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Maybe What the Architecture Profession Needs is a Small Heart Attack July 27, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in change, collaboration, environment, survival, the economy, transformation.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
4 comments

What will it take for us to change?

That’s the question I posed recently to a psychologist and a professor.

First, it’s important to recognize that architecture is a conservative profession.

We’re looking out for others – protecting the health, welfare and safety of the public.

We take a lot of risks and by nature are risk-averse.

So when we hear change knocking – it’s not often we’re first in line.

And yet – as the world is making clear – our job now is to change.

The biggest challenge is recognizing that we need to change.

What will motivate us to do so and how will we benefit by doing so?

Motivation vs. Benefit

Think of a recent change that you have made in your diet, lifestyle or habits.

What events, experiences, knowledge or people motivated you to change your behavior?

Where did this motivation come from?

Within you? Or from without?

What were the payoffs for making the needed change?

The reason I ask is this:

Unless there are clear benefits, we won’t change.

If the reasons are big enough, architects will change

While conducting research for my book, BIM and Integrated Design (Wiley, 2011,) I asked a psychologist and a professor each what it will take for architects to change.

With the new technologies and collaborative work processes upon us, do these call for the redesign of the architect?

And if so, how will we go about making our necessary changes?

The psychologist responded,

“How?” is about 10% of it.

90% of it is “Why?”

With an architect, if the reasons are big enough, they’ll change.

Unless they feel hurt, depressed, angry, upset, disappointed, without that there’s no leverage to change.

People change when they can no longer stand the way they’re living and architects are no different.

Architects are going to have to change when they can no longer stand to practice the way they’re doing it and realize that they have to change.

They’ll be forced into it.

When the reasons are big enough, they’ll change.

Unless the feared pain of changing is less than the feared pain of not changing, I’m not changing.

It’s not “This is good for you.”

I’ll fight you to the death on that one.

People don’t change because it’s good for them.

They don’t change for people.

I’ve come to appreciate “negative” feelings. I need those. That’s the leverage.

Architects are Always Changing

The professor took a different tact.

I asked him if this is an important question or is change in the profession and industry inevitable, a given?

The professor responded:

It comes back to the question whether people think it is productive for their own roles or place in the profession for change to happen.

People who are asking that often feel threatened because they may be in positions of power and for them status quo is beneficial. So they don’t want a change.

Whereas people who want to make a place for themselves are often the ones who are trying to change things.

Change is inevitable.

The idea that architecture has ever been a consistent type of practice is a myth.

It has always changed.

There will always be people for whom change will seem alluring and filled with opportunity to advance and position themselves better.

There will always be this element of change.

We cannot predict when things will change in various contexts – but change is always this element in there that’s at play.

In a pretty amazing book succinctly summarizing the recent economic crisis, author John Lanchester borrows a concluding metaphor from climate scientist James Lovelock who observed that

What the planet needed was the equivalent of a small heart attack.

In Lanchester’s view, the recent economic crisis is the equivalent of capitalism’s small heart attack.

Such an episode in a person’s life is often beneficial because it forces the person to face unpleasant facts and to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Perhaps it could have a similar effect on architects and the health of the profession?

Sometimes it takes a dramatic event to shake things up and to make people wake up.

So maybe what we are going through right now – with the economy, environmental challenges and technological changes – is a small heart attack?

Not so large so as to kill us.

But big enough to get our attention.

And get us to make the necessary changes.

Stranded: 12 Desert Island Reads for the Marooned Architect July 19, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.
4 comments

What one book would you take with you to a desert island?

Growing up, my uncle, a high-powered attorney, once said to me that his best friends and favorite people were architects.

They’re fascinating, he said.

With all architects need to learn, keep up with and know, fascinating is not a word you often hear these days associated with most architects.

Part of what I always believed made architects fascinating – in addition to their life experiences, tastes and travels – was the books they read.

There are always must-read architecture books and you could do far worse than read the hottest summer business books such as Rework by 37signal’s Jason Fried, or Seth Godin’s Linchpin, or Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy.  

Read them along with the rest of the world, that is.

This is a time to stand out, to distinguish yourself, in all ways but especially in your reading material.

A time to read a book for you and you alone.

Pick a Book, but Not Just Any Book

Not necessarily a favorite book. Just a book, that for sentimental, hard-to-explain reasons, you can’t live without.

Here are twelve books I cannot live without.

Why these twelve?

Each is guaranteed to provide you with a transformative experience.

No summer escapism here – you can get that from any old beach book.

Here’s the criteria I used to select these books:

  • not fiction, not about architecture or self-improvement
  • will force you to open your mind and get you out of your rut and help you to see things differently and to see the bigger picture
  • make you more interesting to your peers, contacts and clients
  • enlightening, interesting, fun-to-read books – architects used to be interesting and fun. These books promise to keep you that way
  • girth, length, substance but also weighty – these are doorstoppers – page for page you really get your money’s worth
  • can be found in paperback or Kindle for under $10 (though your Kindle may be hard to recharge on the island)
  • not pimping or promoting a book by a living author – these are all 5-star books – all recognized living classics. Titles that could be considered by a reading connoisseur as their one and only book they’d take with them to a desert island
  • all will provide you with memorable, unforgettable, guaranteed to be a favorite, life-changing experience
  • nominally obscure and forgotten chefs d’ouevre that can be found at a bookstore, such as The Strand in NYC

Thus the double entendre title of this post: stranded.

No Architect’s Education is Ever Complete

These are the books I’d take with me if stuck on an island for a year.

In fact, with 12, there’s one for every month of the year.

I could explain how and why each is relevant to me or you, the architect, but instead I’ve provided you with the title and a link – and left the rest up to you.

Have fun exploring!

Here’s to a year of exceptional reading.

1. Life of Johnson

James Boswell

Visit Amazon’s James Boswell Page

4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

 link  

2. A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe: Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science

Michael S. Schneider

Visit Amazon’s Michael S. Schneider Page

4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)

link

3. Michel de Montaigne – The Complete Essays

Michel de Montaigne (Author), M. A. Screech (Editor, Translator, Introduction)

4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

link

4. The Anatomy of Melancholy

Robert Burton

Visit Amazon’s Robert Burton Page

4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)

link

5. The Seven Mysteries of Life

Guy Murchie

Visit Amazon’s Guy Murchie Page

4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)

link

6. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York

Robert A. Caro

Visit Amazon’s Robert A. Caro Page

4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (124 customer reviews)

link

7. Annals of the Former World

John McPhee

Visit Amazon’s John McPhee Page

4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)

link

8. The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos

Joel R. Primack (Author), Nancy Ellen Abrams

4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)

link

9. The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View

Richard Tarnas

Visit Amazon’s Richard Tarnas Page

4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)

link

Also by the same author

Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View

Richard Tarnas

Visit Amazon’s Richard Tarnas Page

4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)

link

10. Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Douglas R. Hofstadter

Visit Amazon’s Douglas R. Hofstadter Page

4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (262 customer reviews)

link

11. Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences

Lawrence Weschler

Visit Amazon’s Lawrence Weschler Page

4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

link

12. A Short History of Nearly Everything

Bill Bryson

Visit Amazon’s Bill Bryson Page

4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (797 customer reviews)

link

There’s now even a kid’s version

And lastly, 2 bonus books you no doubt never heard of – but would be remiss to overlook – of such fantastical proportions they can be said to not exist at all…

Codex Seraphinianus

The Codex Seraphinianus is a book written and illustrated by the Italian artist, architect and industrial designer Luigi Serafini during thirty months, from 1976 to 1978. The book is approximately 360 pages long (depending on edition,) and appears to be a visual encyclopedia of an unknown world, written in one of its languages, a thus-far undeciphered alphabetic writing. (Wikipedia)

link

Find it here for free

link

link

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Seraphinianus

and

Le Macchine Celibi / The Bachelor Machines

Marc Le Bot (Author), Bazon Brock (Author), Michel Carrouges (Author), Michel de Certeau (Author), Jean Clair (Author), Peter Gorsen (Author)

Publisher: Rizzoli; 1st US Edition edition (1975) Language: English, Italian

link

Is there a book you would recommend that you don’t see here? Have you read one of these books and disagree? Should architects just stick with reading architecture books? Let me know.

The Rise of the Knowledge-Driven Architect July 10, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in change, collaboration, management, questions, survival, transformation.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
6 comments

In third grade the local dentist came to our elementary school gymnasium and showed the entire student body proper dental care, including how to brush properly: up and down.

In fourth grade the same dentist came to our elementary school gymnasium and showed the entire student body how to brush properly: side to side. He did not acknowledge the fact that the method had changed.

In fifth grade the dentist came to our elementary school and showed the assembled students in the gymnasium how to brush properly: in a circular motion. Again, no reference to the method changing.

Having moved on to middle school, I didn’t stick around to find out what they recommended the following year. One can easily imagine them gathered at the assembly year after year recommending another method.

And it is little wonder that I had grown up to be a relativist in philosophy and situationalist in leadership style, not to mention sporting several cavities.

This varietal display of effective brushing technique did not bode well for the dental profession. Nor, for that matter, for elementary school.

But because the gymnasium had daylight, according to researchers, I have managed to retain this vital information all of these years.

Knowledge: The Podcast

What prompted my recollection of ever-changing dental tactics is an ambitious, seminal, drop-everything-that-you’re-doing-and-listen-to-this podcast on how knowledge is transforming the profession.

In the AIA podcast, The Knowledge Agenda: Transforming a Profession, Markku Allison AIA, ever-resourceful Resource Architect at AIA talks with Walter Hainsfurther FAIA, President at Kurtz Associates Architects, Vice President at American Institute of Architects and chair of the AIA Board Knowledge Committee, about this much-anticipated change to the profession.

Warning: This post raises as many questions as the podcast seeks to answer.

Markku fires the first shot by stating that knowledge is the most valuable asset of the architect.

When you hear firm owners say “our employees are our most valuable asset” what they mean is their knowledge. And we naturally equate knowledge with money as in the oft heard phrase: “90 percent of your corporate assets walk out the door each night.” (Unless by this they mean someone’s taking home the Canon  iPF755 large format color printer.) Owners want to know that their money is invested wisely in their projects. Architects assure them by citing data, research and science, delivering value to owners. Research, not intuition. Outcomes, not anecdotes. In the podcast Walter and Markku – both incidentally LinkedIn group KA Connect members – talk about

  • the AIA knowledge agenda crafted by the AIA Board Knowledge Committee over the past 18 months with input from a large body of stakeholders across the institute
  • how the agenda will provide a framework and structure for all of AIA’s knowledge initiatives moving forward with the ambitious goal of nothing less than the transformation of the mindset and behavior of architects throughout the AIA
  • how the knowledge agenda commits the institute to a path of formal pursuit, creation  and open sharing of knowledge not unlike that of the medical profession
  • the outcome will be a stronger focus on research, higher degrees of rigor and validating the resources of knowledge available to the profession and others

Walter describes the Knowledge Agenda as an instrument to guide the AIA moving forward in the area of knowledge, with “the most important thing about this transformative document that takes our profession from an anecdotal based profession – as it currently is – to one that relies upon data-driven decisions and what we call a knowledge driven profession so that owners can get more predictable outcomes out of their buildings.”

Some highlights of the podcast:

  • we’re moving away from an anecdote- to a research-driven profession
  • citing research and science is more likely to put us in a leadership position
  • reference to the apt aphorism: the rising tide lifts all boats
  • how the knowledge agenda supports developing thought leadership as a process that will result in architects being looked to as the go-to person in an area that has to do with the built environment

The podcast references a specific sort of knowledge: result-oriented, researched, science-backed, empirical-driven, accountable, repeatable, sharable and outcome-predictable.

Types of Knowledge

First we need to clarify what exactly we are talking about here. Rules of thumb? Information? Or knowledge.

In other words, defining what knowledge actually is and how is it differentiated from data and information.

And if in fact knowledge, what kind is it?

Academic knowledge (defined as what practitioners don’t find useful) or practical knowledge (defined as useless to academics.) Theoretical, logical or semantic?

Systemic or empirical?

Direct or indirect? Procedural or intuitive?

Explicit or tacit knowledge?

When Walter says in the podcast that we gain much of our knowledge anecdotally – through habit, similar to oral history – is this just another way of saying much of our knowledge is tacit, which is by definition highly personal and hard to formalize, making it difficult to communicate or share with others? Will doing-away with our anecdotal approach to design and building impact our tacit learning and implicit sharing of knowledge?  

And is this all just a new way of reformulating the architect’s special burden of proof? That we design subjectively but explain and justify rationally? However ill-advised and indefensible, since architecture is both an art and a science, it is something most great architects have practiced for millennia.

Architects’ Ways of Knowing

It may just be a case that architects know what they know in ways that can’t be served by a giant, knowledge-filled clearinghouse.

What Nigel Cross described as designerly ways of knowing, articulating and understanding the nature of design cognition, leading to a better understanding of what is now called design thinking.

Anyone who has recently read one of the four extant versions and editions of How Designers Think by Bryan Lawson (which shamefully is almost no one) will be familiar with his companion piece, What Designers Know, exploring and detailing the knowledge that architects work with, how they use this knowledge, whether design knowledge is special and where design knowledge comes from. It’s a life-changing good read.

The bottom line is that architects – by training and experience – gain knowledge in multiple ways: by way of drawings, site visits and travel, interactions with computer software, increasingly with the internet and through late night caffeine-fueled conversations. Not to mention learning by doing. 80% about what I know about architectural practice I know from eavesdropping on 20% of a particularly vocal project manager’s forceful, voice-carrying phone conversations earlier in my career (a vastly underrated knowledge-gaining method.) 

Show Me the Data!

Knowledge in this case is based on results – not reasons. You want to design something one way – you show me the data, the metrics, the analytics.

Evidence-based design, an approach to healthcare design giving importance to design features that impact patient health, well-being, mood, and safety, as well as staff stress and safety, has a growing body of research showing that proper design of the built environment contributes to improving key outcomes. This is what clients would like to know. This area of study has gone on to impact other building types that involves creating better, more effective designs by using an approach based on evidence and outcomes rather than intuition and anecdotal information.

In the podcast, Walter alludes to there being a lot of knowledge on the web. Whether this is information or knowledge is a question worth asking. As is how much on the web is useful and how much dross.

How do we decide what knowledge to utilize in our next project? Someone – an early adopter – tries something out, returns for a post-occupancy and uploads the results.

Do you use it? What worked in Santa Cruz may not play in Peoria.

And the knowledge – in these fast-paced times – may have to be easily digestible, the equivalent of sugar-coated. How the knowledge is marketed becomes of critical importance.

How does this differ from CTRL+C: Copy, CTRL+V: Paste information out of such “knowledge guides” as Architectural Graphic Standards and Time-Saver Standards for Architectural Design Data, with contributions by world authorities and specialists reflecting essential changes and new knowledge in the field of architecture where one size never quite fits all? If you were to make a suit jacket by averaging all the suit sizes of men in Chicago it would result in a suit that fit no one.

Perhaps architects ought to Whispersync onto their Kindles, once and for all, in less than a minute for $9.99, the Architect’s Complete Knowledge Companion?

Or create a complete online source for information and insight on architectural planning, design and detailing that will get your clients the results they are looking for.

Architect’s Special Burden of Proof

Evidence-based design bases design decisions on the best available current research evidence. Just as online question and answer sites identify the best answer, one can imagine the AIA’s Knowledge Agenda site having architects vote on the best answer. Or, in lieu of democratic voting, one can imagine using something like Ask.com’s AnswerFarm™ technology – their proprietary method of crawling and extracting question/answer pairs from hundreds of thousands of sources, including user generated content, FAQ pages, news/blog articles, and structured/semi-structured data.

There are knowledge-driven organizations that emphasize the people side of knowledge management – what it takes to get employees to contribute to a knowledge system including ways to orchestrate the required culture change, explaining how organizations can move from “hoarding” knowledge to “sharing” it, building a global strategy that allows them to respond faster to client’s needs.

Christopher Parsons, founder of Knowledge Architecture  and the ever growing LinkedIn group, tribe and movement, KA Connect, wrote a great post recently on becoming a knowledge-driven firm.

Architects have a special burden of proof. For it is not enough to place windows in classrooms in order to get better test scores (cited in the podcast and in a million other places.) Architects are challenged to always consider the big picture – the little clients and big clients, the paying and non-paying.

Architects knowledge is a special type of epistemology. Architects may access research knowledge but they also have designerly or tacit knowledge.

Architects acquire their knowledge in myriad and unusual ways: from magazines and blogs, webinars and lectures, reference books and websites, manufacturer’s literature, heresy and hunches. Gut punches from path-narrowing options of previous decisions and lessons learned.

At every critical juncture of a project, architects ask 4 Questions:

1. What is actual?

2. What is necessary?

3. What is desirable?

4. What is possible?

What sort of knowledge results from asking these pertinent questions?

For knowledge-driven architects to come about, what will it take for us to change our thinking? To put results and results-oriented thinking first?

We’re told again and again that natural daylight in classrooms improves knowledge retention in students and improves test scores. A study found that the use of skylights, for example, improved test scores in reading by 8.8 points and in math by 12.3 points. This translates to a 19% faster learning rate for reading and a 20% faster learning rate for math.

Whether skylights or windows, were they operable or fixed? Was this location specific? Could the students see out the windows or was the day light indirect? Were students distracted by views or were the windows largely clerestory? Was this data taken before the prevalence of classroom computers and their opportunity to create glare? Were the windows tinted or clear, south facing or north, and did this matter?

Can anyone name one result in architectural knowledge besides the daylight-to-test-score relationship or how seating arrangements at work increase performance and reduce sick days?

12 Questions the Knowledge Agenda ought to consider:

1. What will it take for architects to be able to change from a knowledge-is-power mindset to one of open-book collaboration and sharing? More importantly, will senior management be able to overcome their knowledge-is-power-trips in time to train and promote the next generation of emerging talent?

2. Will architects be able to create the culture that supports knowledge sharing before others – including their competitors – do so?

3. Will architects have the discipline to become research-driven professionals in lieu of anecdote, folk-wisdom and other subjective means of architectural justification?

4. Will 24/7 access to a shared communal knowledge base help architects to resolve technical problems quickly and make immediate, informed decisions to help solve client issues?

5. How will this knowledge be attained, retained and in what form that is usable to the vast majority of architects in the planning, design and documentation process?

6. If we can agree that architects gain knowledge, at least in part, tacitly, and that tacit knowledge is highly personal and hard to formalize, making it difficult to communicate or share with others, then how exactly will this knowledge be stored and made accessible for architects to download and share?

7. The AIA all-too-well understands just how diverse the make-up of the profession is. As Bryan Lawson points out “It is quite possible to find two people who call themselves architects and yet hardly share any of their daily tasks.” Will the shared knowledge made available to architects take this inherent diversity in mind?

8. Is this idea of a knowledge clearinghouse the equivalent of building one big, loosely organized planetary brain for the architecture profession? Would the site serve much the way as Robert Wright recently proposed, where the point of evolution (in this case of the profession) is to create social brains and to weave them into a big brain?

9. If architects are being nudged, encouraged or prompted to share knowledge with one another – how far do we take it? Shouldn’t we also then share information with our professional counterparts, including interior designers and construction managers? Or will the big brain be card-carrying members-only? Or is this what Markku meant when, in the podcast, he says the outcome will be “a stronger focus on research, higher degrees of rigor and validating the resources of knowledge available to the profession and others?”

10. Is it fair to say that the web contains information and by collecting it we store knowledge? If true, then let’s stop saying that the internet contains lots of knowledge.

11. Data, information, knowledge and understanding all relate to the past: what has been and what is known. Architects must certainly acknowledge the past and address present needs, but as innovators, we must focus on the future. Had architects through time only utilized past knowledge there would have been few of what we enjoy and take for granted today: innovations of our built environment.

12. Is this really just another way of saying Albert Einstein’s oft-quoted “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand”?

But then again, in order to recall this, you would have to know that.

Are You a Koala or Raccoon? July 4, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, career, employment, environment, identity, pragmatism, survival, the economy.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
4 comments

All architects are by training generalists and then in practice become specialists.

To see that this is true we only need to look at Vitruvius’s bucket list for the training of architects:

to be creative, apt in the acquisition of knowledge, a good writer, a skillful draftsman, versed in geometry and optics, expert at figures, acquainted with history, informed on the principles of natural and moral philosophy, somewhat of a musician, not ignorant of the law and of physics, nor of the motions, laws, and relations to each other, of the heavenly bodies

Despite never becoming somewhat of a musician, many practitioners understandably have remained generalists their entire careers.

Some to great success.

That is, until now.

For while statistics aren’t readily available it is conceivable that the majority of architects who find themselves out of work, or underemployed, today are the generalist sort.

That the better gamble would have – years earlier – been to become experts at something.

But that thinking – while comforting to tell oneself – would be off-the-mark.

By suddenly specializing, generalists do themselves a disservice, are untrue to their calling and sell themselves short.

More than anyone employers need to realize this.

For while there are certainly merits and detriments to each:

Is the current trend to fill holes predominantly with specialists short-sighted?

The Generalist Advantage

Using a biological analogy, a generalist species is able to thrive in a wide variety of environmental conditions and can make use of a variety of different resources while specialist species can only thrive in a narrow range of environmental conditions with a limited diet.

In more utilitarian terms, specialists know where to hit the nail to get rid of the creak in the floor board.

While generalists can recommend eleven types of flooring that don’t creak in the first place.

Generalists see the big picture.

Specialists have great depth of experience in one specific area.

Generalists conceive the big ideas and concepts that energize teams and carry construction projects through their arduous 3-5 year lifespan.

Specialists focus all of their effort and skill development on one specialty.

Generalists keep things interesting – they’re often whom colleagues and clients relate with best.

Specialists have an easier time selling their services once they find their market and can charge more.

Generalists are the glue that holds teams together.

In the body politic, specialists are the workhorse liver and spleen.

Generalists? The heart and sinew.

Specialists know the work inside and out.

Generalists – with broad peripheral knowledge and the ability to provide clients with alternatives if one solution doesn’t fit – are the heart and soul of the operation.

For that really is the crux of the matter:

When specialists die who attends their funeral?

When generalists die they’re standing 10 deep, nary a dry eye in the room.

Specialists may be safer in the short term but generalists are a whole lot more fun.

Wanted: Specialists – Not Deeper Generalists

Is your specialty being a generalist? Are generalists the new specialists?

Architects have so much to learn that being a jack-of-all-trades isn’t really a conceivable route to take.

Even generalists are more specialized than they give themselves credit for.

One look at the jobs postings – what there are of them – and its dishearteningly clear: only specialists are in demand.

Employers now require recruits and candidates that are exact matches for the holes they need to fill.

Down to the detail – looking for people with single attributes.

In the wish list of job requirements “well-rounded” is not among them.

Forget round altogether. We’re living in square peg, square hole times.

Not fire starters but firemen – relievers – to put out fires.

Wanted: Closers, not openers. Fastballs, not knuckleballs.

Generalists in a Specialist’s World

And there’s no room for ambiguity, no growing into the position. You’re either it – or you’re not.

It may be well and good that the architect’s core competency is a hard-earned and all-too-rare comfort with ambiguity.

Make no mistake. We are living in clearly unambiguous times.

This talent – often referred to as agility and flexibility – to keep as many balls in the air for as long as possible isn’t needed right now, thank you.

For there are far fewer balls to maneuver and the few that there are seem to hang in the air longer.

Task masters are in. Multitaskers need not apply.

Going back to that biological analogy, most organisms of course do not fit neatly into either the specialist or generalist camp. Some species are highly specialized, others less so, while some can tolerate many different environments.

In other words, it’s probably healthiest for architects to think of the specialist–generalist issue as a continuum, from highly specialized experts on one end to broadly generalist practitioners on the other.

Are You a Koala or Raccoon?

Forget the Hedgehog or the Fox, where the generalist fox knows many things, but the specialist hedgehog knows one big thing.

Instead, ask yourself: Are you a Koala or Raccoon?

A well-known example of a specialist animal is the koala which subsists almost entirely on eucalyptus leaves. No eucalyptus, no koala.

In our current work environment it is perhaps best to think of oneself like the wily raccoon – which are able to adapt to all sorts of environments, even urban ones.

Ever adaptable, the raccoon is a generalist because it has a natural range that includes most of North and Central America and it is omnivorous, eating berries, insects, eggs and small animals.

But then again, adaptability – like the generalist today – is underrated.

Perhaps it’s best to be a little of both?

But you’d have to be a generalist to see it that way.

Image credit: Lynne Lancaster