Pi-Shaped Professionals: A Model for Business Development Success

by JD Supra Perspectives

...attraction is more powerful than promotion.

For most attorneys, business development success depends upon how well you manage three factors: "what you know," "who you know" and "how you are." These three factors make up what I refer to as the Pi-Shaped Professionals model.

The symbol "Pi" - denoted by the Greek letter π, pronounced "pie" - is one of the most common constants in all of mathematics. It is the circumference of any circle, divided by its diameter. Nobody knows its exact value though. Because, no matter how many digits you calculate it to, the number never ends.

And while it might be convenient to use Pi as an analogy for the consistency and continuity required for success in business development, it actually serves best as a graphic model that depicts the three most essential components of an effective business development model. The two pillars and crossbeam of Pi represent the deep knowledge pillars of your relationships and your subject matter expertise held in place by a crossbeam which represents the personal qualities that are critical to business development success.

The symbol should help you remember what it takes to be successful: "who you know," "what you know," and "how you are." And, of course, remind you to pursue this strategy continuously like the never-ending constant that is Pi.

The Pi-Shaped Model of Business Development

What You Know

Back in the late 1980s, IBM introduced a concept called "T-Shaped Professionals," which it used to describe its ideal engineering professionals. T-shaped professionals are characterized by their deep disciplinary knowledge in at least one subject matter area, an understanding of and use of the best systems and processes, their ability to function as “adaptive innovators,” and their ability to cross the boundaries between disciplines. This symbolism caught on and IBM became known as a company dedicated to the power of specialized knowledge. Lawyers, too, share these same benefits when they distinguish themselves as subject matter experts. 

Today, legal expertise must be accompanied by business expertise.

Most lawyers should be encouraged to deeply specialize in at least a portion of their practice and many of them today do. But, legal subject matter expertise is increasingly becoming less potent as a differentiator in the growing competitive legal services industry. There are a lot of experts. Today, legal expertise must be accompanied by business expertise.

In fact, the highest level of subject matter experts are industry thought leaders - the recognized legal authorities on strategically important business issues. These rare lawyers are the ones whose depth of legal knowledge and experience in an area is matched only by their business understanding and acumen. That is, they are not simply experienced and well versed in a particular area of the law but they are equally experienced and well versed in the dynamics and complexities of business. The depth of their knowledge in both business (their clients’ businesses as well as in business generally) and the law enables them to be nearly prescient about the direction of emerging issues and provide their clients with unparalleled value and advice. What you know is critical. It should include the law and business.

Who You Know

Deep knowledge also applies to one's relationships. The people with whom we are connected are the largest source of work for most professional service providers. We all travel through life meeting new people through various professional, social, spiritual and educational endeavors. We collect the names from each interaction and add them to our mental database of connections. Some of those connections are weak and temporary - that is, we did not have much of a connection and they will move on from our lives. Others are weak but recurring - that is, we did not have much of a connection but we share "ecosystems" or exist in networks of people and, as a result, connect with them periodically. But with others, we form deep connections and they become part of our social and professional networks. All of these connections, however, have value - either to us or others. 

Rainmakers understand that who you know and how you add value to your network is critical. 

Few of us, though, take the time to explore how these various relationships, weak, strong, fleeting or lasting, can add value to our professional lives. We rarely inventory their knowledge, experience, station or who we think they may know. Some of us make introductions and try to connect others. Few, though, set up a regular system for communicating with them and build the tools and resources necessary to contribute to the greater value inherent in a shared ecosystem of relationships. But rainmakers do. Rainmakers understand that who you know and how you add value to your network is critical. 

How You Are

The crossbeam of the Pi-Shaped professional symbol is the characteristics that make up your personality and that help you succeed as a professional. Some characteristics contribute more to your success than others and include behaviors and qualities that build trust, respect and generate interest in you.

The characteristics that are most prevalent in successful rainmakers include:

  • empathy and compassion;
  • a commitment to giving more than receiving;
  • an unrelenting positivity;
  • a discipline in executing the fundamentals of business development; and
  • a willingness to invest your time, resources, knowledge and connections to ensure others benefit from knowing you. 

I have observed this formula at work in hundreds of successful lawyers. Observe carefully, you will see it as well. Some lawyers will be more focused on thought leadership and content marketing. Others emphasize their relationships. Some exhibit all three equally. A few succeed purely on the grit of their persistent efforts. But these characteristics are shared in some degree by every successful lawyer I have ever observed. 

Make no mistake. There is no silver business development bullet. Creating the gravitational pull of clients in to your orbit takes time. These are not easy competencies and disciplines to incorporate into your time constrained daily routine. Nor can you fake compassion or feign positivity. The key to these competencies is in their authenticity. You cannot simply "talk the talk." To be a rainmaker with gravitational pull, you must learn to "walk the walk" and walk it every day.

Who you know, what you know and how you are make up the forces of attraction. Fortunately, attraction is more powerful than promotion and, indeed, more consistent with the gravitas to which most lawyers aspire. 

The key to these competencies is in their authenticity...

Making these changes takes effort and focus. They require a deep personal commitment and continuous self-awareness and self-improvement. For those willing to take the journey, the payoff is not just in greater performance, but also in greater happiness, deeper career fulfillment, heightened peer respect and more interesting relationships- all benefits reported by the rainmakers that I have had the intense pleasure to observe and coach.


[Eric Dewey is a Principal with Group Dewey Consulting, and has more than 25 years of marketing and business development experience in four industries including chief marketing executive and practice administration roles at several large law firms. He holds an MBA and two marketing certifications and writes the blog, Lawyer Up! He can be reached at eric@groupdewey.com or 502-693-4731.]

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