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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.

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Becoming Choice Architects March 1, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.
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We are stymied by regulations, limited choice and the threat of litigation. Neither consultants nor industry itself provide research which takes architecture forward. Arthur Erickson

I believe that the way people live can be directed a little by architecture. Tadao Ando

A “nudge” is anything that influences our choices, a little coercion, a little push toward one outcome or another. The person who instigates the nudge is called a choice architect. A choice architect is anyone who influences decisions or choices.

Nudge, written by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, is based on the simple idea that behavior can be greatly influenced by small changes we make in context. The example that the book opens with shows how, by simply rearranging the location of food items in a cafeteria, the consumption of many items increases or decreases.

The paperback edition was just released at Amazon and can be had for about $10. Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University, Nobel Laureate in Economics says that reading Nudge “will improve your decisions and it will make the world a better place.” Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics, writes “I love this book. It is one of the few books I’ve read recently that fundamentally changes the way I think about the world.” My telling you this is a nudge.

What does this have to do with architecture? Actually a great deal. Besides having the potential to make the world a better place, architecture manipulates and coerces people to use or not use, react to or avoid buildings and places. There’s nothing new about that or how buildings nudge. The interesting idea here is how architects nudge clients, community and various other stakeholders to decide one way or another.

In this time of global economic turmoil when the race toward a new commission is exceedingly competitive and the opportunity to design buildings hard to come by, perhaps – until things free up a bit – we should consider not becoming better design architects or Revit architects but work on becoming better decision architects? Choice architects.

I say this because one of the movements anticipated to take center stage when credit and the market returns is Integrated Practice or IPD (Integrated Project Delivery.) One of the hallmarks of this new way of practicing is having everybody – client, contractor, architect, consultants, attorneys, everyone – at the table day one, working collaboratively toward a common outcome. In ideal circumstances suggestions are offered, ideas vetted and decisions made right from the start. But currently there are many clients that architects can think of who would be hard-pressed to make the quick decisions necessary to make IPD function optimally, working to the benefit of all.

Architects are starting to make great strides in performance-based and evidence-based architecture, where metrics and other measurable means help determine the client’s course of action. But these methods – inspired by health design and applied to other building types – still only represent a small slice of the decisions that need to be made at project’s commencement. This is where architects – and nudge – come in. What better time than now – when things are slow or looking to slow down – for architects to focus on the skills, attitudes and aptitudes required to help clients make informed, responsible decisions? Especially now, when construction costs are rising, owners fed-up with construction waste, demanding faster schedules, lower costs, and higher quality, while architects are pushing their green agendas?

The question we ought to be asking ourselves now, coming out of all of this, is this: How can we improve the upfront decisions our clients need to make so that we don’t sacrifice inspiration in preference for efficiency and expediency? How we answer this will determine how we rate and relate as choice architects.