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5 Gifts Seasoned Architects Receive from Emerging Professionals (& vice versa) January 20, 2014

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, career, change, employment, management, problem solving.
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giftsThere are so many things I have learned over the years from working alongside emerging professionals (EPs), it’s hard to know where to begin.

Recognizing that it is artificial and arbitrary to clump any demographic into a group, generally speaking, EPs bring a lot more than energy and imagination to the table.

Emerging professionals have a lot to offer firm leaders.

That is, if firm leaders would only take notice.

What gifts can EPs offer more senior architects and firm leaders?

Here are five that have made a difference in my life:

1. EPs are Wired to Care

EPs can help cynical, skeptical and burned-out architects to care again.

To care about people: building owners, users, neighbors, constituents.

About the environment.

And about design.

They may not always express it, but firm leaders who deal with clients, legal and insurance matters often need your enthusiasm and interest in the work you’re doing to remind them why they stay in the game – and why they’re in the game to begin with.

You remind them of who they once were – and soon hope to return to being.

You’re the thread to their former selves.

2. EPs are Collaborative T-shaped People

Not T for Technology.

But as in broad knowledge and deep expertise.

EPs, curious types, certainly bring their range of interests to the office.

But expertise?

Absolutely. Though not the old school form of expertise – acquired slowly over time.

EPs are social learners so if they don’t know something, they know where to find it.

Or whom to ask.

EPs recognize that things change so quickly in our industry that to dig deep into any one area can be a death knell for an upstart career in architecture.

And, over time, with experience on a range of projects, they do acquire deeper learning in a variety of areas.

EPs can help senior architects see the value in their becoming more T-shaped, less pigeon-holed into one task, skill-set or area.

But as importantly, firm leaders need to hire T-shaped practitioners – because things do evolve so quickly – not word-for-word matches to their job ad specs.

And who better than EPs to serve as examples of the new model for firm hires.

3. EPs are Change Agents

EPs – compared with more seasoned architects – are fluid, flexible and nimble.

And so, they inspire normally risk-averse architects to invite change.

To not be afraid of it.

Never satisfied with the status quo, EPs know we – as a team, firm, profession, industry or planet – can do better.

And won’t settle for less.

EPs hear what they are asked to do – and if they’re smart – they do it.

But then something happens.

They offer something different.

Often something even better. Something we hadn’t considered.

We, in management, are counting on EPs to do this – even if we don’t explicitly ask for it.

Especially if we don’t explicitly ask for it.

It shows you’re thinking.

It shows you care.

It shows that you listened – then offered an improvement that no one else had considered.

Yes, if we decide not to go with your idea, we hate having to say no.

My ideal day is one where I can go from morning till night without having to say the word “no.”

So don’t make me say no.

Make your idea so intelligent, well thought-out, compelling and great that we have to say yes!

Change is a gift you give us. We make a promise to ourselves – and our profession – every year to innovate more.

Sometimes innovation gets lost among more bottom line goals.

EPs help to keep the promise to innovate alive (thank you.)

4. EPs are Courageous

Whether from naïveté or boldness, EPs can help seasoned architects to be more technologically courageous.

They don’t know to be frightened, to be afraid of risk.

When a senior architect walks by your monitor and says “how is that going to stand up?” – trust me – there’s a way to make it stand up.

We are grateful you tried to do something that we would have shied away from.

If it’s a worthy idea, we’ll help find a way to get it to stand up.

Thank you for attempting to do something with architecture that we are now sometimes too afraid to try ourselves.

5. EPs Seek Meaning

Meaning is one of the greatest gifts EPs give to seasoned architects.

Not only do EPs expect their work to be meaningful, but by their giving importance to work/life balance, they remind Boomers (some still single or divorced) that placing work first before all else is not the only – or best – option.

We see you having a life and say “oh, just wait till things get complicated!”

We may complain that EPs should have a more singular focus on architecture.

But the truth is, you have the answer, not us.

You have your values in the right place, not us.

If only we learned that lesson sooner!

EPs are all about adding meaning.

For their work to be meaningful.

For finding shortcuts and templates to minimize the busy work and maximize what is important to them.

Like using your core competencies for a greater portion of each day.

Using your brains, not just your fingers.

We used to think that way – and have come up with excuses (did I just hear myself say Architecture is first and foremost a business?!)

When making payroll, meeting clients demands, is now front and center.

Meaning takes a back seat.

Then you send us a link to a film about another firm – one that places meaning first – and our eyes well up.

We know we can do more and be more.

And we have you, EPs, to thank for reminding us.

Now, let’s turn this around.

Naturally, EPs aren’t doing all the giving.

They must be getting something in return.

So what, besides a paycheck, warm Aeron chair and beer Fridays can architects and firm leaders offer EPs?

Here are 5 Gifts Emerging Professionals Receive from Seasoned Architects.

1. Seeing the Big Picture

Architects see the big picture.

Emerging professionals sometimes need help seeing the forest from the trees.

EPs (rightfully) don’t trust forests – or long-term plans.

EPs become long-term employees, for example, not by making 20-year commitments but by showing up one day at a time.

EPs have a hard time seeing where it’s all leading.

Architects recognize time horizons and building cycles.

I’ll never forget when a senior architect told me, years ago, that hotels and hospitality have a seven-year boom/bust cycle.

Put that in your iCal.

Firm leaders can help EPs see the big picture – and have a responsibility to do so.

2. Comfort with Ambiguity

Times today are uncertain.

And architecture is filled with uncertainty.

Will the client accept and support the design direction?

Will neighbors and constituents vote in favor of the building’s height?

Will the developer be able to get a loan so the project can move forward?

If you’re thinking piece of cake, you’ve been at the game a while.

Not everyone has the perspective you have.

So share it.

Just don’t make it sound patronizing, condescending, or like old wise architect speaks!

Architects are comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty.

EPs? Not so much.

Firm leaders can help bridge this gap (so do it!)

3. Systems Thinking

Senior architects have the perspective and experience to see individual acts in a larger context.

Because they see the big picture, they have an easier time helping to keep things whole.

Firm leaders can show EPs how their seemingly isolated, individual decisions can impact the bigger picture.

And how everything in architecture can be thought of in terms of flows.

(Or perhaps this is something EPs already know and just aren’t articulating?)

4. Lateral, not Linear, Thinking

Seasoned architects don’t complete tasks sequentially.

You would think that the multitasking generation would do this as well.

Due to their experience and perspective, architects know they can look at assignments from many vantages simultaneously.

Think of architect Cesar Pelli who could think through every pro and con in his head, anticipating every consequence for any course of action, then make a decision.

Call it an ability or insight, this is a gift that senior architects can share with EPs.

5. Architecture as an Art + Science

Architects know that every decision – every architectural act – is a combination of art and science.

They may come across as conservative, gravity-bound and risk-averse.

But they mean well.

The reality is (there they go with reality again!)– we balance art with science every time we venture into making architecture.

As boring as it may appear, architects know your brilliant idea won’t mean a thing if it can’t stand up, hold water, shed water and be accessed, serviced and maintained.

One participant in the upcoming AIA 2014 EP Summit shared the following:

I’m always learning from the emerging professionals. They seem to teach me more than I teach them!

What do you say?

Does this match your experience? Do you see any missing? Which – if any – would you change or add to?

Let us know by leaving a comment. Thanks!

Interdisciplinary Education for the AEC Industry October 3, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in collaboration, education, problem solving.
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Fact: Of the 154 accredited schools of architecture & 61 degree programs in construction, only 14 contain degree programs in both.

We’re about to do something about that.

More on that in a moment.

Interdisciplinary education is essential for would-be professionals to address complex problems in the built environment.

Problems design and construction professionals face are intractable, complex and – as Howard Gardner attests – “wicked.”

Problems that are difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory and changing requirements.

Problems that require the vantage of many players – working openly, sharing information.

Problems that occur in rapid succession, often simultaneously.

An interdisciplinary education helps students to see these problems from multiple perspectives, resulting in quicker and more assured responses.

The goal with interdisciplinary education is to teach the whole architect, engineer and contractor – in the end creating more-complete, well-rounded, T-shaped design and construction professionals.

Coming closer to a Total Design education that considers learner’s needs, interests and abilities vs. fragmented competence in subject matter: the threshold of current thinking and teaching.

Interdisciplinary Multidisciplinary Trans-disciplinary Cross-disciplinary Education

Part of the problem is knowing  what to call it when the A, the E and the C work together.

In school – there’s teamwork and collaboration.

In practice – there’s Integrated Project Delivery, Integrative Practice and Integrated Design.

Here’s how I explain the difference in my book, BIM and Integrated Design:

Terminology can admittedly get confusing. There is integrated design, integrative design, integrated buildings, integrated design process, integrated practice (IP) and integrated practice delivery (IPD.) To understand the difference between IPD and integrated design in its simplest terms, one, IPD, is a delivery method; the other, integrated design or ID, a larger concept and process—free of contractual identity—that contains IPD.

Simply put, to integrate means to combine or coordinate separate elements so as to provide a harmonious, interrelated whole, organized or structured so that constituent units function cooperatively.

In school the challenge is that you need to have a base to work from before you can integrate or collaborate effectively.

Undergraduates – certainly in their first two years of schooling – can’t be expected to collaborate well since they have yet to develop a thorough understanding of how their disciplinary specialty fits with others.

A more in-depth look into this topic can be found here.

Architecture + Construction Alliance (A+CA)

7 years ago, deans and department heads of the accredited schools of architecture, degree programs in construction and those containing both programs, began to meet to discuss ways to collaborate, establishing working groups to share perspectives and showcase best practices for collaboration of architecture and construction programs.

It was soon determined that their gatherings were not sufficient to create the closer connections and joint endeavors necessary to sustain such efforts.

Thus, the A+CA was born.

The mission of the A+CA is to foster collaboration among schools that are committed to interdisciplinary educational and research efforts between the fields of architecture and construction, and to engage leading professionals and educators in support of these efforts.

An example of such a program is the PDCI San Luis Obispo, CA USA (the Planning, Design & Construction Institute, College of Architecture & Environmental Design, California Polytechnic State University) offers integrated studios for architects, architectural engineers and construction managers using an integrated project delivery approach. More here Cal Poly Home .. CAED Home .. PDCI Home

As A+CA explains, the professions of architecture and construction are undergoing significant changes as they respond to multiple demands and opportunities to increase collaborative project work.

They are propelled by changed societal and client expectations to more fully coordinate their formerly separate roles and responsibilities for the social, environmental, and financial performance of projects, while Building Information Models (BIM) and other digital technology provide emerging new vehicles for integration.

These changes – in our built environment professions – need to be reflected in the education of future professionals, with a major emphasis on fostering superior interdisciplinary knowledge, and team based skills that support synergy and innovation in the 21st century professional context.

A unique ability to play a leadership role in the industry

Architecture + Construction Alliance is a consortium of US universities that

1. have both architecture and construction programs within the same college, and

2. are prepared to act together to foster the necessary interdisciplinary and collaborative education needed by our professions.

Such an alliance of these universities has a unique ability to play a leadership role in the development, pilot testing, assessment and dissemination of courses and projects through coordination of the faculty, staff, and financial support for this activity.

Last Spring, CIB proposed a collaboration with A+CA. Read about it here and more about CIB here.

The Fall 2011 A+CA meeting will be held on November 9th, prior to the ACSA Administrator’s Conference in Hollywood, CA

The Spring 2012 A+CA meeting will be held in April, in conjunction with the CIB Board Meeting in Washington, D.C. This marks the first time in the CIB’s history that the Board meeting will be held in the US. A+CA meeting details forthcoming.

Member Founding Schools

Auburn University, California Polytechnic State University, Clemson University, University of Florida, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State University, University of Nebraska, University of Oklahoma, Prairie View A&M University, Southern Polytechnic State University, Texas A&M University, University of Texas – San Antonio, Washington State University, Wentworth Insitute of Technology & Virginia Tech

Oh, and one more.

(A new kid in town.)

The New Chicago School

Freestanding, not part of a preexisting university or college.

Which means it is less encumbered.

And, like architecture itself, a work in progress.

Integrated School of Building Chicago IL USA http://insb.us/

The Mission of the school is to educate and advance the knowledge of students in architecture, engineering, and construction by means of a collaborative and innovative platform.

Featured here recently at ArchDaily

Areas of concentration include Construction Management, Project Management, Real Estate Development, Dynamic Design & Fabrication, BIM & IPD, BIM & Energy Modeling, Landscape Architecture & Public Space Development, Sustainable Design, Building Commissioning, Building Forensics, Post-Disaster Design & Reconstruction, Social Design & Development and Preservation & Historic Resource Management.

Look here for more on the InSB board, the programs and 2012 summer symposium: “The Fabric of the City” June 29th & 30th, Chicago IL USA

Twitter handle @theInSB http://twitter.com/#!/theinsb

“A better AEC education is not about making better architects, or engineers, or builders. It is about all coming together as one.” @tcpg

What’s the Hardest Thing You’ve Had to Do as an Architect? June 19, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in books, creativity, problem solving, questions, survival.
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What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to do as an architect?

Some might say it was taking (or retaking) the licensing exam.

For others, it was the late-nighters before a major deadline when nerves were on edge.

For still others, it was biting their tongue while their boss took credit for an idea that only moments earlier they themselves had uttered.

When I think of the hardest thing I’ve had to do as an architect, it is something completely different.

It’s not even something that occurred in the past.

It’s something that is happening right now.

Because, for me, the hardest thing I have ever had to do as an architect is to be an architect.

Today

Merely being an architect today is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Period.

As it turns out, architects are uniquely equipped to deal with our current situation.

In an earlier post I listed the many well-known attributes of the architect.

Architects

  • are optimists
  • balance multiple intelligences
  • are wired to care
  • do more with less
  • are strategists
  • think in terms of systems, not just things

There are 101 more.

One I failed to call attention to is the ability to think on their feet.

What MIT professor Donald Schön, in The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action, called reflection-in-action.

In the book, Schön examined five professions—engineering, architecture, management, psychotherapy and town planning—to explain how professionals go about solving problems.

The best professionals, Schön maintains, know more than they can put into words.

In other words, tacit (or embodied) knowledge.

Know-how

Tacit knowledge, in being intuitive and experience-based, is hard to define.

Nonetheless, it is regarded as the most valuable source of knowledge.

And the most likely to lead to creative breakthroughs.

To meet the challenges of their work, professionals such as architects rely less on rules-of-thumb and methodologies learned in school than on improvisation learned in practice.

The improvisation that occurs when we’re giving an extemporaneous presentation and, afterwards, don’t know where our words came from.

This unarticulated, largely unexamined process – the subject of Schön’s book – shows precisely how ”reflection-in-action” works.

And how this vital creativity might be fostered in future professionals.

Detractors of Schön’s notion of “reflection in action” point out that there is seldom time for reflection when a person is engaged in work.

But it is this very absence of time that renders the architect’s ability to think on their feet all the more remarkable.

And necessary today.

Urgency

Our goal as architects is to move our situation from being dire to one that is manageable.

Urgent, but no longer an out-of-control crisis.

A sense of urgency is important for architects to experience.

Urgency provides momentum and evidence of motivation.

The problem is that we remain in a crisis state and – like the proverbial frog that doesn’t realize it is in gradually boiling water – we no longer realize it.

Because – whether through fear or utter exhaustion – we have lost our perspective on our situation.

This is where one of our most critical attributes comes in: our ability to think in the midst of a crisis.

For practicing architecture presents us with an almost unrelenting state of crisis.

In Elaine Scarry’s new book, Thinking in an Emergency, she draws on the work of philosophers, neuroscientists and artists, to prove decisively that thinking and rapid action are compatible.

In this light, practices that we dismiss as mere habit and protocol instead represent rigorous, effective modes of thought that we must champion in times of crisis.

How is our profession – and individual architects that constitute this profession – acting in this crisis situation?

Why do we seem inclined to abandon rationality, debate and deliberation, allowing others to take the reins of responsibility out of our hands?

Architecture is an institution that relies on engrained training and cooperation to succeed.

Scarry’s argument is that forethought and the inculcation of virtues form the only bulwark against panic when disaster strikes.

And in order to think on our feet, we need all the bulwarks against panic we can get.

Don’t Waste a Good Crisis

So while thinking on one’s feet is a useful ability and talent, use this time for forethought and the inculcation of virtues.

This is the time to prepare your thinking – and those you work with – to prepare for inevitable professional states of emergency.

We all have a great deal we can learn during lean times.

And we may never see a better time than today to do so.

For a good crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

The Collaborative Designer May 23, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect types, books, change, collaboration, problem solving, questions.
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Summary: You don’t need to be a designer to benefit from the best practices espoused in this magnificent new book. A must-have for designers, but also for those in project management and anyone who works with designers.

Based on over 100 interviews with designers, researchers and educators, The_Strategic_Designer by David Holston provides an overview of the design process and best practices.

The Strategic Designer: Tools and techniques for managing the design process, published by F+W Media and HOW Design, is billed as a Strategic Graphic Design Thinking book.

Despite this categorization, the subject matter transcends graphic design and can be universally applied to any of the design trades and professions including product and environmental design.

The book description will sound familiar to anyone working in architecture and related design professions:

As designers look for ways to stay competitive in the conceptual economy and address the increasing complexity of design problems, they are seeing that they must not only be experts in form, but must also have the ability to collaborate, to design in context and be accountable through measurement.

By adopting a process that considers collaboration, context and accountability, designers move from makers of things to strategists.

The book focuses on the designer’s workflow, ideation techniques, client relationships and methods for measuring the success of their projects.

An excellent foreward by Shawn M McKinney gets things off to a fast start – which, alone, is worth the investment in the book.

Each chapter covers a specific design phase emphasis, providing a practical step-by-step approach, complete with tools and techniques.

The Conceptual Economy – where those who have the ability to collaborate and manage the increasing complexity of design will have greater opportunities

Overview of the Design Process – a process rife with opportunities for misinformation, dead ends, and divergent tracks, as well as amazing outcomes

The Value of Process – the benefits of having a well-defined design process

The Collaborative Designer – emphasizing co-creation, communication, mutual benefit, respect and trust in a strong client-designer relationship. This is a particularly rich chapter, addressing and answering such questions as: What makes a Good designer? What Makes a Good Client? and Clients to Avoid. There’s a wonderful sidebar on: Seven Principles for Managing Creative Tension.

Empathic Design – explaining how research provides a path and imperative for moving forward

Understanding the Business – includes a breakdown of basic strategy techniques and an explanation of the purpose of business analysis as understanding and defining goals of the client

Designing with the End User in Mind – with an emphasis on facilitating and moderating participatory and collaborative work sessions. The Designing for People chapter focuses on research as a valuable tool for gaining insight into the organizational needs of clients and their prospective audiences.

Managing Ideas – especially when ideating with others in a participatory or collaborative setting, relying heavily on the experiences and knowledge of people involved.

Making Strategy Visible – how the designer takes an empathic approach to design that connects business goals with user needs.

Design Accountability – asking: Why is design hard to measure? And answering by sharing significant research findings and metrics. Salient quote: “The price for a seat at the decision-making table is accountability.”

Planning in a Turbulent Environment – the days of using a linear design process are over. Strategic designers face increasingly wicked problems. A helpful framework offered by project management.

Refining Your Process – so it can provide a common understanding for “how things get done” mitigating wasted efforts while creating value for the client and user alike.

Holston’s text anticipates your questions and concerns and places each topic in a larger context. He is clearly in control of his subject.

The author places the book and subject squarely in Dan Pink’s Conceptual Economy, a term describing the contribution of creativity, innovation, and design skills to economic competitiveness, especially in the global context.

In his book A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink explains how the economy is now moving from the information age to the conceptual age.

Later in The Strategic Designer, Rotman School of Management dean Roger Martin says that the world is moving from the Information Economy to a Design Economy. A small distinction, but one that unnecessarily complicates matters. I would look to a book such as this to clarify the playing field, at the very least to acknowledge that the labeling of epochs and phraseology are still a work-in-progress.

The book’s strength is not in creating new knowledge – but in repackaging what is largely already known, experientially by every designer – in an easy to carry tome.

Readers, for example, who have perused Wikipedia articles on various topics related to design strategy will recognize the source of several of the author’s summaries.

In this sense, the book is not a product of the Conceptual Age, but instead is a well-designed, convenient and accessible agglomeration, aggregating both explicit and, perhaps the greater achievement here, tacit knowledge on the subject. The book is no less of an achievement for doing so.

The design world is a much better place for having this book at its disposal.

Conclusion: The Strategic Designer is a must-have book for designers, those who manage design projects and those who work with designers in a collaborative setting.

Addenda: How can this book not have a single review?

HOW books makes books on high quality paper, books that feel good in the hand, and themselves serve as exemplary reminders that ebooks should not be our only option. The Strategic Designer is no exception.

See this short video with author Dave Holston presenting the introduction to The Strategic Designer Brand and here on competitive strategy.

49 Ways to Increase Your Influence as an Architect February 26, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect, books, change, marginalization, principles, problem solving, reading, the economy.
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This blog, and its sister blog, both made a name for themselves and garnered some attention out of the gate by issuing a steady stream of lists: things to do, subjects to master, resources to turn to.

There’s just so much great and useful information that comes across my desk that I just have to share.

This post is one of my – what Architect Magazine generously described as – service pieces such as last year’s 55 Ways to Help You Evolve as an Architect.

Now, there are a number of ways architects can have influence: through political power, by building and maintaining a large platform (think tribe, constituency and audience, not soap box,) by title, wealth or celebrity status.

My focus in this post is how we as AEC industry professionals can have our voice heard – right now – and do so in a way that is well within most everybody’s reach.

Due to the blunt force, and slow recovery, of the recession many architects feel ignored, marginalized, disempowered and disenfranchised. Some architects equate having little work with having little leverage.

We all know that there are many things we can be doing to increase our pull – and push – but are already overwhelmed by all we have on our plate.

For that reason I have only included suggestions that can be undertaken, acted upon or addressed during your downtime – assuming you allow yourself some – or in the short intervals between two work-related activities, such as on your commute. Enjoy!

Oh, and remember to chime in on #49 below…

1. Sit in on a design jury at your local architecture school. A great way to see current thinking in action while critiquing student design work. But as importantly, you’ll be sitting shoulder to shoulder with your peers and hear what they have to say, how they see things, while you provide your input. Design studio instructors are always looking to bring in fresh faces and voices into the school. Mid-term reviews are coming up or do so by time of year end reviews. Cost: Your time, transportation and parking.

2. Join a tribe or community of likeminded professionals. Need a new tribe? Join KA Connect on LinkedIn, founded by Christopher Parsons of Knowledge Architecture. KA Connect is a community of AEC professionals who exchange best practices for organizing information and sharing knowledge. Once acclimated to the site, participate in one or more lively discussions. Cost: Free

3. Follow-up with a fellow jury member that you hit it off with or share similar views with. Architects too often see events like sitting on a design jury as one-offs when in fact they provide fertile opportunities for ongoing discussions and last professional relationships. While your fellow jurors are busy, most will welcome a call to meet for coffee to continue the discussion or have a meeting of minds. This is how great partnering opportunities happen. Cost: $2 for coffee. $4 if treating

4. Make your message compelling. Whether you’re writing a blog post or delivering information to a colleague or client, you can learn a thing or two about how to package your thoughts to get the widest audience and their full attention. For others to listen to what you have to say you have to capture their interest from the first line – in fact, before the first line. Learn a thing or two (or eleven) about headline writing here. Cost: Priceless

5. Volunteer to give design studio desk crits at your local architecture school. You’re essentially serving as a roving consultant to fledgling professionals. They’ll appreciate the insights you share and will remember you when they enter the field. In doing so you’ll be giving something back and your generosity of time and advice will go a long way to help others out. Cost: Your time.

6. If you attend one event this year make it KA Connect 2011, a knowledge and information management conference for the AEC industry. Thought leaders from all over the world will come together in San Francisco on April 27th and 28th to share best practices, stories, and ideas about how they organize information and manage knowledge in their firms. If anything like last year’s event, it will be a fun, dynamic event filled with blue sky and Pecha Kucha talks, panel discussions and breakouts that provide ample opportunities to connect with fellow AEC professionals and affiliates. Cost: Visit here or email to inquire.

7. Invite a select group of students back to your office for a walk-through, to get a feel for a professional office and to build a stronger bon with the design community. Introduce them to a couple key players and sit them down to thumb through a drawing set or two. Cost: Your time. $6.50 for a box of donuts.

8. If you attend one other event this year make it the Design Futures Council Leadership summit on Sustainability, this year in Boston. While this TED-like event is invite-only, here’s a little known trick for getting invited: ask to be invited. For how to do so, look here. Cost: TBD

9. Use Google Alerts to keep you up to date on any topic of interest to you. Google Alerts are email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query, topic or search term.  You can set it to send you an email as it occurs, once a day or once a week if you prefer. Simple and free. Cost: Free

10. Get Power. Yes, power means the strength, ability or capacity to perform or act effectively. Here I mean the well-written book, Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t by Jeffrey Pfeffer. Cost: The best $17.55 you will spend this year. $14.99 on the Kindle in under 60 seconds here.

11. Use Twitter in the receptive mode to stay abreast of what is happening in real time in your professional community. Scan lists for filtered, more targeted content by using hashtags (e.g. #AEC or #architects.) Need a compelling place to start? You can do no better than to start by following Christopher Parsons. Cost: Free

12. Join in on the discussion on professional forums. Build your reputation and be heard by engaged and engaging peers by joining one or more of knowledge communities such as the AIA KnowledgeNet, a place to connect with fellow architects and allied professionals, discuss topics of interest to you and share your expertise. You can set it up so that each morning you’ll receive an email from discussion groups such as COTE, Practice Management or on Residential Architecture. Learn more here or better yet jump right into ongoing discussions on dozens of topics here. Cost: Free

13. Nudge and Sway. Say again? Design professionals no longer believe that they can influence society by the architecture they design (or do they?) Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein shows, among other lessons, how we influence decisions through design. In the influential book Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Brafman brothers Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman, several stories are told where decisions were influenced by location and placement of various items – one thing that architects know something about and can have some say in influencing. Cost: $7.50 new. $7 on the Kindle. $4 used.

14. Keep  your good ideas from getting ignored or rejected in meetings and presentations by reading Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down by author and Harvard Business School professor emeritus John P. Kotter. Learn some effective tactics such as letting the attackers into the discussion; keeping your responses clear, simple, crisp and full of common sense; showing respect all the time; not fighting, collapsing or becoming defensive; and perhaps the most important, prepare. “The bigger the presentation, the more preparation is needed.” Cost: $15 new. $10 on the Kindle.

15. Cold feet when it comes to social media such as Twitter? You’re not alone. Read this to learn what former CEO of Gensler and current Zweig White chairman has to say about social networking for the generationally challenged. Cost: Free

16. Form a Tribe. In his influential book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, Seth Godin defines a tribe as a group of people who are connected to one another, a leader and an idea. Godin – as I described in my previous post  – encourages readers to find their community, step up and lead. Cost: At the start, your time. Goes up from there. Learn more here.

17. Don’t know what tribe you’re going to lead? Here are four suggestions for where to start. Read this thoughtful and inspiring piece on thought leadership. Watch Seth Godin discuss Tribes or this one recommended by Christopher Parsons, founder of Knowledge Architecture, or read a free sample chapter from David Logan’s book, Tribal Leadership. Cost: Free

18. Review your favorite professional books on Amazon.com. It’s a fast and free way to be read, heard and seen by fellow colleagues and professionals as a topic expert. And if the review you write is positive, your support will go a long way to help out the book’s author and publisher. Start here and get writing. Cost: Your time.

19. Stay connected. “Chance favors the connected mind,” says Steve Johnson in his exceptional new book, Where Good Ideas Come From, a sweeping look at innovation spanning nearly the whole of human history. So stay connected. Cost: $15

20. To become and remain someone with influence, get in the habit of practicing some very basic principles: reciprocity, scarcity, liking, authority, social proof, and commitment/consistency. To learn more about these I urge you to read the most influential book ever written on the subject, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini Cost: $10

21. You want to influence others and keep them in your trance? Draw. It’s really that simple. Speaking of Steve Johnson (see above) watch this to be reminded of the all-too-rare mesmerizing power architects have when drawing on a white board in real time before a live audience. Cost: Free (and the time it takes to practice)

22. Start a blog. Give yourself a platform to express your views or to share information with likeminded individuals and fellow AEC professionals. Cost: Initially free (though blog widgets can be as compelling to collect as apps.) Doesn’t cost anything to browse.

23. Project what you see, learn and experience to the world. Attended a year-end academic review or professional conference? Share your observations and insights from the event by writing an online review – in your own blog or on your office blog or intranet. There is no better way to influence the views of others by helping them to perceive the events around them through the lens of your sensibilities. Cost: Free (assuming you were attending the event anyway)

24. Prefer your socializing and networking and information sharing face to face? Start a local Meetup Group on a topic of choice. To learn more about what happens when you start a Meetup Group look here. To create a Meetup group, look here. To find an already existing group in your community look here. Cost: Nothing to start. Organizer dues are explained here.

25. Read what your peers have to say in their online reviews of your favorite books. Often they’ll point out something you’ve missed and by doing so you’ll be the beneficiary of their insights. Readers sometimes will comment on a review and these comments can be filled with great suggestions and ideas. You can then leverage that information next opportunity you have to discuss the book or topic. Here’s a great place to start. Cost: Free

26. Volunteer to serve on your local AIA board. Be the change you want to see. See my previous post for more on this. Cost: Your time.

27. Use Twitter as a knowledge platform to let your community know who you are, what you’re thinking, how you see things and what you deem valuable and worth communicating. Cost: Free

28. Be decisive. Don’t equivocate. We’ll often undermine our message and its impact on others by looking at both sides of the argument, playing devil’s advocate or hedging. When you’re sought out for answers – if you know the answer – that’s not the time to beat around the bush or come across as ambiguous.  To influence others we need to have a take no prisoners approach to staying on message and being crystal clear. Cost: Free

29. Become a compelling communicator. Architects are conceptual ideators and problem solvers. The problem is, they aren’t always effective at communicating their ideas and solutions. To be a more effective influencer, work on your communication skills – more specifically, on your rhetoric skills. I minored in the study of rhetoric – or persuasive speechmaking – in grad school and while it may have seemed like an odd choice at the time there is no question that what I learned about rhetoric has come in handy throughout my career as a senior designer. An entertaining and exceptionally educational place to start is by reading Thank You for Arguing Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion by the brilliant (and very funny) Jay Heinrichs. Cost: $11 new. $8 on your Kindle. $6 used.

30. Want to have the influential speechmaking ability of an Obama? Then do what Obama and other masters of speechmaking do and read great speeches. There are several excellent older collections but you can do worse than starting here in this comprehensive collection of oratory through the ages, appropriately edited by former presidential speechwriter Safire. Cost: $15 used

31. Want to work on becoming a more articulate rhetorician? I didn’t think so. But for an amazingly comprehensive overview of Western rhetoric from Plato through today, read THE RHETORIC OF WESTERN THOUGHT: FROM THE MEDITERRANEAN WORLD TO THE GLOBAL SETTING. Cost: $145 new. $24 used.

32. Believe in yourself. It all starts with you. You cannot influence others if you don’t believe in the veracity of your own voice, the importance of your own views and the need to have them heard by a wider audience. With so many voices out there struggling to be heard, this is no time to be a shrinking violet, to be coy, unassuming, fade into the background or melt into the scenery. To be heard by others you have to believe that you have to say, the product of your thinking and feeling, is of ultimate value to others. You don’t even have to believe it. If you so much as act as though this were so, you will find others doing the same, substantiating, validating and reinforcing your beliefs in no time. Try it.

33. Really understand the psychology of persuasion. To understand the science behind influencing others and how to urge others to see your way, read the best book ever written on the subject, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini Cost: $10

34. Read about change. Because influence is basically about changing the status quo, the way things are. A great place to start is the book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything by Kerry Patterson et al, authors of the excellent Crucial Conversations. Watch a trailer for Influencer here and find the book here. Cost: $16 new. $10 used.

35. Start a conversation. Literally, over coffee. To discover a simple, but powerful approach for thinking together, check out The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter by the World Cafe Community with an insightful afterward by Peter Senge and foreward by Margaret J. Wheatley.

36. Practice architecture as advocacy. When you get an email urging you to write to your congressman, representative or senator, don’t ignore it. Use your voice to help the government make sound choices that will help the profession. Get your voice heard. To not do so is a missed opportunity. Learn about it here.

37. Learn how architecture can advocate on behalf of a cause. See page 12 of this document.

38. Help someone out right when they ask you to do it. I get requests all the time to chime in on online discussions. “There’s a hot discussion going on my site. The subject is right up your alley. Check it out. I know everyone would benefit from hearing your input on the subject.” Unless the room you are in is on fire or you are experiencing symptoms associated with a heart attack – act immediately. Drop what you are doing and put in your two cents. Why? Because you are being recognized as someone with a voice that needs to be heard – and there is no better way to exercise your influencer muscles, build your reputation, and continue to be seen as the go-to-guy for information than to share your thoughts the moment you are asked.

39. Monitor your attitude and how it is being expressed and how you and your message is coming across to others. To be an influencer, watch your speech for language that betrays your better intentions by coming across as cynical or sarcastic. A healthy skepticism is just that – healthy. Venturing much further into negativity can undermine the positive impact you can have on your community and built and un-built environment.

40. Apologize by saying you’re sorry. Sometimes we’re powerless to influence others because there is a perception by others that we have somehow undermined, hurt or betrayed them and often we’re unaware of this. Need help on how to go about this in a professional and effective manner? See Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving broken promises, violated expectations, and bad behavior by Kerry Patterson et al, authors of Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. Cost: $10 new. $5 used

41. Walk the talk. There’s no greater way to defuse your message by saying one thing an doing another. Especially today, most won’t tolerate such duplicity in their leaders nor in their colleagues. One important lesson about influence is to practice what you preach. As Gandhi said, Be the change you want to see in the world.

42. Make the undesirable desirable. To influence others to make the changes you want to see, make change palatable. The book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything contains chapters with titles illustrating this simple principle such as “Make the Undesirable Desirable” and “Design Rewards and Demand Accountability.” Read it!

43. Start Small. Check out this life changing – and lifesaving – book about how everything great and influential starts with one small step. Here’s another  that you can apply directly to our industry (and others.) Build up from there.

44. Start locally. Former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously coined the phrase, All politics is local. Today, through access to social media within the privacy of one’s home (consider the impact of Facebook on the current Middle East uprisings,) one can say All influence is local. But you can also truly start locally – in your own neighborhood or community.

45. Once you find your footing, seek out a national or international platform. But today, there’s really no reason to hem yourself in by geographic boundaries. With the internet location is almost beside the point.

46. Prepare an elevator speech. What is it that you do and how do you distinguish yourself from the thousands of others who profess to do the same thing? A brief summary is often much more influential than a longwinded retelling of one’s resume. Start here.

47. What is your brand? These are still the best 3886 words on the subject.

48. Be consistent. Make sure that the things you are doing, the choices you make, are consistent with your personal brand, the message you want to get across.

49. OK now it’s your turn! Don’t see something here you feel belongs on this list? Here’s your chance to influence me – and each other – by adding your own favorites to this list by leaving a comment below! Looking forward to hearing what you have to say.

Unlearning to Collaborate November 28, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, BIM, books, collaboration, IPD, management, problem solving, sustainability, the economy.
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Is the ability to collaborate something we are born with only later to forget?

Are we wired to collaborate?

Michael Tomasello in Why We Cooperate argues that we are – up until a certain age. Then – through conditioning – we forget. Tomasello’s book itself is an interesting act of cooperation, where the author invited his severest critics to poke holes in his argument and explore the implications of his work in light of their own research.

To put it another way: as we grow we cooperate conditionally, attending to the behavior of others. This has huge implications for architects and design professionals who might be naturally collaborative – through sharing knowledge, learning, mentoring and teaching – but are otherwise conditioned by the culture of the firm where they work.

Some firms encourage collaboration while others discourage it by focusing exclusively on individual achievement or by not valuing knowledge sharing. In a sense, you are collaborative because the culture of your organization is one that promotes and encourages collaboration.

The Latest Buzzword?

The word “collaboration” seems to have been invented to provide adults with a serious sounding activity that we, as children, seemed to do naturally.

We like to think of collaboration as the latest business buzzword but of course is nothing new. The word is actually 130 years old, making headlines nearly 100 years ago in the New York Times. We are all still trying to figure out how to do it effectively or at least how to sell it as a unique way architects work.

In any event, there’s a great deal we need to unlearn in order to return to our original sharing attitude and collaborative ways, including bad habits we’ve picked up since we left the cocoon of school and embarked on the hard knocks of a career in architecture and construction, where we learned to be mistrustful, skeptical, competitive, secretive, working independently out of silos. We unlearned all of the critical natural habits, attitudes and mindsets necessary to work effectively on integrated teams.

Collaboration Defined

While collaboration extends and reorients insight, increases efficiency, creates credibility and community, the word itself is too often loosely defined.

A definition of collaboration particularly relevant for our age of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is a process through which people who see different aspects of a problem can constructively explore their differences and search for solutions that go beyond their own limited vision of what is possible. (Grey, 1989)

Collaboration is simply when people work together to create something that couldn’t be done by someone on their own. We do it all the time when designing buildings, resolving problems or working with owners to deliver solutions. The difference today is that we need to get even better at working together and sharing knowledge to solve problems, which are getting larger and more complex.

Moving beyond our boundaries – personal, organizational – requires that we see our blind spots and who better than our fellow collaborators – seeing-eye professionals – can help us see our blind spots?

To do so we have to seek out people who have other pieces of the puzzle.

Wicked problems

Collaboration is best used to solve what Howard Gardner called “wicked” problems with “imperfect, changing or divergent solutions.” The problems architects face today are wicked in that they are complex, defying simple formulations and easy solutions, such as fighting global warming or increasing productivity in the construction industry.

Problems aren’t only wicked – they’re simultaneous – occurring at the same time. Buildings aren’t only complicated, becoming increasingly complex; they also change quickly, marked by a sense of urgency.

To remain efficient and effective, recognizing when it’s unhelpful to collaborate can be important. There’s no need to collaborate, for example, on simple, repetitive, fast turnaround assignments.

Conditions for Successful Collaboration

We don’t trust that this diverse group of people we hardly know will be able to perform better than we can on our own and tend to feel more comfortable and self-assured managing tangible things such as projects over people and relationships. Fortunately, architects are more people-focused later in their careers.

In addition to being people-focused, here are eight preconditions for successful collaboration:

Chemistry – because how can you work well together if you don’t like each other?

Equal, multiple expertise – it’s not truly collaboration if the manager cannot participate in design and the designer cannot participate in managing – it’s an assembly line.

A willingness to play – because fun leads to better, more creative results.

Listening – because it’s about the process of making something together.

Having an open mindset

Willingness – you must choose to collaborate – it can’t be done at gunpoint

Willful effort to work together to get things done; and

Trust between those involved

Why collaborate?

Because architects find themselves questioning their relevance, their collaborative participation is crucial. We perhaps sent the wrong message by recently honoring sole practitioners such as Glenn Murcutt and Peter Zumthor because it glamorizes autonomy over working together.

Why collaborate? Because if you don’t you will not fully participate in public, community, creative and economic life. We may be natural collaborators, but now it is time for us to build collaborative cultures.

The Architect Whisperer June 13, 2010

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

Architects as Translators April 16, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, books, creativity, essence, pragmatism, problem solving, questions, reading, transformation.
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So much of what we do is listen to the stories of our clients and reinterpret them into physical form. If we can demonstrate to our clients that we understand their story by, in turn, telling them a story about their building and how it achieves their vision and mission, then we can create truly powerful places.

Grace Kim

Architects do many things that others – and they themselves – take for granted.

To name but a few:

Architects synthesize, orchestrate and transform.

They facilitate, collaborate and innovate.

They form-give, order-make (some would wryly add, order-take) and problem-solve.

Architects are seers, polymaths and integrators (the future belongs to the integrators.)

Architects are by necessity optimists, predisposed to act, and at one and the same time both product- and process-oriented in their thinking.

They see – and are able to zoom in and out of – the big picture and minutest detail at once.

Architects are systems thinkers, visionary pragmatists and create the elusive wow effect.

They design buildings, the spaces between buildings and the interfaces between people.

Architects do more with less; make the complex simple and look easy and the invisible apparent.

They see things that to others just aren’t there – but that they alone can see.

Architects make connections; celebrate and make apparent the meeting of materials and systems.

Architects make meaning out of bricks and sticks where only an empty lot existed before.

But perhaps the most miraculous thing architects do – is translate.

Q/A with an Architect-as-Translator

Q: What do architects translate?

A: Words into images into buildings. Some would say: Words into 3D digital models built of database spreadsheets filled with…words. Words to images and back to words again.

Q: What else do they translate?

A: Other people’s dreams, ideas and needs into a cohesive, comprehensive, meaningful whole. And sometimes for themselves. User requirements into a vision. Chaos into order. Architects listen and translate information into a meaningful medium the client understands.

Q: How do architects translate?

A: They observe. They listen. They’re receptive to other’s input.

Q: But how do they do it?

A: No one really knows how it happens – the magical synthesis, the transformation. It’s alchemy.

Q: Is translation strictly a right brain activity? Left brain? Or does it use both sides of the brain?

A: Yes. Yes. And yes. Architects think of translation as a bridge – moving from one modality to another. They bridge one medium to another; one stage of development to another.

Q: Are architects alone in this ability? Is the ability to translate unique to architects?

A: To architects…and translators. No one besides the architect that I am aware of has been able to bridge words and thoughts into images – let alone into 3-dimensional objects – that (purportedly) keep the rain out.

Q: How do architects acquire this ability?

A: Architects first learn to translate words, user needs and directions into spaces, images and form while in school. The irony is – while translation can be learned – it cannot be taught. It is impossible to pinpoint the moment when the architect learns the art of translation. Most do not even realize that they have acquired this transformative skill – going a long way to explain why they take their ability to do so for granted.

Q: Architects interpret – is this the same as translate?

A: Depends on your interpretation. Architects reinterpret.

Q: What do you call translating that involves associative thinking? As when a refrigerator is compared with a cat because: they both contain fish, they both purr and they both have tails.

A: Deluded? Some call it creative thinking. If you were paid for that thought? Design thinking.

Q: What is the future of this architect ability?

A: With gadgets and no-cost services available for translating languages, it would seem that the architect’s mercurial ability to translate written or spoken directions into both analog and digital neck-craning spaces and worlds is just an appa way. But in truth it cannot be replicated except in others who are given – or give themselves – the opportunity to learn it. With the current emphasis on digital technology, architects seldom freehand draw and have lost the ability to translate in front of others.

Q: Where do you recommend I start?

A: Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman – translator of Cervantes’s “Don Quixote” and many of the major works of García Márquez –  a just-released book in the same Yale U Press “Why X Matters” series as Why Architecture Matters, won’t teach you to be a better translator of words into images and form. But in that it argues for the importance of translation and for a more encompassing and nuanced appreciation of the translator’s role – the architect may pick-up a thing or two about this little appreciated, misunderstood and taken-for-granted ability of theirs. Grossman’s belief in the crucial significance of the translator’s work is noteworthy and compelling and ought to rub-off on the architect. But then again, that’s my interpretation.

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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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.

Letter to a Discontented Architect March 9, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in career, change, creativity, function, identity, optimism, problem solving, survival, the economy.
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Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress.

Mohandas Gandhi

Dear Architect,

Thanks for writing – now it’s my turn. I know it’s particularly hard out there right now and it’s hard for even the most diehard optimist to come up with the words you need to hear without sounding either glib or out of touch. But I understand your restlessness and discontent with your situation and may have a suggestion or two on how you might turn things around for the better.

First, let it be said, to be discontent – with our profession or the built environment, with your lot in life or the lot you’ve been given to work with, the cards you’ve been dealt and position you’ve been put in, the state of the economy or the way government is handling it  – is a natural, healthy state to be in. Like stress – it is a critical part of what it means to be human and, to a point, our dissatisfaction with the way things are keeps us focused, energized and motivated.

As an architect, you in fact need to remain discontent for as long as you can stand it. For to be discontent means you are alive, have a pulse, blood is running through your veins – all good.

You just need to be sure you are discontent with the right things.

By nature a discontented lot – architects look at what is and envision the way it can be. They not only create the built environment but see their interventions as improving the world around them – both the natural and the manmade. Yes, you heard that right. Most architects believe and have it ingrained early, that their work actually improves upon nature. Consider that! Most wouldn’t bother doing what they do if that wasn’t the case.

Architects are a discontented sort. They don’t like the way empty sites just sit there – so they look for or create opportunities whereby they can fill it with something. They don’t like the way existing buildings go underutilized – so they propose new uses for them. They don’t like the way others design their buildings – so they improve upon them by proposing their own. They don’t like the way clients stingily give them one building at a time to design so they go ahead and give their clients – for free – a value-added master plan indicating the unasked for, strategic placement of backlog for years to come! They don’t like the way developers maximize the gross area to reap the maximum reward irrespective of what needs there might be, so they propose buildings that meet the needs while making more efficient use of the site.

Architects improve upon whatever they see. They are always looking for ways to make things better – to the chagrin of our clients – even when they don’t necessarily need improving. They don’t like the way things are done and – action-oriented, creative, energized as they are – they do something about it.

That is why it is important to remain discontent – and sustain a perpetual state of restlessness – for as long as you can. For architecture – and becoming an architect – takes a long time. And you need to be there for it.

Discontent with those content

It’s a strange, contradictory and even a bit snobbish truism that architects who are content with everything are held in lower esteem by peers and even seen by some as sell-outs. It implies a serious lack of critical judgment, ignorance and worst of all, curiosity. Strange and unfortunate, but true.

To be content with something is seen as a sign of weakness. If you are OK with something it either means you have no values, you have no guts, you have no morals, you are too easily pleased, you’re a push-over, you’re ignorant or you have no ideas of your own. You’re made up of lesser stuff. Not up to snuff, there’s a place for people like you and, well, it’s not with us.

There is a great deal that needs improvement in our world and contentedness implies self-satisfaction when there’s still much work to do. Always is. As though to say, to be dissatisfied is to be alive. I’ll have plenty of time to be satisfied when I’m dead.

This is just to say I understand your discontent with your situation. You put in a lot of work and expended a lot of energy to make your way through school, to land your first positions, only – you say – to be handed this.

The Art of Being Discontent

So be discontent. A little discontent is fine and to be expected – this is what we are and who we are. Its par for the course for architects as we make our way through school into our careers as designers and custodians of the built environment to be a bit disgruntled with what lies in store or just outside our window or within our purview.

We need to be a bit discontent to be motivated to put up with all we have to put up with on the road from concept and visualization to realization of built form, whether we’re designing our careers or buildings.

Buildings made from contented architects would be a little bland. The world does not need more blah.

That said, choose wisely the things you are discontent about. Know the difference between supportive, constructive words and a rant. Less screed, more helping each other to succeed.

Criteria for healthy discontent

The allure of skepticism is its exoneration from obligation: if nothing works properly why try? If everyone is insincere why be honest? How can we trust when deceit is rampant, when cultural heroes are routinely toppled? – Baruch Epstein

But also like stress, like anything taken too far to excess, discontent turns into something vile and largely unhealthy to the body politic, and starts to appear less as a natural and understandable dissatisfaction and more like sarcasm and cynicism. Discontent becomes unsustainable as an operating procedure – bitter to be around, alienating, undermining our very efforts at communication and progress. Discontent becomes dour, corrosive and regressive – adding little but bile to the conversation. When like that you become disbelieving in the very possibility of sincerity of human motives.

Architects and cynics alike design and build protective walls to stand behind and contain. Skepticism and irony, sarcasm and cynicism are merely barriers to protect the deeply emotional expectations architects have for themselves in these uncertain times. This is entirely understandable – it’s scary out there. And yet, it may seem that without cynicism, architects have no place to hide. But as enclosures go, cynicism is the drafty, unsustainable, energy-wasting kind. Don’t go there.

As important as it is to be discontent – it is just as important to not be cynical. Cynicism will eat away at you. Know the difference between cynicism and sarcasm, discontent and skepticism. Only the latter two will serve you well. The former will make you dispassionate; you’ll come across to colleagues and clients alike – however unintended – as snide and angry and obtuse, standing in the way of the very progress you profess to perpetuate. Go on ridicule sincerity – when sincerity stands in your way of accomplishing great deeds.

Building designers – and for that matter bloggers and others who start and contribute to online discussions and forums – are content providers while, dissatisfied consumers of these have largely become discontent providers. Before adding your two cents, ask yourself these three things. Is, what I’m about to write nurturing? Is it growth promoting? And does it work (for others?)

If not, perhaps it doesn’t need to be said.

This criteria, it would seem, doesn’t allow for humorous, ironic and sarcastic responses and asides. Bringing more humor into our lives is always welcome. The question again is one of intent:  is the jibe intended to hurt or to help? Because right now, we – as a profession, as colleagues and co-creators with one another – need a little less sarcasm and more support.

As you may know, I recently posted “81 Reasons Why There Has Never Been a Better Time to Be an Architect.” Unabashedly optimistic, positive, uplifting – and asking for trouble. An outpouring of responses followed. Most of the positive ones were lengthy, while those less enthralled identified themselves with just two initials, posting 3-word screeds as though to say it wasn’t worth the time and effort (i.e. what is?) So, perhaps understandably, yk wrote “this is a joke, right?” and kh commented “Feel good fluff,” some more mean-spirited than others, one implying maybe I wouldn’t be in this situation “if your posts were more concise.” One comment perhaps spoke for everyone else: “I’d trade all 81 reasons for work.”

While contrarian views such as these are targets for concision, some of the comments that were left were downright accusatory, as though to say: all things considered, you really ought to be less content. You ought to be less happy and a whole lot less optimistic.

Architects comment on industry forums angered at the fact that they cannot call themselves architects while unlicensed technologists can. Standing on the sidelines back against the wall, design architects are deciding whether to bow out or wait out this dance. Cynical? Absolutely. Sneering? Sarcastic? To be sure. But also fearful. They’re afraid. Very, very afraid – about their future, about the fact that their hard fought education – not yet paid for – may have been for naught. That the initial inroads into the profession was at best a misfire, spent on the sidelines or behind the scenes cleaning-up other people’s mess. And yet, and yet we needn’t worry until we start to see the language of fear verge toward the language of anger. And this seething anger is, I’m afraid, something we are starting to see.

The content of discontent

There’s an inherent optimism in an architect’s discontent, as though to say: “I don’t like the way things are and I’m going to do something about it.” In this way, the act of architecture is one of healing. Tikkun Olam – repairing the world, healing the earth. There is always the initial recognition and awareness that something is wrong that needs to be righted, something is broken that needs to be fixed.

One fallout from the current economy is that under- and unemployed architects are subjected not only to the prospect of having less work but having seemingly less opportunity to make positive outcomes from their critical stances. In addition to the indignities of our current state, we remain discontent without the apparent creative outlet or opportunity to introduce change. To right what has been wronged.

But to believe this is wrong. We can tap into and turn our natural abundance of discontent toward the improvement of so much in our world that needs fixing. It may not be the occasional fire station, student residence or library for the near term. We will have to find other subjects in need of our healthy discontent to address in the interim.

A prelude to progress

Thomas Edison said that discontent is the first necessity of progress.

What are the right things worth being discontent about? Here are a few important things to consider:

  • Global warming: Improving the environment while using less energy
  • Education: Teaching future designers and architects what they need to know to succeed in the future
  • Our future as designers: Explaining the value of design to the unaware
  • The natural environment: Explaining the real meaning of sustainability to those who can do something about it
  • Sprawl I: Identifying ways to contain sprawl and present them
  • Sprawl II: Devote yourself to the improvement of our suburbs
  • The profession: Create a viable, win-win value proposition for architects in the age of BIM and IPD
  • Stubbornness, stagnation and unwillingness to change: Become a change agent for those unwilling to change
  • Construction: dissatisfied with the amount of construction, time and money waste and want to do something about it
  • Collaboration: with the way team members withhold information and work at odds with each other
  • Professional organizations: want to feel that members are better served while helping to serve yourself
  • Value proposition: frustrated with owner’s expectations about how/how little design professionals are paid

I’m sure you have a list of your own. If not, this is the time to take note.

What are some of the things that we shouldn’t bother being discontent with?

  • Trivial things, minutia
  • Things we have no control over
  • Situations that wouldn’t be improved despite our intervening and attention

In these cases, they need a whole lot of care from someone else – namely themselves.

Your Turn

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. George Bernard Shaw

The world needs you even if clients or employers don’t seem to right now. As an architect you have always had two clients – a paying one and, in the public-at-large, in building users and surrounding communities – a non-paying client.

Now it’s your turn. So go on – be discontent, dissatisfied with your situation. Turn it toward positive results. Turn – this negative energy toward something constructive and productive.

Turn – the collective frustration into a major rebuilding effort.

Turn – your anger into something productive.

Turn – your frustration into improving the profession

Turn – your experience into something helpful and positive

Turn – your attention to what needs fixing

Turn – your unending creativity toward building up rather than tearing down

Turn – your words around and ask what you could be doing for your community, for your industry and your fellow professionals in need – right now.

This may very well indeed be the winter of our discontent. If so, use it to improve one small corner of the world. And then get out in front of it. Our good works aren’t a bastion against anything – but rather a backdrop for what, ahead, is sure to be more a promising time of it. Together – if each of us takes our one small place – we will in time create a better world and lives for ourselves and for those around us. And that is nothing to be discontent about.