I was lucky enough to attend a session with Debra Baker of Law Leaders Lab / GrowthPlay. One of the many good points raised by Debra was that we often need to ask ourselves: “why are we doing this?”
This follows on from the talks of Simon Sinek*.
It’s the kind of question that you answer in a covering letter for a job or in an interview. You often answer it when you have no experience of the job. You tend to forget the question more than a decade later.
So: why do I work as a patent attorney?
I love technology. Growing up my favourite possessions were a box of Lego, a BBC Micro, a cheap Bush walkman and my Casio calculator watch. In conversation I get excited about machine learning and natural language processing. Blade Runner and Terminator 2 are my favourite films. I find the Promethean ability to breath life into inert matter fascinating. Working as a patent attorney means I am immersed in technology of all kinds every day.
I like helping inventors and innovative companies. As a patent attorney you get to work with some of the smartest, most creative engineers on the planet. You also work in the real commercial world, as opposed to the more artificial confines of academia.
I enjoy diving deep into new subject matter and linking it to existing understanding. I have a “systematic” mind, I enjoy figuring out what makes things work. As a kid, I devoured Encylopedias and practically slept with a copy of the Usborne Book of Knowledge. I studied hard, partly through sheer curiosity. I always find how we know what we know fascinating. I may be the only one of my school and University peers who uses their subject knowledge everyday. Each new invention builds upon strata of past learning in a way that is deeply satisfying.
I like an intellectual challenge (the flip-side to being easily bored by the surface of things). I like wrestling an idea into language.
And the more quotidian reasons: I like being able to pay the bills; I like working in a place with free Nespresso and apples; I like having good colleagues and leadership.
Why you need the why
You need these reasons to keep going through the day-to-day work and the ups-and-downs of commercial reality.
- Nine out of ten small businesses fail, typically despite great inventions and people.
- Human contact is often lost beneath the required bureaucratic machinery of large organisations.
- Cases can be granted or refused based solely on the luck of the examiner draw.
- The gap between the hyperbole needed to sale a product and the prosaic hardwork to get the product working.
- The size of the body of previously-published materials.
- Cases you work on for years are left behind as companies pivot and cost-cut.
- There’s always a deadline or five.
- Every other patent attorney is just as driven and smart and is competing against you.
If you align why you are doing something with what you are doing then things become a lot easier.
* Caveat: I understand that this can seem a little MBA-gimmicky, and I do share your skepticism, but the underlying question is a sound one. Reflection is also a good thing, and needed now more than ever with the iPhone buzzing and blinking.