ZhivadanAdam Davidson (NPR Planet Money co-host) mused about innovation in a piece in the Nov. 16th issue of the New York Times, Welcome to the Failure Age. What I found most intriguing were his thoughts about the impact of information technology on usually risk-averse professions such as lawyers and accountants. As they see much of their low-value, routine work disappear to Nolo and Quicken respectively, these professions are finding new ways to surface the unique value they provide, using tools that once threatened their business. As Donaldson put it:

[S]ome enterprising accountants are learning how to use some of their biggest assets — the trust of their clients and access to financial data — to provide deep insights into a company’s business. They’re identifying which activities are most profitable, which ones are wasteful and when the former become the latter. […]

[Lawyers] use data-sniffing programs and their own legal expertise to cull through millions of patent applications or contracts to build never-before-seen complex models of the business landscape and sell it to their clients.

I have to smile when I remember that I was hired to work in the library of a law firm back in 1979 to work on a database of the firm’s internal legal memoranda for later re-use. Bleeding edge back then, complete with keypunch cards. Then I started Bates Information Services back in 1991, when gopher was a powerful discovery tool and Mark Zuckerberg was entering grade school.

Over the years, my business has had to shift dramatically in order to stay competition-proof. My deliverables have changed radically over the years, and my research projects are more complex and strategic than they used to be. I find it comforting to remember that I am in the company of so many other professionals whose are facing similar challenges. If CPAs can be seen as strategic business partners, so can many other reluctant entrepreneurs.

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