Steinitz’s Law – innovation and creativity in professional services

Steinitz’s Law – innovation and creativity in professional services

I was playing a nice, friendly game of blitz chess yesterday. I had an edge and was contemplating the middle game strategy that would pulverize my opponent’s ego into a thousand pieces, when I was reminded of what some call Steinitz’s Law, namely, “the player with the advantage must attack.” Wilhelm Steinitz was the first to identify that the player who has an edge, not only has the right, but the obligation to attack. If he doesn’t, his advantage is likely to evaporate.


This got me thinking about business, would Steinitz’s Law apply in the world of business strategy? If you have an edge in business are you obligated to act, must you hasten to exploit it or lose it? I thought about a recent conversation I’d had with legal professionals about the ongoing consolidation in the sector. One way to potentially gain an advantage is to grow, through merger and acquisition. Another option to stand out from the pack, is to be seen as innovative, to use creativity and invention as business drivers. Steve Jobs recognised the power of innovation when he said, “innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

Within the professional service sector there are a lot of similar firms, offering a largely similar service. Where is the fresh thinking, the creativity, the courage to be the first to try something different? The creative voice is there, but in the clamour for success it is not always being heard or being listened to. Now, professional services have been around a while and there may be a tendency to think that all the creative treasures have already been discovered. This is far from the truth.

Fresh thinking, new approaches to old methods, are alive and well. Witness the radical approach adopted recently by Deloitte and others, to the hoary old chestnut of annual appraisals.

Most people will realise the importance of creativity and innovation. You probably agree with this yourself. However, ask yourself this question – “is creativity actively encouraged in your firm on a daily basis?” If we are being honest, then often the likely answer is, no.

Creativity is present in every firm, but by not getting fully behind new ideas, or failing to adopt new ways of doing things quickly enough, some firms will lose an opportunity to lead the pack. Being first to market, first to try something new, can be a powerful advantage.

A crucial factor in a professional service firm’s future health, is that the senior stakeholders provide an environment where creativity and innovation are encouraged and nurtured. Conventional thinking and methods need to be appraised and new ideas tested. A new idea is a delicate flower, easily withered by the icy winds of dogma, custom and conservatism.

Senior partners are the ones who can ensure that creativity and innovation bloom in their firm. This may require a degree of humility, a willingness to accept that they may not always know best, that “new blood” within the firm may be short on experience, but long on looking at things through a fresh perspective.

Google recently changed their recruitment methods when they realised that their processes were producing recruits cut from the same mould as those that had set up the business. For a business that thrives on continuing innovation and creativity, they realised that they needed to widen the net and change the way they recruited.

Now, dear reader, I have a confession to make, I myself have fallen victim to Steinitz’s Law. Many years ago, I had the idea of using the internet to allow people to choose a tradesperson, through popular recommendation. I had a name, “TradesToTrust” (the logo consisted of the three “T”’s combining together in a brickwork pattern). Only, I didn’t act and sat on the idea and watched as the idea finally hit the streets some time later, now there are more of these recommendation sites than you can shake a paint brush at (I still think my name is better than the ones out there!) I had the edge, the fresh idea, but I failed to move quickly to exploit the advantage and my edge evaporated, as old Steinitz predicted.

Utilising and supporting creativity can be a real differentiator for professional service firms and it can be a truly potent force when allied to decisiveness and speed of action.

Are you encouraging the creativity of your people? If you have a business edge, are you procrastinating, or striking while the iron is hot, as the first undisputed World Chess Champion advised?

If you want to learn more about how we can help you stimulate creativity and innovation in your firm, please call us on 01892 610060, we’d love to talk.


theGrogroup specialise in helping Professional Service Firms grow business results by optimising: strategy, talent, business performance and business development.