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How Much Juice Can You Squeeze from an Architect? August 14, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in career, employment, management, questions, the economy.
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I start each day – before doing anything else – by preparing a cup of warm lemon water.

Before tending to the still sleeping kids and pets, before stretching, yoga or meditating, before saying affirmations, doing visualizations or reading positive, uplifting quotes and passages – even before posting here – I take a sip from this cup.

Over time, while preparing my morning ritual elixir, I noticed no matter how hard I squeezed I was tossing out valuable pulp and juice.

One day I asked myself if I was getting the most from my morning lemon.

How much lemon juice can you get from 1 lemon?

Most will tell you, depending on size, about 2 ½ tablespoons (about how much I was getting.)

So how about if you could get a ¼ cup or so from each lemon

– with no additional effort or expense –

You’d do it, right?

Here’s how you can extract more juice from your lemon.

Briefly microwave the lemon for 15 seconds before juicing.

That’s it.

It doesn’t matter what type of lemon it is.

Meyer, Eureka or Lisbon, or whether organic or conventionally grown, foreign or from here.

What does the microwaving do to the lemon?

It warms it up. It pumps up the pulp. Prepares the lemon for the big squeeze.

Resulting in greater productivity and effectiveness from the lemon with less effort and waste.

So if you are not getting ¼ cup or so of juice from your lemon you’re not optimizing it, squeezing out all of its natural goodness. Which leads me to ask:

Could it be as easy to get the most and best from ourselves today at work?

Architects, Freshly Squeezed

Architects, before the economic downturn, used to do work roughly matching their skill sets and talents.

While others had jobs, vocations and careers, architects had a calling.

And architects were called. Now we’re doing most of the calling.

When the downturn came, people were let go and holes needed to be filled by those who remained.

Generally, people within the firm stepped down to fill the role of those immediately below them.

Interns were let go – and so junior architects took on their tasks – while maintaining their own workload.

Principals stepped down to ostensibly fill in for senior managers missing in action.

Hands-off designers – who formerly operated side-by-side – picked-up software, manned their posts and joined the DIY fray or else were permanently sidelined.

All of this while everybody took on additional tasks such as marketing, business development and IT; vacuuming, garbage and kitchen duty.

Often for less pay. And less gratitude. In less time.

The Big Squeeze

Architects of course are not alone today in feeling squeezed.

The book, The Big Squeeze, by labor correspondent for the New York Times Steven Greenhouse, is a personal and emotionally compelling look at what the American worker is experiencing today, an all too human tale about the American way of living in our time.

In an interview, Greenhouse was asked: Why did you title your book The Big Squeeze?

Greenhouse responded: I really feel there’s a squeeze on workers. In many ways, corporate America is clamping down on its workers. Wages have been cut over the past few years. We’ve seen health benefits get worse. Middle-class Americans have health insurance while the typical worker has to pay twice as much for health insurance as was the case seven years ago. We’ve seen good pensions kind of disappear, evaporate and be replaced by 401(k)s, which I describe as Swiss-cheese retirement plans. A lot of workers don’t have 401(k)s—many workers have little to support themselves when they retire. While wages are stagnant and benefits are getting worse, workers also are being squeezed to work harder. There’s less job security than there used to be. And with all the rounds of downsizing, workers feel more insecure on the job. If you’re feeling insecure, you’re less likely to push for better wages and benefits.

That from the comparatively halcyon days of 2008.

What’s Within Our Control?

How much of the squeeze is brought about by factors outside our control (the economy, globalization, frozen credit, etc) and what is within our control to change and interpret differently?

In other words, despite what the world is giving us today, are employers making every effort to do the right thing?

Are employees doing everything in their power – emotionally, rationally, psychically and physically – to adjust to the new realities of the workplace?

Part of the stress architects are feeling these days is due to their internal make-up.

With obvious exceptions, architects

–          have an exceptional capacity for dealing with a variety of people, events and challenges – often simultaneously. The current economy doesn’t honor this capacity of the architect – limiting the people we work with, the number and type of projects we work on and the types of challenges we contend with;

–          truly believe they can do most anything they are given to work on. More often than not today architects are being told what to work on, how to do it, and given little say in the project’s definition or destiny;

–          work must be play or it is often not worth doing. Worthwhile tasks for the architect are those that affirm and enlarge the self, involve learning on the job and more fun than drudgery. Little of the work architects are given to undertake today – when there is work – could be described as “play.”

Architects also

–          love to please others. They will overexert themselves – physically and psychologically – to please. Today they are finding that there are fewer people – colleagues to clients – to please;

–          often work in fits and starts, and so when they become excited, they lose all sense of time, physical needs and anything else. They follow their enthusiasm until totally fatigued then collapse. More often today architects are experiencing a new kind of stress brought about from there being too little to do, too little to capture their attention and imagination, having to parse their work to fill in their allotted time;

–          are rarely complacent. With their job security at risk, few are willing to go out on a limb to voice their opinion or attempt to improve a project or situation for fear of rocking the boat.

Architects generally make more starts than finishes – and the work they are given if it is about anything these days – is finish work: their motivating mantra reduced to get it done.

Taking on project work that is outside of their – and the firm’s – expertise, the result of overzealous and opportunistic marketing efforts.

Someone brought in this project, promises made without your input, and now you have to complete it.

It is not uncommon for architects to work themselves into exhaustion while following an inspiration. Open to a never-ending flow of alternatives in any situation, the work they are given today does not call for their creativity but their ability to come to a quick and certain conclusion: not normally the architect’s strong suit.

A Question of Capacity

As architects we don’t even know how much we have to give.

If we’re capable of lifting a car off of someone who has just been run over, we are capable of achieving a great deal more than we can fathom.

When an employee knows that they are valued – for their penetrating mind, their passions and interests, for their person, who they are – and recognized for their contributions to the firm, they will find that extra place from which they have the capacity to give.

Employers, ask yourself:

  • Are you preparing your staff to be more productive?
  • Are you being realistic about the amount of work you give them and expect them to undertake?
  • Do you explain on a regular basis how the firm’s and world’s circumstances are driving this situation and that – while no one can predict when it will end – it is temporary?
  • Are you doing all you can to keep your employees engaged with the work they’ve been given to complete?
  • Or have you left it to them to fend for themselves, sink or swim?

Prepare your staff to give – from themselves, willingly, and not because they feel like they are being squeezed from all directions – in terms of time, money and output.

Employees, ask yourself:

  • Are you getting enough rest?
  • How about optimal nutrition and exercise?
  • Are you making adjustments in your lifestyle to account for these changes in the workplace?
  • Have you identified ways outside of work to remain energized, invigorated and to refuel? Have you identified a prize for yourself, however you define it – passing the ARE or studying for the LEED exam, taking a course in hand sketching, traveling or visiting projects that inspire you or however you define it for yourself – and kept your eyes on that prize?
  • Do you feel like you are being squeezed in every direction, used up for your cheap labor, relatively flexible demands on your free time, your heightened energy levels, your need to gain experience, your wanting to climb the corporate ladder, your fear of being abandoned as so many of your peers?

As an architect, you are meant to give. Are you interpreting your current situation as the world telling you not to give of, and from, yourself?

The energy, attention, skill and talent are there in you to give – you only need to know how to properly prepare for it.

Greater productivity is ours to have – as individuals and as a profession.

The construction industry – which has seen no productivity gain in the past 40 years – will only improve if each individual who participates makes it their goal to achieve greater productivity and work more effectively.

To work smarter, not work more.

It all starts with you – one architect.

So, how much juice can you get from one architect?

Unless we change the way we work with and engage with ourselves and each other, the world may never know.

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Comments»

1. Ted Pratt - August 14, 2010

As an an employer, principal, business developer, designer and drafter I ask myself, my business partner and our employees the questions you have so eloquently articulated. I’m not as poetic in my presentation but I do try to communicate the challenges being presented the office daily.

I’m printing this post Randy and giving everyone a copy to read and consider.

Thanks,

2. Tweets that mention How Much Juice Can You Squeeze from an Architect? « Architects 2Zebras -- Topsy.com - August 14, 2010

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3. Randy Deutsch - August 15, 2010

Thanks Ted for your comment. That means a lot coming from you. Randy

4. Anne Whitacre - August 15, 2010

I am seeing the opposite of people working down a notch — what I’m seeing is people being asked to work above their experience level.
I have 34 years experience and with a number of my specialized, experienced colleagues, was laid off within the past couple of years. Now, from management’s standpoint, an experienced person is a lot more expensive, but we are often more efficient and can both mentor younger staff and also produce pretty good quantities of work. However, when there isn’t a lot of work, efficiency isn’t worth much and dispensing with high cost personnel helps the bottom line.

Working above your experience level does work for certain types of projects — but there is specific experience that only comes from being in the trenches for a number of jobs and that can’t be made up by creativity, imagination or even long hours. It takes judgement to understand when to push the Owner, and when to accommodate them; it takes judgement and experience to understand what the contractor is trying to do with a substitution and it takes contacts and experience to skillfully solve the various problems that occur on the job site. In this economic climate, the contractors are pushed in much the same way (and often have inexpeienced people on the job); and the Owners are knowingly taking a gamble… and want people who can make that gamble pay off.

I am doing consulting now, and the benefit I bring to my clients is my 34 years of work experience, and more specifically, the 300 projects I’ve seen to completion. Most of the “discussions” my architect clients have with contractors, I’ve gone through before and I can quote both sides of the argument ( and the benefits to each party). The primary thing though, is that because I’ve seen these arguments before, I can also weigh in on what is best for the project, not just the current issue and personality.

Architects in their calling often act as though what they provide is a “thing” — a design, an effect, a sensibility. What an experienced practictioner brings to the table isn’t a “thing” — its judgement. We don’t have a way of quantifying the value of that except in very rare circumstances, but in the long run, that’s what my clients pay me for and in the long run, they recognize that.

And, to circle back to the original column: judgement shows itself in a variety of ways, one of which is personal/professional balance; sense of humor; calmness in the face of crisis; and the ability to discern the value of the project.

randydeutsch - August 17, 2010

Thank you Anne for commenting here and your valuable insights. You have a unique perspective within the industry and we all gain by your sharing it with us. Randy

5. Hollie Holcombe - August 17, 2010

This is a touching post. I really enjoyed it even though it doesn’t address the situation of those who have been downsized recently. What about those who aren’t employees anymore? I keep in touch with my former coworkers and managers, and in some ways I’m glad I’m not there anymore. They have nothing good to say. But I think I will share this post with some of them. Thank you.

6. randydeutsch - August 17, 2010

Hi Hollie,

I appreciate your stopping by and commenting here – and am glad that you enjoyed the post. You are absolutely right that I have not addressed out-of-work architects in this post. I wrestle with this in every post.

While I question here: “Are employees doing everything in their power – emotionally, rationally, psychically and physically – to adjust to the new realities of the workplace?” I could also ask that of those who are not currently employed, but instead hope that readers will read between the lines (by adding thee word “former” before “employees”) and apply questions such as this to their own situation. I realize that’s asking a lot from a quick read.

You’ve inspired me with your comment to address this latter group – those seeking work – in upcoming posts. Thank you again and best to you in your searches.

Randy


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