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Living in the Margins May 6, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in creativity, marginalization.
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Today many people – not only architects – are feeling marginalized and when the word appears of late in the press it is often negative in connotation: “I was made marginal by my boss;” “the marginalization of newspapers;” and the like. To be marginalized is to be denied power, and – for many groups – this powerlessness can result in deprivation and even extermination. So marginalization is a serious concern. But as we learned from the Dodo, the marginalized in nature as well as in society often have no one to blame for their self-extermination but themselves.

If architects these days are feeling particularly marginalized – sidestepped, overlooked, underappreciated – it may well be because when architects meet to talk they talk to themselves in a language that only they can understand. And when they present their ideas they too often do so with drawings that only they can read. They flee from risk whether on the construction site or by “fleeing up” to the heady heights of design where they don’t have to be accountable to anything as mundane as gravity.

Marginalia (plurale tantum) is the term normally used for notes, scribbles, and enthusiastic editorial comments (“How true!!!”) made in the margin of a book. Book margins are where we write some of our most inspired thoughts, relate to authors, co-write and co-opt authorship, our way to participate in the creative process of reading by writing – a form of analog hyperlink to the self. As in this from Billy Collin’s poem, Marginalia

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Like Endora  (Agnes Moorehead) in Bewitched, perched indelicately atop the raised panel kitchen cabinetry, observing from the perimeters, remaining without, looking in, architects – like all artists – try to keep one foot in the midst of things while standing on the sidelines, stationary and scot-free. We can’t make up our minds whether we’re masters of the Big Picture or Keepers of the Godlike Details – so we’re accomplished at both. Architects are not constructors but rather observers of construction. We are indeed arcontours, living in the outskirts, like the proverbial dog in repose stretched across the threshold of the open door: in or out? Living marginally – how many architects these days are just getting by? We’re at heart outliers, in search of a way in. Benched on the sidelines, as much by our own volition as by circumstances, we so badly want in. (“Let me in!!”)

For many of us we’re living marginal lives in marginal times and, you know, we really ought to be enjoying it more. I’m of the mind that if architects have gradually lived on the margins they must be doing so for a reason. We must be getting something out of it – otherwise, why bother? So what then is the payoff?

I believe our payoff is this: it is here, on the margins, that our best ideas are found. It is here, away from the pressure of commerce, where we think best, and in doing so, live perhaps a little more deeply. It is here on the outskirts of business that we enjoy the panoramic views of life stretched out from a distance before us. To me at least margins represent places of opportunity, where we can allow ourselves to unfold. It is no coincidence that a book as great as The Great Gatsby was written, in edit, largely in the margins. Our thoughts, ideas and ideals are indeed overflowing and where else – but in the margins – can they overflow? If paragraphs are cities then margins are like greenbelts – inhibiting sprawl yet at the same time in themselves contain – effluvious, fertile – worlds within. Just like ourselves.

32 Things to be Optimistic About Right Now April 18, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in BIM, collaboration, creativity, optimism.













Challenges = Opportunities. The economy has turned all of us into marketers and marketers like to refer to challenges as “opportunities,” and I don’t see the economic times any differently so in that sense plenty of opportunities exist out there. Upheaval and change expose opportunities that may have gone unnoticed at other times.

The Year of Collaboration. When times get tough, people pull together to get through it. For evidence of this look no further than the North Dakota floods to witness how far we’ve come since Katrina.  Everything is becoming more collaboration, and that doesn’t have to mean losing control or identity. I am a huge believer that EVERYTHING is made better by the well-intentioned, purposeful input of others. Whether that’s working more closely with clients to generate ideas, or bringing together synergistic strategic partners to create a more complete solution.

Change. Change. Change. Admit it. Deep down, where it counts, you weren’t really happy doing what you were doing, or where you were doing it, anyway.  Life has given you a little push – it’s up to you to see that it is in the right direction.

Control. You may not have control over everything (think destiny, think workload) but you still control your focus, attitude, IQ, interests, beliefs and values, profile and brand, image, credibility, education and weight. On this last one – and it works – try this.

Prices are lower. Gas is lower, costs less to travel, hotel stays cost less, more retailers willing to haggle. In fact, there has been of late a 29% increase in number of Americans who reported haggling for goods.

More Presidential wisdom than you could possibly read in a lifetime. Average number of books about Abraham Lincoln released every week since 2007? One. (Harper’s Index, May 2009)

Social Media Hits the Mainstream. Facebook has been called a perpetual, ongoing high school reunion attended by only the people you like and who like you. Through Twitter you can mingle with people from all over and find yourself appearing in the most beneficial places. Blog and you’ll discover at faraway conferences people that come up to you to say how much they enjoy reading you. Traveling soon? Through social media applications  you can find what 19 people in your network will be at the same conference or live in the city you’ll be visiting – who’ll be at the same place at the same time.   

TV Has Become Ubiquitous. And free. Online Video Consumption: remember viewing stop-and-go online video not too long ago? Consumers can turn to their PCs to watch their favorite television broadcasts along with unique content. Heck, there’s Architect TV. And the critically acclaimed Architecture School.

Our New Mobility. New applications for interactive phones like the iPhone, Blackberry Storm, and the promise of Google’s Android make expensive gadgets – virtual readers and GPS systems within reach of all. My son just finished reading Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on his iPod, for free.

Wisdom of Crowds. Like collaboration, all of us is better than one or some of us. Again, no need to worry about anonymity – life’s too short. Participate and we all win. Where to start? Some titles to consider: Here Comes Everybody, Wikinomics and of course The Wisdom of Crowds     

Finally, a President Who Gets It. Need I say more?

The Blogosphere. Today, there’s a blog for nearly everything – in fact there are probably ten blogs for everything. Which is a good thing for you even if not for journalists and newspapers. Better yet, if so inclined – if you haven’t already – make it a goal this year to start a blog of your own. You will be surprised at what you learn about yourself, the many facets you may not have known you have, when writing on command on a regular basis for instant consumption. Get started with www.wordpress.com or read a good guide such as this from the Huffington Post.

You have the capacity to learn. Despite all you have going on in your life – work, family, friends, health, obligations, hobbies – you always have the chance to learn something new. To listen to books on tape in your car or on your iPod on your way into work. To learn a new language or take-on a new piece of software. To attend a seminar, a lecture on an intriguing topic or take an exam you’ve been putting off. A great place to start is by reading this inspirational story by a former world class chess master.

World changing. Want to change the world? You’re not alone – in fact, far from it. There are many more like you out there and linking-up has never been easier. There has been no better time in history to for you to feel empowered to do so. Twenty years ago you could join Greenpeace or celebrate Earth Day – today, there are as many organizations, causes and opportunities as there are stars. Where to begin? You can do a lot worse than start here  http://www.worldchanging.com/ a not-for-profit media organization that comprises a global network of independent journalists, designers and thinkers covering the world’s most intelligent solutions to today’s problems, inspiring readers around the world with stories of the most important and innovative new tools, models and ideas for building a bright green future. Worldchanging will help link you to your first steps in changing the world.

Books. Did you think you were going to get through this list without my mentioning books? Evidence of intelligent life out there? You bet. What to read right now? Go back a couple years. Fiction? Don DeLillo’s White_Noise  Already read it or want something lighter? The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Poetry? Try Mark Doty’s Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems or something more uplifting? Elizabeth Bishop’s Complete Poems

Economic Downturn. Say that again? You heard it. This downturn has been a blessing to many in that it has given them a chance to stop and reevaluate their aims and priorities. When things were crazy busy we found ourselves doing a great deal without thinking, acting on autopilot, navigating our way through presentations on instinct. Remember 1999 and 2005? You were running around like those proverbial chickens. You were lucky that you got away with it. Now, no more of that. Now’s the time to take stock and consider where we’ve been and figure out where we want to go. A slowdown – correction to some – is an apt time to make amends with our past ways and look forward to a more certain and deliberate future.

You were not born Schopenhauer. The 19th century brilliant philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer made a long career out of pessimism. He began his book Studies in Pessimism with the following words: “Unless suffering is the direct and immediate object of life, our existence must entirely fail of its aim.” Chapter two of his book goes on: “Human life must be some kind of mistake.” The subject of chapter three is suicide. He was so dour and depressing that his own mother forbid him from attending her dinner parties. If your mother still invites you to dinner parties you have a reason to be optimistic.

Creativity. It’s always right there – where you are. All it takes is you, a blank sheet and a pen. What’s stopping you? Need someplace to begin? Thy this site for a kick-start library of techniques.

Lists. There is an infinite variety of lists available online and in print on nearly every subject inclusing optimism. Need 20 reasons to feel optimistic in this economy? Look no further than Forbes and Fox News. Need reasons to feel optimistic about architecture in Chicago? There’s even “Ten Reasons to be Hopeful
About the Future of Architecture” and last but not least, the website www.43things.com and book it inspired “Dream It. List It. Do It!: How to Live a Bigger & Bolder Life, from the Life List Experts at 43Things.com” where for under $9 you can find handy pocket-sized lists of every topic under the sun.

Literary Theory is officially dead. Remember Post-Structuralism? Me neither. You never understood it – now you don’t have to. Be grateful you waited as long as you did. It’s over and soon no one will remember it ever existed. Your procrastination, ignorance or impatience paid off. Good work!

Free training. Online Webinars available free of charge on almost every subject. You tube tutorials in abundance yours at a moment’s notice in the privacy of your own home. Seminars, software test runs, lectures by the dozens. Since 80% of success is showing up – all you need to do is show up. The remaining 20%? Take notes…

Information. Everything, all-the-time, right at your fingertips. Enjoy it now – for just around the corner all you’ll have to do is to think it.

Curiosity. Is free. Question. Ask. Interview. Let them do most of the talking. It’s still that easy to get others interested in you.

Reality Check. The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition. By Guy Kawasaki. It’s nearly impossible to pick up this book and not feel optimistic about your present and future.

It’s no longer who you know. What better time than right now to turn your existing social networks into a clearinghouse whose sole purpose is to connect others. That’s right – not yourself, but to match people who ought to know one another, who should work together, partner. Go on – broker deals for others. Heck, match-make. We live in a favor economy – what goes around comes around. The more in need you are the more you need to give a way – or better yet – bring together. Pour yourself a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, open LinkedIn or Facebook and mettle. You will be amazed at what chemistry you might inspire. Only you can unleash the inner workings from your particular vantage.

It’s who you know. But wait, you just said… Other people can serve as a short cut and we live in a favor economy (I rub your back and…) If you do want to know someone, has there ever been a better time than now to be in touch with Pulitzer prize winners, New York Times reporters, CEOs of major corporations, Bestselling authors and designer rock-stars? On LinkedIn – has it ever occurred to you that in lieu of connecting with the weak and feeble automated “You appear to be someone I trust…” line to write three short but personal sentences. It may mean that you have to invest 3 minutes in learning a bit about the future contact’s background, interests, body of work – but the return is inestimable.  This is true for Facebook as well. Want to friend a famous person? As easy as writing a sincere, personal note – and voila! You’re now friends!

www.reasonsforoptimism.com Yup, a full-time, constantly updated, around-the-clock blog on the very subject. What else will they think of?

The Age of Memoir. Intimate details about every facet of everybody’s life. Readily available in the privacy of your own home. At all hours.

We didn’t need all that stuff anyway. Not to be good, anyway. Not to be happy. Not to be thoughtful and kind. Not to be good citizens and neighbors.

BIM. For the uninitiated that’s Building Information Modeling. Remember when Jack Nicholson said to Helen Hunt “You make me want to be a better man” in As Good as it Gets? BIM is the Helen Hunt of technology. BIM makes you want to be a better architect. Not yet using BIM? What’s stopping you? This is the best time – when things are at a standstill to take the plunge. (Not an architect? Certainly you are some type of architect…) Not so long ago, architects based their decisions on subjective criteria. Now decisions can be based on technology, precision, evidence-based design, metrics and other measurable means. BIM helps architects be honest. And relevant.

This Time of Non-fiction. Just the facts lady. Admit it – you never cared much for fiction. I still read it – but it’s pretty lonely out there. You want facts, and you want them now. You want quick and easily accessible answers to your questions – How to duck tape a window? How to play like Yo Yo Ma? The top songs of Radiohead? – You live at a time when Microsoft Windows spell-check includes “Radiohead” in it’s vocabulary. [And informs you that the proper word choice is “its” not “it’s” in the previous sentence.]

The All-time Best Grateful Dead live concerts available on iTunes. May 8,1977 Barton Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY vs. February 13/14, 1970 Fillmore East, New York, NY… Want to debate which concert is the all-time best? Coming to an amicable agreement – that I’m more pessimistic about.

5 Books to Read for the End of the Recession April 5, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types, creativity, essence, possibility, questions, transformation, transition.
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Do these troubling times have you in search of your passion, inspiration, idealism? Here I’ve selected – and am highly recommending – 5 books that should, once taken-in, put an end to your searching. Are there 5 other books you could be reading? Absolutely. Only these 5 action-oriented books are guaranteed to pick you up and get you moving toward your goals in no time. On a severe book budget? All can be found in the public library system, at your local bookseller, severely discounted at bookstores such as Half_Priced_Books, online at Amazon or at Borders using one of their 30-40% off printable coupons and your Border’s bucks. However you acquire them, do so now – one at a time or en masse – for there is no better time than the present to give yourself the present of self-discovery. Enjoy!
















The_Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, by Ken Robinson PhD

Yes, the very same Sir Ken Robinson of TED conference fame, with his most-watched, most-beloved video Do_Schools_Kill_Creativity? Could give Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers a run for his money. In fact, The_Element addresses a theme common to both Gladwell’s book and Geoff Colvin’s Talent_is_Overrated and that is talent alone is not enough to ensure success. Each book proposes an additional element. For my money the message of Robinson’s book rings true: find the intersection (overlap) between what you’re good at (what you do well) and what you love to do (what you’re passionate about) – and you’ll be happy at what you do, enjoy a long career in which you’re engaged and the hours fly by unnoticed, and incidentally will do very well for yourself and your loved ones. The element is what he identifies as the point where the activities individuals enjoy and are naturally good at come together. Not a bad message for these less than inspiring times.












The Idealist.org Handbook to Building a Better World: How to Turn Your Good Intentions into Actions that Make a Difference, by Idealist.org

This short, quick and easy read was written to help idealists such as you to assess and identify their interests and motivations, and provides the tools, strategies, and inspiration to become engaged and active citizens. The book is filled with great advice on how to get started – and insider’s tips on what to expect – whether you’re interested in volunteering, workplace initiatives, fund-raising or even serving on a board. It’s a book you can read on the bus or train, carry around in your pocket, to familiarize yourself with the tools to help you make a difference but all you need is a hint as to where to start. Useful and inspiring reading.



















Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart Brown MD

Another longwinded title – but oh what a book! Don’t expect this to be yet another diatribe trying to convince you to install a ping-pong table in your office’s lunch room. Brown takes the attitude that daily play is as much a necessity as food and oxygen, but through incisive and convincing studies shows us why and how. The book will have you convinced that we will not as a people solve global warming without including play in our approach – and by the time you are half-way through the book it’ll have you convinced that the author very well may be right. Play and what it can do for us – including make us more successful and even happier – is anything but frivolous. What better way to counter the negative effects of the daily headlines that to gift yourself with the agile, flexible and open-minded attitude play instills in everyone?









Becoming a Resonant Leader: Develop Your Emotional Intelligence, Renew Your Relationships, Sustain Your Effectiveness, by Richard Boyatzis et al.

Becoming_a_Resonant_Leader is a companion workbook filled with penetrating, thoughtful questions – culled from the author’s two previous books – that will help you understand the role of emotional intelligence in your career whether you pursue a leadership role or position or not. Equal parts nurturing teacher and place of self-discovery, this stand-alone workbook will force you to sit down and face where you have been professionally and where you want to go – with helpful suggestions on how to get there by a team of experts. Make some time in your calendar – the time you put into answering the questions will pay off – in terms of self-growth, competence and credibility. If you take the time to reflect on your personal experiences and growth opportunities, your vision for yourself, work and your life will become apparent. When it comes time for you to make your next move this book will have you prepared whether or not you aspire to a leadership position.











How to Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul, by Adrian Shaughnessy

Regardless of what field you are in, whether you are in graphic design or not, this book, with a foreword by the incomparable Stefan Sagmeister (author of the mercurially brilliant and beautiful Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far – check out this video) is a must-have must-read. Why? The reasons are many and legion – but suffice it here to say that those of us in the fine arts are confronted everyday by insensitive, soul-scorching remarks and bad news and we need all of the inspiration we can find. No matter where you find yourself in your career, we are each of us students with a thirst to learn, perpetual novices at what we do – forever forced to learn our trades anew by changes in technology or by process. I find myself all the more receptive learning from those in fields outside my own – what better place to learn the hard lessons the easy way, by learning here from others? It doesn’t hurt that the book feels good in the hand, and is beautifully typeset and designed, a testament to the care enjoyed by soulful work.

The Other Four Questions March 12, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in creativity, possibility, questions, the economy.
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Here’s something you won’t find on Google, in any textbook or school course.

With Passover soon upon us the Four Questions are on the mind (and no, “Why is this recession different from other recessions?” is not one of them.) When it comes to showing the world what’s possible in any situation, for my gelt I can think of no better thinking tool than the other four questions.

And what might those be? To start, the entire known – and undiscovered – universe in these eight simple words

What’s actual?

What’s necessary?

What’s desirable?

What’s possible?

(OK don’t quibble about conjunctions and how there’s really 12 words…) Let’s start with the first three questions.

What’s actual? What’s given? What’s existing? What’s the site and what’s the situation? What are we dealing with here? What was here before we came to the place, problem or prospect? What is? – IS

What’s necessary? What’s critical? What’s a deal breaker? What’s a must? What can’t be lived without? What’s needed here? – NEEDED 

What’s desirable? What’s on the wish list? What would be an advantageous outcome? What do we want here? – WANTED

Let’s pause for a moment. The secret is to this: you really want to exhaust all responses to these questions. For, to the extent that you do this, you create space in your subconscious for the unknown – for the world of possibility to appear and to fill the space with ideas and designs, suggestions and visions that may never otherwise have been conceived or considered.

As for the final question? This is the fun part. Having met needs and desires – who like Daedalus, the mythical great architect and artificer of the classical world, flying ever closer to the sun – goes for the gold.

What’s possible? This is the province of the architect. Having thoroughly vetted the existing conditions, bare necessities and desires, the possibilities will come to you. What – CAN BE

Once within budget, having met the level of expected quality, the schedule – program of functional needs, client and stakeholder wants – the architect is free to achieve whatever else she can. Free to make as much out of it as I am capable. This is the moment, what you went into architecture for. You want to stay in this forth question as long as you can.

As a handy formula it might look something like this

Q4 > Q1+Q2+Q3

Where Question 4 – What’s Possible? – must answer all that came before, finding itself at the intersection of what is real/actual/existing + needs + wants plus, what? Perhaps it’s the ineffable, that je ne sais quoi, that something extra, that something more, that only you as an architect can bring to the seemingly intractable, impossible situation, not unlike the one we find ourselves in now. What do you have to lose? Why not give these other four questions a try?

Architect’s Silver Lining January 17, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, architecture industry, creativity, employment, the economy.
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No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.  Einstein


We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.     also Einstein


A recent report in Archinect, a top online destination for progressive-design oriented students, architects, educators, and fans, entitled Checking_the_Pulse of the Architecture Industry Part II: the Survey Results, discusses the economic crisis and how it has impacted the architecture industry. What is particularly troubling about the report is that the survey_results for unemployed architects indicate that nearly 50% of all respondents are “actively seeking a job, and open to taking a job outside of the architecture industry, as long as it’s related to architecture in some way.”

A year ago suggestions for architects such as bolstering their practices in other areas like health care and education, looking for work abroad and even developing their own projects seemed helpful – but not any longer. At the time “a recent report by the American Institute of Architects forecasted that despite troubles in other fields related to real estate, job levels for architects in 2008 are expected to be similar to those from last year.” That was February 2008. Today, less than a year later, nearly half of all architects are actively seeking a job according to the Archinect survey.

Few of those reading this report have noticed, almost as a rebuttal, the alternate reality of the rather lengthy column of current architect_job_postings running from the length of the article (with 133_current_positions listed at the time of this posting.)

Alternate Realities

All of this speaks to the need to get out of one’s mindset and see things differently than the way they are currently being looked at. Creativity, as Woodrow Wilson stated, is a fresh pair of eyes. Two architects, Harris Stone in his unjustifiably out-of-print Workbook of an Unsuccessful Architect, and Young Lee formerly faced a similarly dire situation yet found ways to reinvent themselves. In the second case, Young Lee, a South Korean bouncer turned architect, partnered with Shelly Hwang, a USC graduate now in her mid-30s, to convert a failed LA teahouse into a frozen yogurt shop. The rest, as they say, is history. Pinkberry  opened in January 2005 and today there are now 50 Pinkberry locations. Part of Pinkberry’s success – painted in bright colors, filled with modern decor from Philippe Starck and Le Klint – is the store itself.

Big-A and little-a architects January 10, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types, creativity.
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Big-A, little-a, what begins with A? I recently had the pleasure of participating in a stimulating online discussion on the CSTC forum concerning the artificial construct of, or all-to-real divide between, big-C creativity and little-c creativity. To author and psychology professor Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, the big-C creative person is a towering figure, a person whose work is well known to people in a particular field, whereas the little-c creative person is not. Big-C creativity leads to the transformation of a domain such as Architecture. Little-c creativity is used in everyday life, as in problem solving or placement of the proverbial bicycle shed.

This got me thinking about whether there is a similar difference between big-A architects and little-a architects. It would be natural to assume that Big A’s, at least in the building design field, are the Starchitects familiar to media, stage and screen – and the little a’s, well, the rest of us.  The comparison I have in mind runs deeper, involving a lower and higher order of magnitude – but of what? Talent? Creativity?

Perhaps the biggest difference between big-A architects and little-a architects isn’t measured in degree but in kind. Let me illustrate:

Little-a architects                       Big-A architects                        

Talk                                          Listen

React w/o reflection                   Reflection-in-action

Focus on selves                        Focus on the problem

“Green” solutions                       Sustainable

Cradle to grave                         Cradle to cradle

Concerned with image               Concerned with substance

Have an agenda                        Are open and flexible

Come to a solution ASAP          Comfortable with ambiguity

Appeal to constraints                Appeal to their higher selves

Describe and explain                 Justify

Speak architect                         Translate for others

Work in teams                          Orchestrate

Generalist                                 Polymath

Coordinator                               Integrator

Analyzer                                  Synthesizer

Continuing education                 Lifelong learning

Big-A architects appeal to their higher, or if you prefer, aspirational selves. Their high-octane, fuel-injected selves when confronted with an intractable problem, assignment or opportunity. As Architects to Zebras is a blog (Blog?) covering architects from A-Z (or is that a-z?) I hope for this to be the beginning of an ongoing discussion. I would be interested to know what items you would to add to the list.