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Maybe What the Architecture Profession Needs is a Small Heart Attack July 27, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in change, collaboration, environment, survival, the economy, transformation.
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What will it take for us to change?

That’s the question I posed recently to a psychologist and a professor.

First, it’s important to recognize that architecture is a conservative profession.

We’re looking out for others – protecting the health, welfare and safety of the public.

We take a lot of risks and by nature are risk-averse.

So when we hear change knocking – it’s not often we’re first in line.

And yet – as the world is making clear – our job now is to change.

The biggest challenge is recognizing that we need to change.

What will motivate us to do so and how will we benefit by doing so?

Motivation vs. Benefit

Think of a recent change that you have made in your diet, lifestyle or habits.

What events, experiences, knowledge or people motivated you to change your behavior?

Where did this motivation come from?

Within you? Or from without?

What were the payoffs for making the needed change?

The reason I ask is this:

Unless there are clear benefits, we won’t change.

If the reasons are big enough, architects will change

While conducting research for my book, BIM and Integrated Design (Wiley, 2011,) I asked a psychologist and a professor each what it will take for architects to change.

With the new technologies and collaborative work processes upon us, do these call for the redesign of the architect?

And if so, how will we go about making our necessary changes?

The psychologist responded,

“How?” is about 10% of it.

90% of it is “Why?”

With an architect, if the reasons are big enough, they’ll change.

Unless they feel hurt, depressed, angry, upset, disappointed, without that there’s no leverage to change.

People change when they can no longer stand the way they’re living and architects are no different.

Architects are going to have to change when they can no longer stand to practice the way they’re doing it and realize that they have to change.

They’ll be forced into it.

When the reasons are big enough, they’ll change.

Unless the feared pain of changing is less than the feared pain of not changing, I’m not changing.

It’s not “This is good for you.”

I’ll fight you to the death on that one.

People don’t change because it’s good for them.

They don’t change for people.

I’ve come to appreciate “negative” feelings. I need those. That’s the leverage.

Architects are Always Changing

The professor took a different tact.

I asked him if this is an important question or is change in the profession and industry inevitable, a given?

The professor responded:

It comes back to the question whether people think it is productive for their own roles or place in the profession for change to happen.

People who are asking that often feel threatened because they may be in positions of power and for them status quo is beneficial. So they don’t want a change.

Whereas people who want to make a place for themselves are often the ones who are trying to change things.

Change is inevitable.

The idea that architecture has ever been a consistent type of practice is a myth.

It has always changed.

There will always be people for whom change will seem alluring and filled with opportunity to advance and position themselves better.

There will always be this element of change.

We cannot predict when things will change in various contexts – but change is always this element in there that’s at play.

In a pretty amazing book succinctly summarizing the recent economic crisis, author John Lanchester borrows a concluding metaphor from climate scientist James Lovelock who observed that

What the planet needed was the equivalent of a small heart attack.

In Lanchester’s view, the recent economic crisis is the equivalent of capitalism’s small heart attack.

Such an episode in a person’s life is often beneficial because it forces the person to face unpleasant facts and to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Perhaps it could have a similar effect on architects and the health of the profession?

Sometimes it takes a dramatic event to shake things up and to make people wake up.

So maybe what we are going through right now – with the economy, environmental challenges and technological changes – is a small heart attack?

Not so large so as to kill us.

But big enough to get our attention.

And get us to make the necessary changes.

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