in touch with me.