* Year of Disruption 2016-2017: Lessons Learned

Insert ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ here.

By Erik J. Heels

First published 5/31/2017; YearOfDisruption.com; publisher: GiantPeople.

Boston skyline from MIT. Copyright 2009 GiantPeople LLC, all rights reserved.

When I came up with the idea for the Year of Disruption project (YoD), I was trying to figure out how 35-year-old me would have tried to disrupt 50-year-old me, and what 50-year-old me could do to get ahead of that. In other words, to paraphrase GE’s Jack Welch, I was trying to “change before I had to.”

I did not intend to do this project alone. I have two companies: Clocktower Law for the logical/left side of my brain, GiantPeople for the right/creative side of my brain. Under the auspices of GiantPeople, I invited others to join me in transparently pondering how patent and trademark services could be improved by providers and for startups.

The project was loosely based on former Clocktower Law client BzzAgent’s 90 Days of BzzAgent blog, launched in 2006 as an “experiment in organizational transparency” and later documented in the 2008 book Tactical Transparency: How Leaders Can Leverage Social Media to Maximize Value and Build their Brand by Shel Holtz and John C. Havens. But “Year of Disruption” sounds better than “Quarter of Disruption,” so I went with the school year model, because, as I said, we are going back to school.

In no particular order, here is what I learned.

Websites. It is very easy to launch a good-looking website, especially if you have experience with CMS platforms like WordPress. The YoD website used two themes: the default Twenty Sixteen theme in 2016, the default Twenty Seventeen theme in 2017.

Logos. GiantPeople spent $299 on an awesome crowdsourced logo from 99designs, and I would definitely use their services again.

Ads. From September 2016 through May 2017, the YoD website earned about $33.50, which means that the ads paid for the domain name for about three years. Not huge, but profitable.

Writing vs. Editing. I wrote on-deadline columns for the ABA for 15 years. I was very reliable. I would fill in with last-minute requests as needed. I valued skillful editors such as John Tredennick and Merrilyn Astin Tarlton. I figured it would be easy getting friends and colleagues to write for me. Not so much, as it turns out. Although I got a lot of commitments to write, I would have traded five commitments for an actual article at any time! Sort of like draft picks in baseball.

Piano Movers. You know who your friends are? Those who show up when you ask them to move your piano. So while the quantity of guest posts wasn’t as high as I anticipated, the quality was very high. Thanks to:

for moving my piano.

Stars vs. Treetops. We did not cover all of the topics in our ambitious editorial calendar, but we covered many of them. If you shoot for the stars, then maybe you’ll hit the treetops.

Sometimes I’m wrong. Not all of my ideas are great. I joke around that I have about one good idea per decade, and that this has been enough to sustain my career. I certainly thought a lot about how to improve patent and trademark services as a result of the YoD project, and I tried to translate that learning into action. I was certainly prolific during the YoD project, with almost 100 publications in that time. So discounts for minorities and smooth and lumpy pricing plans – good ideas. Blogging Trump’s first 100 days and outsourced trademark specimens – not so much.

Real life >> small stuff. Unexpected things happened during the YoD project, things that my family and I are still recovering from. But we’re getting there. Timing is everything, as it turns out.

Patent and trademark disruption. There are many law firms and service providers disrupting patent law and disrupting trademark law, a good cross-section of which were covered during the YoD project. And as long as there are incumbents, there will be disruptors.

In summary, the YoD may not have been a once-per-decade great idea, but it did help me focus professionally and personally on what matters. Will I do the project again next year? Probably not. Would I do it over again? Definitely. Glass half full. Thanks for your support!


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