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Five years after the Lehman Brothers collapse - a story of failure and opportunity

Several news outlets have marked the anniversary of the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers, an investment bank. (I'll link to Robert Peston's flash-back as his reporting was what I was following at the time.)

It reminded me of how I witnessed Lehman employees leaving the London office in Canary Wharf, private possessions in cardboard boxes or plastic bags the day after the firm filed for bankruptcy protection.

And it reminded me of how the Lehman's failure became a success story in one of the client projects I was running at the time. It became the catalyst by which our client realized the value of their social platform and came to respect the ability it represented to react swiftly and rally resources globally.

Our client was one of the world's largest law firms. We had been working on rolling out the social platform for a few months, liaising with three of the firm's practices. Steady progress was being made.

The day of the Lehman's collapse, a group of lawyers realized that the event would significantly shape the demand for the firm's services and they started gathering all the relevant information about what was to become known as the Credit Crunch. Some of the lawyers had been exposed to the firm's new social platform and found it a convenient place to publish insight, advice and links to resources. They shared links to their collection, asked for input from others and the effort soon became an international collaboration.

This effort resulted in our client probably having one of the most comprehensive and relevant collections about the Credit Crunch of any large law firm just 24 hours after the Lehman's event.

At this point, the collection could have gone viral internally and spread to many parts of the business but something else happened. The firm's global management had seen the collection, realized the value it represented and sent out a global email with a link to it, pointing everybody to the new resource and asking that any new insights be channeled that way.

Instead of a growing via a viral process, the collection had suddenly become the authoritative resource concerning the Credit Crunch - by management fiat.

What fascinated me was that it only took one email.

Once the link was communicated, everybody could include the Credit Crunch collection in their subscriptions to make sure they stayed up to date with developments.

The event triggered an acceleration of adoption. Where I would normally stress the importance of every individual's "aha moment" in realizing the value of a social platform, in this case the aha was expressed at an almost pan-organizational scale.

Even with a devastating event like the Lehman's collapse there lies opportunity. An opportunity to do something in new ways, in better ways. What energized me about the chain of events was that the firm's clients stood to gain from their lawyers having access to a shared resource of relevant research instead of having to fund duplication of effort across the firm. This outcome was exactly in line with the strategy that sparked the desire for a social platform in the first place.

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