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The Architect Whisperer June 13, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architecture industry, management, marginalization, problem solving.
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2 comments

Listen to me now

I need to let you know

You don’t have to go it alone

U2, Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Own

The other week I was in Hollywood pitching a reality show treatment to a network development executive and a producer friend at a TV studio scouting projects for next season.

After an hour wait, I pitched the concept of the TV program, sat back and awaited their response.

It turns out that the pitch was a lot like presenting a building design to a client. You need to go in with a couple fall-back ideas in case the first one bombs or they already have a similar idea in development.

Just like design alternatives that you keep in your back pocket just-in-case.

And just like design, the trick is to make it seem like it is their idea without actually letting it become their idea – unless, of course, their idea is a better one. It’s admittedly a delicate balance…

So, I started my pitch.

“It’s called The Architect Whisperer. And…”

I was immediately interrupted.

Wait. Wait. What’s an architect whisperer?

I tell them it’s a person with the capacity to understand and interpret architect communication.

So it has to be another architect –

Because no one else understands what they’re saying!

They laugh.

Go on. Don’t mind us. Continue.

“Similar to a dog or horse whisperer, an Architect Whisperer is a person who understands and relates extremely well with architects. An Architect Whisperer has an unusual amount of success with architects.”

I pause and continue.

“In the show, people – especially spouses of architects, but as often colleagues and even homeowners who have retained architects – bring architects to the Whisperer’s home or studio. The architect eventually adopts the Whisperer.”

I continue by giving them a brief sketch of the first several episodes.

“In the first episode, an architect is brought in to the Whisperer’s home and studio by a firm principal. My architect is misunderstood, he tells the Whisperer. His design is underappreciated. His design is seen as a commodity – not given the reverence it deserves…”

The development exec asks me:

Randy, you know why there could never be an architect whisperer?

I shake my head no.

Because architects don’t listen!

Architects may need whispering to, but the ones I know would never listen.

How about the architect screamer?! suggests my former producer friend.

I’m liking it…

Screamer. Screamer…Crier? Yeller? No crier.

You think maybe then they’d listen?

A show about architects who don’t listen? That’ll be a hoot!

Who wouldn’t relate?

At the end of each episode, they lose their license!

Out on the street with you.

Or sue ‘em!

Randy, you’ve got to boil down all of the elements of your TV show and communicate what the viewers will be watching and the purpose of the show.

I nod in agreement. 

“You’re So Sued!” I love it. Now that I’d watch.

I sat there with a forced smile on my face – taking it all in stride.

We’re just joshing you, Randy.  How’s this instead: “Revenge of the Owner!”

“Architect: The Client’s Revenge!”

They were like clients who suddenly feel the surge of power, wonder why they weren’t architects themselves and hijack the building design.

It needs a hook – says the development exec.

To separate your show from others within the same genre – they explain to me.

Kind of like a combination between…Extreme Makeover…

Architect Edition!

In next week’s episode the architect does a makeover in order to remain viable in the marketplace.

In next week’s episode the architect’s makeover –

Randy, what’s something you can do to improve yourself as an architect in these times –

I think for a moment and suggest

“Not watch TV?”

They stare uncomprehendingly.

A couple weeks have passed since the pitch. I’m back in my studio tweaking my Emmy acceptance speech, waiting a call back telling me that my project has been greenlighted.

See your local listings for The Architect Shouter, Tuesdays on HBN, the Home Building Network

Or passed on.

In TV – as in construction right now – it’s all a waiting game.

Architect Whisperers

As noted in the Boston Globe, More than a decade after “The Horse Whisperer” appeared on movie screens, and four years after the debuts of “The Dog Whisperer” and “The Ghost Whisperer” on TV, “whispering” is still gaining steam among a huge range of consultants and instructors who promise subtle yet authoritative transformation in pretty much every aspect of life.

Here are a couple of real-life Architect Whisperers that you ought to become familiar with. If you get the chance contact one or more for a practice- and perhaps life-changing experience. Think of them as resources when in need of relevant, trustworthy professional advice, feedback or mentoring.

Michael S Bernard Virtual Practice http://www.v-practiceconsulting.com/

Virtual Practice focuses on management mentoring, firm organization and staff development, specifically tailored to the small design practice. They work with small firms (usually 5 to 10 employees) on two tracks. In their view, the principal of a small but growing firm must focus on two important areas: finding more work and establishing continuity with respect to the firm’s design vision. Given the limited time available to a busy principal, they serve as the bridge or liaison between principal and staff. They function as the firm’s operations director in “time share” fashion.

Learn more about Michael Bernard here and here

Michael Strogoff Strogoff Consulting  http://www.strogoffconsulting.com/

Strogoff Consulting provides practice management, ownership transition, mergers & acquisitions, and negotiation services to architects, engineers, interior designers and other design professionals. The core of their services is bringing people and interests together in creative and collaborative ways. Michael Strogoff has several highly-skilled specialty consultants to help firms operate and compete in an increasingly complex and competitive environment.  Each specialty consultant brings practice management expertise working with numerous architectural, engineering and interior design firms.

Rena M. Klein, FAIA RM Klein Consulting http://rmklein.com

RM Klein Consulting offers business planning services, meeting facilitation and management education to leaders of small design firms. Building on her graduate degree in management and her twenty years of experience as the owner of a small architectural firm, Rena regularly presents seminars on small firm practice. Her innovative work in this area has appeared in print and Web publications, including AIA’s online Architect’s Knowledge Resource.

 …

Also, Rena M. Klein, FAIA has a new book, The Architect’s Guide to Small Firm Management: Making Chaos Work for Your Small Firm (Wiley, 2010) which you can find discounted here or here with free sample chapters.

Are there Architect Whisperers not mentioned here that we should be aware of? If so, please let us know by leaving a comment below or via email (see About section.)

[Note: A big thank you Jonathan L. Fischel FAIA for your links and suggestions.]

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55 Ways to Help You Evolve as an Architect May 3, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architecture industry, BIM, books, change, collaboration, fiction, IPD, management, nonfiction, reading, survival, technology, transformation, transition.
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9 comments

The architecture profession and construction industry are in transition. A transition largely driven by technology, but also driven by owners. Owners fed up with adversarial relations between team members, with material waste, with schedules and budgets not being met; owners wanting greater accountability and improved efficiencies on the part of design professionals and constructors.

But this transition is also due to the increasing complexity: of buildings, building systems, team make-up, processes, technology, stringent energy, security and other project requirements and goals that seem to increase on a daily basis. A desire for improved efficiencies and a demand for fewer conflicts, less resistance, better information sharing and communication and an improvement in team relations.

Everyone wants fewer claims and better results.

One thing is clear: To meet these demands we need to change. But change is hard and creates the very resistance that we need to rid ourselves of.

With the economy slowly improving and recovery on the horizon you need to do EVERYTHING you can to assure yourself a place at the table when it does arrive.

As Kimon Onuma writes, you have but two choices: Evolve or Dissolve. Much in the vein of Thom Mayne’s Change or Perish, these words are intended to get us motivated, moving and evolving.

What to do: Skim the list. Start anywhere – find an item that interests you – and act on it. Today. Return to the list on a regular basis. It was created to help you evolve – one small incremental step at a time.

Keep this in mind: If you have suggestions for helping us evolve that you don’t see here, please add them by leaving a comment. Your help here is welcome, needed and appreciated. We’re all in this together.

55 Ways to Help You Evolve as an Architect

1. Represent Both Clients Architects represent both paying and “non-paying” clients (public-at-large, neighbors, building users.) List the ways in which you address and represent non-paying client on your last project and make a commitment to do more on the next.

2. Ask Yourself: Is Your Profession Unethical? Is the profession of architecture corrupt? That is the question Harvard educator Victoria Beach asked recently at the Design Intelligence blog.  Read what your contemporaries have to say in one of the liveliest, most animated online discussions in ages. Better yet, join the discussion. Still unsure of where you stand? Sometimes you don’t know until you write it down. Leave a comment.

3. See the Future Before it Happens Check out this presentation of a workshop on The Future of the AEC Industry.

4. Commit to Collaboration Many architects say that they are team players but few truly know what it means to collaborate. Make a commitment to find out what is involved: the benefits and challenges to truly collaborating with others on your team. [Go to the end to see a list of recommended collaboration articles, presentations and books.]

5. Assess Your Communication Style You might be an expressive trying to sell your ideas to financial types. One reason you might have difficulty convincing others to see your vision and agree with your suggestions is that you might be speaking different languages. There are many books and resources online to assess your style – start here.

6. Assess Your Emotional Intelligence Emotional Intelligence 2.0 is a great book that will provide you with the tools and outlook you need to work collaboratively with others in the workplace and out in the field. Buy it new, and the book comes with a one-user-only code that will get you entry to a new, enhanced online edition of the world’s bestselling emotional intelligence test, the Emotional Intelligence Appraisal®, that will show you where your EQ stands today and what you can do to begin maximizing it immediately. Find it here.

7. Assess the Emotional Intelligence of Your Team Have you ever wondered what happens when you put in all that time and energy working to improve your own communication style and emotional intelligence only to discover that one of your team members (not naming any names) had to go ahead and ruin it for everybody? Learn more about how to work in, with and around this situation in The Emotionally Intelligent Team: Understanding and Developing the Behaviors of Success. An excellent resource that uses a seven-step approach for learning to maximize performance on any team.

8. Assess Your Personality Whether an ENFJ or ENFP (as most architects are) there are pros and cons for taking the Myers-Briggs personality type assessment test online – I have had the most luck here.  

9. Read Donald W. MacKinnon Written in the 1970’s, In Search of Human Effectiveness: Identifying and Developing Creativity will convince you that you share many of the same characteristics of the 20th century’s greatest architects and can be found for under $3 here.

10. Read More Make a commitment to read more. Ask yourself how many non-fiction books you read in a year; fiction books; how many articles; how many blogs and websites you visit. It doesn’t necessarily matter whether these are industry-related. Reading outside your area of expertise makes you more interesting to coworkers as well as clients. This list is filled with suggested places to start.

11. Learn the Power of Collective Wisdom Just read the customer reviews to convince yourself of the positive impact and originality of The Power of Collective Wisdom: And the Trap of Collective Folly to help you grow into a thoroughly collaborative team member. Yours here for under $8.

12. Watch Joshua Prince-Ramus in Action Speaking probably more effectively than anyone before or since on the future of the profession and the industry especially here and here and here.

13. Apply What You Read to your design. To your next proposal or cover letter. To the next presentation that you give or design competition that you enter.

14. Join the In-the-Know Group KA Connect on LinkedIn.  Short for Knowledge Architecture – where the AEC industry and knowledge management (and just about everything in between) meet. One of the hottest and fastest growing groups with ongoing discussions – the start-up group is headed by Knowledge Architecture founder Chris Parsons. A great way for architects to expose themselves to like-minded individuals from many walks of life while sharpening their edge. A must.

15. Keep a Quote File Some of the best architects not only keep a file of the projects that appeal to them the most, but also a file for the bon mot words or phrases that appeal to them. Once kept in a safe place for easy access – you can pull one out to emphasize a point or design idea.

16. Collect Quotes Describing Architects Then do the exact opposite. I came across this quote this morning: “Most architects think their audience is other architects.” We often hear that museums are designed more to exhibit the architecture than the art that they were originally intended to contain. When you come across comments describing what you yourself don’t like about other architects – save it – and then do the opposite. The composite of what-not-to-dos could result in as compelling an example of the evolved architect as following any to-do list.

17. Understand What Motivates You Access the valuable tools and resources that make up a good part of Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Watch Dan perform at a recent TED conference of the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

18. Become a Master Builder How well are you immersed and rehearsed in building construction? Do an honest assessment (ask the last contractor that you worked with what they think about your construction awareness and abilities) – then team with a contractor early on your next project, supplement your learning by attending conferences and through reading. Make it your goal to become more well-rounded as a design-construction professional.

19. Change Your Mind How so? Not in terms of indecisiveness. But instead in terms of what will be needed from architects in the near future. Read anything written by Howard Gardner – but if you have to start somewhere consider starting with his latest book, a very inspiring read 5 Minds for the Future. I heard him speak on this topic last year and his ideas are absolutely transformative.

20. Change Your Mind II Reread Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future with this in mind: How can you evolve as an architect by addressing both sides of the mind? In other words, as an architect, you are being hired because of your left as well as your right brain. The best thinking involves both sides – called whole brain thinking. Make it your concerted practice to be a whole brain thinker. And here.

21. Change Others’ Minds Already convinced yourself, but not yet sure those around you are on board? If you can’t get everyone to read and discuss Dan Pink’s book, why not brown bag it in the conference room one day and spend an hour watching and afterwards discussing Dan Pink’s inspiring dvd?

22. Subscribe to Revit3D.com Gregory Arkin’s blog on all things BIM, LEED and IPD. There you’ll be blessed with a minimum of three posts a day on average providing software tips and tricks (don’t be fooled by the  name, the scope is broad and generous including posts on Navisworks, AutoCAD, Ecotect and other Autodesk products, as well as reports, videos, charts and just about everything else you need to evolve.

23. Google Alerts Maybe you’re already using this or feel that your email inbox already overrun with items that you are having trouble keeping up with. To evolve you have to keep up and even stay ahead of the pack. Twitter is great for this but if you want to learn what is happening even before Twitter pick a subject of interest, of fascination or obsession, and have Google alert you daily – or even as the latest relevant item arises, anywhere on the internet by email.

24. No Time? Read the Comments If you just don’t have the time in your schedule to accommodate one more book, use this workaround: read the comments that readers leave at Amazon, at news sources or in the group discussions on LinkedIn. In a very short matter of time you can pick up the gist of just about any subject, witness multiple points of views, formulate your own opinion and maybe even be able to discuss the topic on a cursory level with others.

25. Imagine the World in 20 or 30 Years Or better yet, visit this site that does the imagining for you. Just sit back and become informed – and ideally motivated – by all that you find here. As climate change touches every aspect of our lives, how will it change us? How will we adapt? Living Climate Change is a devoted space for the most defining design challenge of our time. It’s also a place to support fresh thinking and share provocative ideas about the future.

26. As a Last Resort…Fake It Learn how to talk about books you haven’t read by reading last year’s international hit  How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (but you’ll have to read it to learn how.)

27. Spend More Time in School Or at least at school. Commit to visiting your nearest architecture school at least twice a year, to serve on a design jury, or provide much-needed feedback at desk crits on your area of expertise. Sign-up to give a lecture on a topic to fill a gap in the curricula. Give an impromptu talk on portfolio design or resume writing or interview best practices. Pay attention to the student’s work: the inspiration you will gain from being around their energy and fresh ideas will pay off in dividends over time.

28. Reread Refabricating Architecture You have it on your shelf. Refabricating Architecture: How Manufacturing Methodologies are Poised to Transform Building Construction by Kieran and Timberlake. This time, read it with an eye to better understand how working in BIM can lead to virtual models that go directly to fabrication. Ask yourself: What level of detail is required? What impact will this have on insurance, liability, responsibility and roles? Is this something you are even interested in, or does considering this future make you recoil from the work of construction? If it does – ask yourself this: What then – in this world – does it mean to be an architect? Your answer to this question may help you to decide.

29. Mentor The best way to learn is to teach, and the best way to teach is to mentor. What better way to give  back to the profession and community than to share some of your hard earned experience,  information – and passion – with those just starting out? Become a mentor.

30. Join the Conversation Read Building (in) the Future: Recasting Labor in Architecture That conversation…on the use of technology across the building-design and construction processes. The book is a collection of essays by industry leaders, theorists, and academics organized into two main sections, `Working and Making’ followed by `Collaboration,’ or very roughly into BIM and IPD. Over thirty contributors – including Phillip Bernstein Autodesk, Inc., Building Solutions Division VP and Yale School of Architecture lecturer, Peggy Deamer, Kenneth Frampton, Paolo Tombesi, Howard W. Ashcraft, Jr., Reinhold Martin, James Carpenter, Branko Kolarevic, Chris Noble and Kent Larson among many others – including designers, engineers, fabricators, contractors, construction managers, planners, and scholars examine how contemporary practices of production are reshaping the design/construction process. Exposing yourself to these topics – originally presented and discussed at a Yale U conference in 2006 – will put you back in the conversation concerning the most heated topics in architectural practice, creation and construction.

31. Continue the Conversation By getting your hands on a copy of, and reading, the essays and interviews in Provisional: Emerging Modes of Architectural Practice USA.

32. Try Kaizen One small step at a time. That’s the kaizen approach. Small steps, taken daily, even keel, bring about the results you are looking for before you even realize it. The no-pain all-to-gain approach. See also the surprisingly relevant Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.

33. Head over to DesignIntelligence at to find some of the most rigorously well-thought-out and comprehensive articles on career-expanding subjects such as Best Practices, Client Relationships, Communications, Design and Construction Marketplace, Design/Build Project Delivery, Education, Financial Management and Profitability, Intelligent Choices, Leadership, Management, Operations Management, Staff Recruitment and Retention, Strategy, Sustainability, Technology and Trends

34. Reevaluate Your Sustainability Efforts Why? Because what is needed today may not be needed tomorrow. Just consider this and decide for yourself if this is the case.

35. Live In More Than One World Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker’s Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life shares with you the management guru’s belief in recognizing the importance of diversifying the nature and extent of daily existence, to sharpen a sense of curiosity while remaining open to new ideas, and to learn as much as possible from as many different sources as possible. Something every architect needs in order to remain current and grow with the times.

36. Immerse Yourself in Lean Construction Lean – where Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) got its start. A good place for you to start – and a handy pocket-sized reference and toolkit packed with diagrams, lists and charts for under $10 – is The Simply Lean Pocket Guide for Construction which is small and light enough for you to read on your commute and take anywhere you go.

37. Re-familiarize Yourself BIM Revisit the subject with fresh eyes. Here’s a great place to start. One of AIA’s 2009 Integrated Practice Discussion Group’s (IPDiG) projects involved revisiting the Report on Integrated Practice released during the 2006 AIA National Convention in Los Angeles. This report contains ten essays by leaders in many disciplines on the world of, and the state of, Integrated Practice. IPDiG wanted to explore what portions of that report remain valid today and what portions may warrant updates to reflect the current “state of the art”. Through interviews with each of the report’s original authors, IPDIG sought to solicit their views. The original essays―along with newly developed commentaries and podcasts―will be released monthly in AIArchitect as part of the 2009 and Beyond series and are available here.

38. Immerse yourself in IPD Some of the best sources – all free – are available here. Integrated Practice/Integrated Project Delivery (IP/IPD) leverages early contributions of knowledge and expertise through the utilization of new technologies, allowing all team members to better realize their highest potentials while expanding the value they provide throughout the project life cycle.

39. Choose Your Poison This is a great place for architects to get excited, get motivated and get involved.

40. Join a Knowledge Community The Practice Management Knowledge Community (PMKC) identifies and develops information on the business of architecture for use by the profession to maintain and improve the quality of the professional and business environment.  The PMKC initiates programs, provides content and serves as a resource to other knowledge communities, and acts as experts on AIA Institute programs and policies that pertain to a wide variety of business practices and trends. Find one here.

41. To Understand Where We are Headed, it Helps To Know From Where We Come Today, in the face of the challenges confronting their profession, from the economic crisis to an urgent need for longer-lasting, more affordable, and greener construction, architects have been forced to reconsider the relationship between architecture and society, between buildings, their inhabitants, and the environment. No single individual did more to build this discourse than Robert Gutman. Sometimes referred to as the sociological father of architecture, Gutman in his writing and teaching initiated a conversation about the occupants of buildings and the forms, policies, plans, and theories that architects might shape. Read Architecture From the Outside In: Selected Essays by Robert Gutman (2010)

42. Discover How to Become a T-Shaped Architect The T-Shaped teammate: a simple, seemingly obvious concept that could transform you as well as an entire industry.

43. Join a BIM or Revit Users Group Such as those offered in Chicago or New_York. Meet on a regular basis, network, eavesdrop on conversations, learn something new: there’s always something happening at these meetings that isn’t happening anywhere else. Give the London RUG a try! Check out LinkedIn or this list for a group near you. BIM Pages (www.bimpages.com) lists the United States buildingSMART Interest Groups and other groups such as the Canadian BIM Council under the Category “Professional Affiliations.”

44. Put Down What You Are Doing and Read This Book it may seem that based on this list reading books is the answer for evolving as an architect. That is only partly true. But here is one book that is critical that ever design professional reads in order to evolve professionally. The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress by Virginia Postrel (yes that Virginia Postrel, author of The Substance of Style and AIA Convention keynote speaker.) Simply put, the book sanctions the world into two groups: stasists (who urge control and favor the status quo) and dynamists (who will shape the future.) To which group do you belong? Read and find out what the implications are for you and our profession.

45. Be Like John John Moebes, that is, director of construction, Crate & Barrel. Get your hands on one of his online presentations or better yet, hear him speak in person. A truly inspired and inspiring construction professional and owner leading the way for the industry.

46. Visit Collaborative Construction on a regular basis. The website and cutting-edge blog belonging to James L. Salmon, Esq., that is, that serves as a gateway to what he calls the collaborative revolution that is sweeping the construction industry.

47. Revit vs. Archicad vs. Microstation Become informed, try them out, make an opinion and move on. The future is in your hands. Don’t waste the opportunity debating the pros and cons or worse – waiting for the perfect app. It’ll never happen. Except only in your hands. So get modeling!

48. Spend a Day at Home and take- in some educational videos.

49. Become an Intrapreneur Intrapreneurship – entrepreneurship within a large organization: one valuable, productive and relevant way to survive these turbulent times.

50. Create a Master Directory of resources – and use it. Here’s one for Revit blogs but you can also find some great links here and here. Pick your weapon and master it – the world is your oyster!

51. Overcome Your Immunity to Change Read Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization a wonderfully original approach to a familiar problem: why many crucial change efforts fail and how you can assure yours won’t. Catch a free presentation here.

52. Reacquaint Yourself with Great Architecture With all of the demands on us it is easy to forget why we are doing what we do in the first place. To stay motivated to change, it helps to refresh our memory and restart our engines from time to time. Nothing compares with visiting buildings in person, but short of that there are several ways to experience great buildings vicariously.

53. Spend Some Time at the AECCafé There is always something of interest and of importance happening here.  

54. Attend an Industry Webinar There’s always something happening nearly every day. Earn learning units, expose yourself to future practice issues and ideas. Better yet, watch with colleagues while brown bagging it and leave time at the end to discuss what you learned and how you might apply it – and act on it – in your career and in your firm.

55. Get Comfortable with Transformative Tools So exactly what is this panacea for all that ails the design and construction industry? Here’s a good place to find out. Do you have others to recommend?

Recommended books, articles and presentations on Collaboration

Learn about how to select the right tools for internal and external collaboration – watch this presentation.

See Collaborating with Contractors for Innovative Architecture to better be able to evaluate the pros and cons of collaborating, including insurance and legal issues.

Become familiar with the myriad types of collaborative project delivery – including integrated project delivery – the most collaborative of all.

The Culture of Collaboration by Evan Rosen showing how collaboration creates value in business.

How to Make Collaboration Work by David Straus offers five principles of collaboration (Involve the Relevant Stakeholders, Build Consensus Phase by Phase, Design a Process Map, Designate a Process Facilitator, and Harness the Power of Group Memory) that have been tested and refined in organizations everywhere, addressing the specific challenges people face when trying to work collaboratively. Each can be applied to any problem-solving scenario.

Collaboration How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results by Morten T. Hansen With approx. 37,000 books on the topic of Collaboration sold on Amazon.com this one is considered by some to be “the” book on the topic. Hansen bases his analysis in an economic analysis of when collaboration creates value that includes not only a project’s benefits but also the costs of collaboration and the cost of foregoing alternatives. Hansen is realistic about collaboration’s limits and attests that over-collaborating id a potential hazard: “Bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration.”

Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration by Keith Sawyer is completely different from the previous books. A practical, inspiring book about how innovation always emerges from a series of sparks—not a single flash of insight. And finally,

The Collaborative Habit by choreographer Twyla Tharp. Life Lessons for Working Together.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Design March 23, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, BIM, collaboration, creativity, essence, IPD, management, marginalization, problem solving, questions, software architects, technology, the economy.
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1 comment so far

Design. Noun or verb?

Building design? Noun.

Architects design? Verb.

So why do architects keep treating design like it’s a noun?

What architects talk about when they talk about design – is mostly buildings.

Design strategies, initiatives, options?  Design criteria, benchmarks and objectives? Leave these for MBAs.

 “Hiring an AIA architect,” says the AIA website, “could be the best decision you’ll make for your design project.” Yet no client considers their project a design assignment. That’s framing it as an architect sees it.

Design – the noun – is a tool architects use to plan and solve a client’s or owner’s problems: they need more space, they need to move and they need to attract more students or customers or retain the ones they have. They don’t have design projects – we do.

And note: the emphasis is on action  –  not thing.

To a client, an architect may help you to realize, recommend, guide, clarify, define, orchestrate, and help you get the most for your construction dollar. All verbs.

If that’s what we mean by design – then why don’t we say it? Why don’t we remind others that that is what we do?

And with the 2010 AIA Convention on the horizon why don’t we remind ourselves of this meaning of the word?

That said, if design is our core competency – what distinguishes us from pretenders –the act of design takes up a relatively small part of our day.

Over the past 25 years I have worked on several projects where I might design the building in a day – and then spend the next 3-5 years fleshing it out – and everything else that’s required to see to its realization. Some would say fleshing it out is someone else’s design development and another person’s iteration and still another’s level of detail. Sure – there is a great deal more design to do once the client says go. But again – the emphasis is on action – design as a verb – and not on the building.

One of the advantages of the new technologies such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) – the collaborative work process enabled by it (the subject of my other blog www.bimandintegrateddesign.com)– is that design occurs early, involving many stakeholders, and can come from just about anywhere. Yes, the architect may orchestrate the effort – and may be the one person qualified to do so – but she’s still applying for that position, it has not been awarded yet. Design in the near future will happen sooner in the process, by many – including considerable contributions made by non-designers and designers alike.

In fact – architects have been threatened by the role of the “designer” that has been appearing more and more in industry diagrams illustrating construction project teams. Where in these diagrams is the architect? The architect’s very survival instinct kicks in when this happens and what ensues can be unnerving. I have seen chairs fly and voices rise. Someone else is moving in on our territory and the instinct is to attack.

When we talk about design – who is our intended audience? By calling attention to design are we thinking that this will remind others on the construction team who really has the corner on design? Is this the meta-message for making this the year of design? “Don’t forget – architects design, too.” By calling attention to design, are we primarily reminding others that we design? Or – and at the same time – are we reminding ourselves?

Because many architects haven’t designed a building since the immersive studio experience in school and are in need of reminding. All but buried in building codes, zoning regulations, contractor’s RFI’s and change orders, lean construction, green building rating systems –  not to mention BIM, IPD, VDC and a hundred other acronyms that come our way – it’s almost as though instead of announcing to the world who we are, we are announcing it to ourselves. It’s almost as though we’re experiencing a form of professional amnesia or Alzheimer’s – and can’t remember who we are and what we do.

Design: Who we are. What we do.

Part of the problem is that the word design has become ubiquitous. Architects, of course, don’t have a corner on the design market.  Yes, architects design, but so do web designers, product designers, urban designers, environmental designers, business designers, set design, packaging design, game design, exhibition designers, landscape designers, graphic designers, interior designers, industrial designers, fashion designers and all the other T-shaped designers to name but a few.

If design is the planning that serves as the basis for the making of every object and system in the universe, then what are we talking about when we talk about design?

How can our purpose, our heart, our core – as design professionals – be such a small part of what we do?

And – if the new technologies and work processes have their way – we’re about to do even less of it.

Or do more of it in our heads.

Or conceptualize in the monitor, using the program’s built-in metrics to ferret out the most cost effective options.

The problem with the word design isn’t that it too narrowly defines what we as architects do. The problem is that the word design is overused, vague, appropriated by too many industries and domains – from MBA’s to makers of medical devices. I can understand the need for a convention to have as its subject a sweeping or enveloping concept to allow for the myriad specific entries and presentation-. As the convention material puts it, the weft through which a number of threads—sustainability, diversity, professional practice, technologies, leadership, communities, typologies, and others—will be woven. Last year’s was diversity. Next year’s – you can imagine – will be selected from amongst the remaining threads.

That design is not enough of a differentiator, whether building, city or global design.

To go from diversity to design isn’t to return to our roots.

Better we should ask ourselves these questions:

  • What distinguishes the architect?
  • What is unique to the architect?

Is it design or is it design thinking?

Is it design or is it problem identifying and problem solving?

The word design has too many connotations and is appropriated by too many industries. Earlier, I did my best to answer these questions here in Ten Ways to Face the Decade like an Architect.

10 Questions Architects Need to Ask Themselves

So, before heading off for the AIA Convention in Miami, ask yourself: What do we talk about when we talk about design?

  • Are we talking about design as a competitive advantage over our competition, namely design-builders and construction managers and other design professionals?
  • Is design enough of a differentiator? Others on the construction team see themselves as designers – including some owners and fellow design professionals.
  • By separating design from the rest of the process are we reinforcing others’ firmly held notions – however erroneous – that architects are elitist, arrogant, isolationists, rarified in some way.
  • Will architects who gather to celebrate design – and celebrate themselves – be accused of navel gazing, reinforcing the scourge of being labeled out-of-touch aesthetes?
  • Will architects be seen by others – disenfranchised and disillusioned architects among them – as reinforcing their already perceived irrelevance in the construction process, by meeting to talk about design they’re proverbially rearranging deckchairs while the rest of the profession goes down?
  • Will meeting to talk about design further sharpen the architect’s already considerable edge by playing-up their cool factor and wow factor?
  • If design can’t be taught and is something you intuit – that you either have it or you don’t – why meet to talk about it?
  • By talking about design do architects risk alienating teammates by remind them of their increasing irrelevance?
  • While the rest of the world is knee deep in design thinking will architects be perceived as focusing on design without the thinking?
  • By talking about the design of buildings as objects as opposed to systems, flows or solutions, will architects – with the Wal-Marting of the world and Targeting of design – reinforce the commoditizing of their skill-sets?

Thomas Friedman perhaps brought this point home when he wrote

If I just have the spark of an idea now, I can get a designer in Taiwan to design it. I can get a factory in China to produce a prototype. I can get a factory in Vietnam to mass manufacture it. I can use Amazon.com to handle fulfillment. I can use freelancer.com to find someone to do my logo and manage my backroom. And I can do all this at incredibly low prices. The one thing that is not a commodity and never will be is that spark of an idea.

Are architects talking about design like fish talking about water?

A San Francisco architect, Ted Pratt, Principal and Founder of MTP Architects, wrote to me today

The idea of Design Thinking is really taking hold here with business.  Last week I attended a panel discussion focused on the topic of Design and Business.  The event was held at Swissnex here in San Francisco.  All of the panel members were business people.  I commented to my business partner that we needed to be on the panel alongside the persons from Clorox and Nestle.  There was an administrator from the California College of Arts’ MBA program.  They have an MBA focused on Design Thinking.

Architects are already seen by many as the makers of pretty pictures. By getting together to talk about design will we be perpetuating this perception?

As Ted wrote, we needed to be on the panel.

Architects – working at many scales, from GIS to doorknobs – are first and foremost design thinkers. Design thinking is a term that some feel is the latest buzzword and by the time you read this will already be past-tense. But the truth is – whatever you call it – design thinking is something we as architects have done for centuries. You can learn more about it here.

What should our message be?

In the AIA’s 2010-2015 Strategic Plan, under Vision, it is written:

The American Institute of Architects: Driving positive change through the power of design.

Sooner that contrarian author and Design Futures Council board member, Richard Farson, author of The Power of Design, should speak at the convention.

And under Goals:

Serve as the Credible Voice: Promote the members and their AIA as the credible voice for quality design and the built environment.

Quality design. There you have it. With the focus front and center of the product and not the process.

The planet will always need quality design. But what the world needs right now is not more buildings but the creativity and ingenuity that goes into their design applied to the problems and forces at hand.

We love buildings – we love architecture – that is why we became architects: to be part of their design and realization.

But, as IDEO’s Diego Rodriguez says, Stop Treating Design as A Noun.

Is design even the message we need to be sending? At this time in history, shouldn’t our message be on collaboration, cooperation, teamwork, making our teammates look better, improving the process for all involved, playing well with others and our trustworthiness?

Design for the new decade

The 2010 AIA Convention has as its theme Design for the new decade. Design, a return to design. Getting back to our roots. Reprioritizing. Do what we do best. Which is namely,

Cool buildings, innovative form and materials, sustainable design.

With the selection of Dan Pink as keynote, the message appears to be that we have been spending too much time in the left hemisphere – with all of our focus on the left-brain thinking required of practice – and seek some Florida solace in the sun and respite in the right.

Once architects leave Miami, their brains newly balanced and their hemispheres aligned, perhaps we ought to consider the fact that what distinguishes the architect is the mercurial interaction of our left and right hemispheres. Design is not the domain exclusively of the left or right brains – but the back-and-forth interaction of the two. Our real value as architects occurs in neither individual lobe but in the space between.

Architects already do what the world needs most right now – they don’t need to emphasize one hemisphere over another – they just need to get the word out there a little louder in a world that’s already screaming for attention; that this is what we already do, this is who we already are.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Dan Pink. He spoke back to back at the Design Futures Council’s summit AND my kid’s middle school last Fall. He’s moved on – driven – past design onto more intrinsically motivated pastures. And we ought to take a clue from him and follow his lead.

So it should be clear by now. Design isn’t what we do or who we are. But instead Design thinking. Design deliberation. Design countenance. It’s not design – that’s shared by far too many to have any meaning – but what we do with it. Design isn’t a skill but a modifier for who we are and what we do. We ought to start acting more like it and let others in on the secret.

So go ahead – re-commit yourself to design as the architect’s primary mode of thought and action. Just don’t be fooled by the siren song of designed objects be they places, projects or things. What you are re-committing to is making design thought and design action a priority.

Design thinking and design doing: who we are and what we do.

This is the crux: for the present time – to reinforce the notion that we are team players, that we are relevant, that we are necessary – we ought to emphasize our positive impact on the process, not the end result.

We are designers in that we are design managers and design leaders.

We are designers – we are design thinkers – gathering to re-commit to helping to define and solve our clients’, city’s, community’s and neighborhoods’ problems.

That is design for the new decade.

The Wisdom of Booklife December 4, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in career, change, creativity, fiction, management, optimism, survival, transformation.
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Money may not be able to buy you love but it can buy you – and those you live and work with – some happiness. How much happiness can $10.17 buy these days? It turns out – quite a lot.

You need not be a writer to enjoy a remarkable and inspiring new book, Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer, by writer, reviewer, editor, publisher, anthologist, filmmaker, agent, animator and blogger Jeff VanderMeer. The perfect book for the writer in your life, yes but in all actuality I can think of no better book for non-writers to read, especially as we’re nearing year-end, the time we ritually consider changes we would like to make in our own lives for the coming year.

Booklife, Foodlife, Worklife, Lovelife, Whatever. This book will – in less time, with less effort and for less money – give you the Xlife you’ve been looking for. Not in short shrift but for the long haul.

As with all books on writing you can read it two ways: to learn tips and tricks of the trade, or to be inspired. As the author wisely suggests: Keep one eye on the matter at hand, and the other on the horizon. Advice or insight, this book is no exception.

For seeking inspiration, and for extraverts in particular, the Public Booklife section will be of more interest – whereas for those more introverted (fellow architects?) the prospect of putting yourself out there – online or off – just the mention of it will raise heart rates. Introverts will enjoy the book’s Private Booklife advice on how to be more productive, effective, balanced and generally happy.

But as we’ll see in a moment, it is in the combining of our public and private selves that we are most likely to find paradise.

First an aside: When I need a pick-me-up, as I sometimes do in these particularly challenging times, I bypass the ginkgo biloba and go for some soul-soothing and inspiring Anne Lamott or Carolyn See, two desert island-worthy authors whose writing-cum-inspiration books will help anyone off their islands, desert or otherwise.

But back to Booklife. First, a qualifier – and this grain of salt is more like a boulder. Substituting the word “Booklife” for “life,” the book makes the relatively unremarkable claim that the ideal life harmoniously combines a public life (marketing ourselves and our work) and a private life (strategies for getting our work done.)

As we all try to balance our public and private selves and all more or less do this – some more overtly, others more seamlessly – this will hardly be an earth-shattering revelation. There are those who would argue that balance is detrimental to achieving goals – including the creation of lasting work. Balance is the enemy of creativity.

That “marketing” today is malleable and ever-changing, involving a heightened presence on social networking sites and new forms of self-promotion, doesn’t change the fact that it is still essentially selling.

And a thousand suggestions for inspiring greater productivity doesn’t change the fact that writing of all kinds involves two things: butts in seats + writing. Period.

But then again the billion dollar diet industry would vanish overnight should people follow the simple – but almost impossible to practice – dictum of exercise + limiting caloric intake.

Since writing is no easier than dieting, writing books will continue to be written as long as people need to lose weight. To this point there is even a popular writing diet.

As the burden of book production and publicity today falls primarily on authors, I took special interest in the Public Booklife portion of the book.

One online reviewer noted, “BOOKLIFE serves as a much-needed corrective to the sad ‘market your book like a carnival huckster’ approach too often found in books of advice for writers these days.” An example of shameless (more overt, less seamless) self-promotion (on a new media social networking site) would be if I were to right here, in this sentence, not-so-subtly mention that I am currently writing a book for publication. Oh, and when it comes out want you to buy it and tell all of your friends.

With the advice contained in Booklife, moving forward no one would ever again need to self-promote in such obvious fashion. A relief to this blogger who prefers more subtle nudging.

So what then makes Booklife so remarkable?

The author is unflinchingly honest, forthright, avoiding what he calls “rah-rah” sentences, saying it like it is. The author’s website describes this guide to sustainable careers and sustainable creativity as “the first to fully integrate discussion of the role of new media into topics that have always been of interest to writers.” But this isn’t what makes this book remarkable.

What makes the book remarkable is that it explores questions we all could be asking ourselves this time of year:

  • How can you use social media and the internet?
  • How does the new online paradigm affect you and those you interface with, or wish to sell, inspire or change minds?
  • How can you find the time to both create and promote you work?
  • What should never be done?

Additionally, Booklife will help you

  • get from point A to point B, whatever your destination or goal.
  • accomplish, wrap-up, complete and finish – especially for those who habitually start things but seldom if ever close the deal.
  • balance your personal life and career – whatever it is.
  • set goals for yourself in the New Year ahead.
  • and those around you to be happier – because you will be happier and better balanced.

Booklife is like a travel guide for destinations that you alone determine and focus your compass on.

Perhaps most of all,

Booklife serves as an uplifting, honest and resourceful survival guide in these Zombie-festooned, 2012-dystopic, troubling times.

Today, Be Your Own Architect November 21, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in career, change, identity, management.
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Despite alarmingly dwindling reserves of architecture books – not to mention privately owned bookstores – it seems for the past 20 years, no matter where in the country, every Barnes and Noble Architecture and Design book section contains at least one copy of a decades-old book.

This book is invariably entitled, Be Your Own Architect.

The book is no doubt part of the late 80’s or early 90’s DIY movement. Had I ever bothered to look at it, the blurb on the back jacket is sure to ask something along the lines of: Why engage and pay a professional when you can do it yourself? An illustrated guide showing prospective home buyers just how easy it is to design homes to fit their exact needs while saving thousands of dollars in architectural fees

It’s all part of American’s long held desire for independence. First from the British, more recently from architects.

Besides, who needs design professionals cluttering up their kitchen?

I have never taken a look at this book on any of the hundreds of visits to the bookstores. As an architect, having designed and built my own house, I have already made that rite of passage (and, yes, saved on architectural fees.)

But still, for some reason, the book’s title never ceases to capture my attention. Those four simple words spanning across the book spine subtly means something different every time, depending on the emphasis given to each word:

BE your own architect.

Be YOUR own architect.

Be your OWN architect.

Be your own ARCHITECT.

BE

What is it about the title? Could it be the word “Be” – that faintly Buddhist word, implying what you are – right now – in the here and now, as in another famous book starting with the word “Be,” Ram Dass’s Be Here Now

Or perhaps it’s the directness of the word “Be,” as in the Army’s admonishment, Be All You Can Be.

With this ever-changing, always in flux, mercurial, game-changing, technologically challenging world, the thought of just standing still while the world spins by must be appealing to some.

How appealing it would be to merely Be, allowing everyone else to chase that RFP.

To be, or not to be an architect: that is not the question so much as this:

How can I best use this time to once again be the architect I was meant to be?

YOUR OWN
Your own. As in, not somebody else’s, architect.

Not someone else’s idea of what an architect is – what it means to be an architect.

Nor someone else’s need for whom they need for you to be. Architects are by training – and nature – multifarious when it comes to their interests, abilities and talents. None other than Vitruvius himself expected architects to be creative and 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.

If the architect doesn’t know herself, it is easy to see why.  It may be that going into school architects have an inflated and misguided idea of their own abilities and who they want to be – before reality settles in, and the nefarious need to please professors (before the need arises to please bosses and clients, parents and spouses.) For some, they were last their own architects in school. Or they left their ideal of their own architect soon thereafter, upon entering the workforce, dealing with deadlines and others’ impressions of who they are – or need to be – for the project or for the firm.

When were you last Your Own Architect?

This recession has had a profound effect on many lives for those working in the profession and industry, as well as those who work with, live with and depend upon them. No doubt the effect has been felt as undeniably negative by many, not the least of all economically. But there is at least one way in which the current downturn can be seen on the upside, and that has to do with the opportunity the current situation offers you to come into your own, to touch base again with who you are, the architect.

When work was bountiful and time fleeting with deadlines repeatedly looming, we may have been our teammate’s architects, our manager’s architect or belonged to our bosses and their perhaps understandably narrow idea of who we are and are capable of. We were our colleague’s architects, the profession’s architects, architects belonging to everyone – consultants and clients, regulators and gatekeepers – everyone’s architect, but one: Your Own.

Own it. Take ownership of it. Take custody of it. Be responsible for your own condition.

ARCHITECT

Use this time wisely. Get back in touch with what it once meant for you to be an architect. With who you are, deep down (it’s still there, dormant, latent perhaps, but looming.) Listen to the dictates of your Being – of who you are and have always been.

If not now, when?

For here’s the rub: No matter your financial condition, no matter whether you like the situation that you find yourself in, no matter your outlook on life, the economy or the profession, IT WILL NEVER BE  EASIER TO BE AN ARCHITECT THAN IT IS RIGHT NOW.

Many currently – whether out of frustration, financial demands or both – are considering leaving the profession or jumping ship altogether for safer harbors in other seas. It is widely known that even in good times 50% of those trained as architects wind up successfully working in other fields. But unless your situation is dire, you owe it to yourself, right now – today – to recall, and recollect, who it was you once wanted to be. Because you’ve been so busy for so long being everybody else’s architect you’ve neglected to be the one architect you are and were meant to be.

Today, be your own architect.

Read or Perish: A Summer Top 10 List June 11, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in integrative thinking, management, software architects.
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I recently discovered a new section of the bookstore and my life has been all the more enriched for it. For all the time I’ve spent amongst the shelves I somehow overlooked a veritable treasure trove of bounded and unbounded delights. Today I am going to share this life-changing discovery with you.

Computer books are to bookstores as milk is to grocers: you have to walk past everything else in the store to get there. Past fiction, history, gardening and cooking – you’ll inevitably find them in the farthest reaches of the store, the most distant point from the store entrance.

I’ve visited the section before – to brush up on Excel, to learn some software tips and tricks. On this one occasion there was something else that had drawn me to the computer technology book section. A book I had been looking for – on project management – suddenly appeared on a shelf near the geographic center of the long expanse of computer books: Making Things Happen by Scott Berkun. Not just any book on managing people, one’s self, clients, time, work processes, schedules and budgets – written by the Microsoft alumnus and program manager of Internet Explorer – this book has gone on to be my all-time favorite book on the subject. I’ve returned to this shelf in computer sections of new and used bookstores on several occasions in the months since and have been rewarded every time by fabulous titles with evocative cover art. None of these are dry technology doorstoppers – but instead they’re each in their own right works of art and pleasures to behold. They’re each entertaining, deep and rewarding reads. They’ll teach you something you didn’t know – not about software or programming – but about the work you love, the work you’re passionate about, the work you do day in day out. You’ll come away from these books richer, larger, more expansive – and more interesting. For each serves as a metaphor applicable to what you’re already doing and the time invested will be rewarded a hundredfold.

Many of these books are published by Tim O’Reilly (his Twitter tweets are some of the best, most informative, authoritative and most followed http://twitter.com/timoreilly). Although his more familiar and most popular books, updated hourly, can be found here, some of his lesser known titles have made my Top 10 including 97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know; and the urgent and important Devices of the Soul. The “beautiful” series cannot be missed, with such tantalizing titles as Beautiful Security, Beautiful Code, and Beautiful Architecture: Leading Thinkers Reveal the Hidden Beauty in Software Design by Diomidis Spinellis and Georgios Gousios. The all-time favorite among pleasure-seeking adventuresome readers, The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, comes as close to seductive non-fiction as any book you might come across at the beach. If there is a more enjoyable summer read than Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (Second Edition) I have not found it.  In addition to the previously mentioned Making Things Happen, Scott Berkun has written a wonderful book on the creative mind, the myths of innovation. Microsoft Press’s near-perfect Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction tops-off the list.

Lastly, I would be remiss in not mentioning the self-explanatory and hilarious underground cult classic The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity. No beach bag should be without it.

 

Summer Top 10 Lists

Nonfiction

Making Things Happen

The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams

the myths of innovation

Beautiful Code

Devices of the Soul

97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know

Subject To Change : Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World: Adaptive Path on Design

Code Complete

 

Fiction*

At-Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz  

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Then We Came to the End: A Novel by Joshua Ferris

A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz  

*You thought you were going to make it through summer without reading any fiction? Guess again!