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Returning Home to What we Are August 18, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in change, optimism, possibility, questions, the economy, transformation.
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We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.                                                             T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding

Amongst several other projects, in the past year as an architect I have worked on the design of a 180 story super-tall high rise and designed a mile long retail spine. It’s easy to understand with projects such as these how architects can get it in their minds that what they do has cosmic importance and is on some level even heroic.

Many of these largest projects were designed and destined for countries expanding at a fast clip, often found abroad. We would find ourselves setting off for distant lands to compete and conquer and reap our rewards by garnering yet another commission.

We’ve been on many voyages – professional, family, artistic – all involving great effort and many sacrifices on our part. And on the part of others.

The past several years has led us on a journey to many foreign – and some not so foreign – destinations and here we find ourselves, back where we started.

All of that was – as we know too well – a lifetime ago. Here we are today, summer winding down, sailing home. Today we find ourselves on the most unusual destination of all: home, returning to the place where we started. If anything, the economic headwinds have brought each of us back into our own. Reintroduced us to ourselves as though we had been away from ourselves and are only now returning and getting reacquainted.

Many architects with our long hours and near obsession with our craft and calling, are using this newfound land of time to readjust and reprioritize. The Odyssey is over – it is time to return home.

Or so writes Norman Fischer in his profoundly beautiful Sailing Home: Using Homer’s Odyssey to Navigate Life’s Perils and Pitfalls.  Comparing Odysseus’s journey to our own, Fischer asserts that this book “will help you appreciate the shape and feeling for the journey, will give you the reflections to keep you company and perhaps also steady your step as you walk forward into the darkness.” For those trying to make their way back from your own 10-years wars with our own personal Troys in these challenging times, it is a book I cannot recommend enough. As much as any book that has come before, because it is inspired by and based on a living classic that has been with us for thousands of years, the book is about you and your life, right now.

So why do I recommend this book to architects? For the very reason that architects (of all stripes) are strivers, journeymen and women, fighting daily battles inside and outside the office to overcome divine and earthly obstacles, in search of a promised (but little seen) heroism. Odysseus and his wanderings are certainly relevant to architect’s own heroic journey – wherever you find yourself on your own. The book will help you to yield personal revelations, make sense of your past journeys, elucidate their outcomes and show you the way to greater purpose and meaning in your own life.

Additionally, one of the books messages will stand out for many architects: namely, to resist novelty and instead replace it with repetition (practice) which will lead in time to Mastery. Certainly this is a welcome message after so many years of one-upmanship of taller, bigger, longer. Likewise, Fischer advises that we stop criticizing the state of things and instead accept “all that is  messy, inexact, troublesome and uncontrollable in human life.” A relief for the perfectionists in us all in these all-too messy times.

So where does he suggest we go from here? As though speaking directly to the architect in all of us, Fischer surmises “Perhaps we are living in a post-heroic age. Maybe the human race, so full of promise, bright ideas, and hubris, is finally weary of the toxic idealisms and thoughtless excesses of power that has been so destructive and so exhausting for so long. We have seen and done so much, and it has left us dazed and confused. Maybe, like Odysseus, we are finally ready simply to return home to what we are, to our beauty and strength as well as our limitations…”

Could this be enough?

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?