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Minority Report: What Drives Success in Architects? January 31, 2014

Posted by randydeutsch in books, career, education, employment, survival, the economy.
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TripleIt’s hard to become an architect.

There’s education, training, taking the exam.

Retaking the exam and licensure.

Then, once you’ve become an architect, it’s hard to remain one.

And there are so many forces that seem to work against you.

The economy. Fickle clients. Work/life imbalance. The hours. Competition…

I don’t need to spell them all out (because you know them all too well, and Roger K. Lewis has done so here.)

So what does it take to succeed at architecture?

To become and be an architect?

In the airport returning from the AIA 2014 Emerging Professional Summit in Albuquerque, I came across an article in The New York Times, What Drives Success?

The article was written by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, husband/wife professors at Yale Law School and authors of the forthcoming book “The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.”

(You may recognize Amy Chua as the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, published in 2011. The Tiger Mom is now Tiger Couple?)

There has been a lot of backlash (a lot) in the days since the article appeared.

I want to focus on one point: What the author’s call the Triple Package.

About a third of the way through the article they write:

It turns out that for all their diversity, the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success.

The authors then go on to describe each of the three traits:

The first is a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite — insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.

The article – and the book it is based on – talks about cultural groups – not professions – but hear me out.

Let’s break out these three traits:

  • superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality
  • insecurity — a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough
  • impulse control — the ability to resist temptation

Wouldn’t you know, these traits not only – as the authors state – describe successful ethnic, religious and national-origin groups, but they also accurately describe architects.

Architects?

Let’s look at the traits one at a time.

Architects have a superiority complex. They’ve survived the tribunal of education, studio culture, and finding, negotiating and doing projects. They have design thinking and other transferable skills that everyone’s clamoring for on their side. They represent both paying clients and a non-paying one: society-at-large. They’ve put in the time and paid their dues. You would think architects have a right to think highly of themselves.

Architects are insecure. As a profession, architects justifiably feel insecure when compared with other professional groups such as doctors and lawyers, who appreciatively are paid a great deal more for the time they put in and the work they do. Architects are beholden to owners who – on a dime – can stop projects that are progressing in their tracks for reasons having to do with actuaries and their pro forma – things architects know little about. Architects are engaged at the whim of an economy that they can’t influence and have little chance of predicting.

But how can architects be simultaneously superior and insecure?

Let’s look at the first two traits:

superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality

insecurity — a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough

As the article acknowledges:

It’s odd to think of people feeling simultaneously superior and insecure. Yet it’s precisely this unstable combination that generates drive: a chip on the shoulder, a goading need to prove oneself.

Many people who work and/or live with architects will recognize them in that description.

Architects are famously motivated not by money or attaboy gift cards but by intrinsic rewards, as Daniel Pink spelled out in his book Drive, animated here.

So how does impulse control fit into the mix? Again, the article:

Add impulse control — the ability to resist temptation — and the result is people who systematically sacrifice present gratification in pursuit of future attainment.

The only architects I know who suffer from impulsiveness are those who are impulsively driven to work harder and longer to achieve more.

Looking at impulsivity in another way: Knowing that it can take years before they see their designs built, architects have no trouble passing the Marshmallow Test.

The article’s authors go on to admit a truism that could not apply to architects more:

We know that group superiority claims are specious and dangerous, yet every one of America’s most successful groups tells itself that it’s exceptional in a deep sense.

Architects, deep down, know they are exceptional.

In fact, I recently posted this in another blog acknowledging as much:

Recognizing that nothing incites a non-architect’s derision, ridicule and ire swifter than to start a sentence “The architect is uniquely qualified to…” here are six qualities that make architects ideally suited to lead collaborative, integrated teams.

That’s Architectural Exceptionalism: which states that architects are unusual (check) and extraordinary (check) in some way and thus do not need to conform to normal rules or general principles.

Others are taken-aback when you point out that any group is exceptional in any way, as I learned myself, when several readers contacted me about the post above suggesting I substitute the word facilitator for the word leader.

One advised me: “No one wants to hear that the architect is the leader.

Are architects a minority group?

We’re in agreement that architects are in the minority.

Architects, of course, make up a tiny fraction of the AEC industry.

There are 1.5 million employed engineers in the US.

The number of architects licensed in the United States?

105,847 according to NCARB and AIA (103,657 according to DesignIntelligence.)

Three quarters of these (74%) practice in architecture firms.

In fact, there are as many construction companies in Texas and California as there are architects in the US.

And there are 7,316,240 construction company employees in the US.

That’s out of 311,591,917 people (and counting) in the US.

So, architects are in the minority.

But are architects being in the minority the same thing as being a minority?

Can architects explain their success in terms of their minority status?

These success traits very well may have implications for a more diverse profession.

But the question remains:

Is it possible that part of what makes architects successful is that they see themselves as a minority?

Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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Can You Be an Architect and Still Have a Life? June 2, 2013

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.
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WorkLifeBalanceProbably the biggest surprise for me in university teaching is how much studio culture has changed in the last decade.

Ten years ago, when I co-taught a graduate level integrated building science design studio, no matter what time of day or night, students would be in studio, working away at their drawings and models.

Not so anymore.  While there are exceptions to this, my peers in the teaching profession back this up.

Fewer students are working in studio outside of class time.

Why is this? and Why is this important?

From a design professor’s perspective, there are several reasons that working in studio is critical to the development of the emerging architect and design professional:

  • Collaboration is increasingly valued not only in our profession, but many other industries
  • Learning is accelerated when learning from others
  • Bounce ideas off one another. Fellow students serve as sounding boards, providing a constant source of feedback

Additionally, working alone in one’s dorm room or dining room table can encourage silo mentality and bad working habits.

It also can increase competitive behavior – the designer surprising everyone back in studio with the magic they cooked up at home. This leads to the “white knight syndrome,” where the architect whisks into the office or meeting at the eleventh hour with the design decision intact, whole-cloth, undermining the efforts of all those who stayed up late working on alternative solutions.

I tell my students my concerns – but it has little impact on their behavior.

First School, Then Practice

Architecture students no doubt work very hard, are pulled in a number of increasingly divergent directions, all of which make demands on their time and attention. My students are no exception.

When asked, students inevitably say they don’t feel safe driving home when tired, walking home at night from studio, or don’t like to have to rely on others walking with them or giving them a lift.

Some just feel more comfortable working from home, where they are in familiar surroundings, surrounded by people they know, pets they care for, and all the media they can access at once.

And they’re right. For a long time, the studio student experience had a number of strikes against it.

Much has been researched and reported on the need for a redesign of studio culture.

And many schools have strict policies on studio culture, many of which build on these reports.

One comprehensive background and overview of the subject, Design Juries on Trial – reissued recently and now also in the form of related iPhone apps – by my university colleague Kathryn Anthony.

In her research, Anthony gathered comments from students at schools throughout the U.S. through surveys or student diaries, and also conducted extensive interviews with academic colleagues and architects. Well worth a read.

 work-life-balanceWork-Life Imbalance?

Among all advanced nations, the United States ranks 28th in work-life balance –barely better than Mexico, says the says The Atlantic.

The U.S. may be tops in housing access and family wealth, but in terms of work-life balance? Ninth from the bottom.

Want work-life balance? Don’t become an architect. Move to Denmark.

If only it was so easy.

It is impossible to talk about studio culture without delving into the larger topic of work-life balance, but I will try to keep this discussion focused on what I perceive to be a behavior among students that can potentially affect not only practice, but their work satisfaction, for years to come.

We’re living at a time where many of the work-life trends have taken-on an unfamiliar look, one that seems counterintuitive:

  • American leisure time has been increasing for decades (for most people)
  • American men work less today & have more down time than ever recorded.

While it is seldom wise to generalize about demographics, I believe it is fair to say that Millennials – the current generation of emerging design professionals – want work/life balance.

They have made this clear not only in many class discussions in the courses I teach, but also in their behavior.

Students today have seen the negative impact overwork has had on their parents – and on their marriages – and they don’t want to perpetuate this by repeating what they feel are mistakes of their parent’s generation.

Including the side-affect that working too much makes one boring.

And unhappy. One recent study indicates that between 20 and 40 percent of architects are dissatisfied with their rate of pay, practice management, promotion prospects, working hours and opportunity to use their abilities.

Like everyone else, architects want to be happy.

candlebothendsWork-Life-Work Balance

Architect Andrew Maynard points out that many women leave the profession due to the difficult combination of poor work cultures, long hours and low pay. He writes:

“But these conditions affect everyone – women and men – as well as the viability of the profession as a whole.”

He calls this situation in architecture Work/Life/Work balance, and that we must “stop deluding ourselves that architectural employees are anything other than a contemporary exploited labor force.”

The seeds of this Work/Life/Work balance trend begins in school.

In other courses, I have students who won’t do the course reading because, they say, it is boring, too long, takes up too much time, they can’t concentrate for long periods of time required to read the assigned chapter, don’t see the relevance, because reading is not among their preferred ways to learn.

Often, I see their unwillingness to do the reading as a symptom of a larger, overriding situation: a lack of balance between school work and life outside school.

Work-Work Balance

I have been told that I have a great work ethic. Even by my family.

Except my family translates a great work ethic with “you work too much.”

They would describe what I have been able to accomplish day-in, day-out for over 25 years as a Work-Work Balance.

After all, while my neighbors three floors below are loading golf gear into their car trunks, I’m up in my garret posting on Work-Life Balance.

The result is a noticeable all-work-and-no-play imbalance.

Can architects achieve a work-life balance?

Since high school, I’ve abided by the Zorba the Greek approach to life.

Zorba, who famously gave his work 100% of his effort and attention when working and life 100% when living.

In other words, give everything you do 100% when you’re doing it.

Achieving work-life balance takes, well, work, requiring time management, technology management, change management, stress management, leisure management (!) and self-management.

Can architects achieve a work-life balance? Yes.

But it takes work.

And at the heart of work-life balance is the value of “balance.”

Not everyone believes balance is achievable.

Some critics argue against work-life balance, not believing it is achievable.

And, as importantly, not every architect believes balance is desirable.

They feel that architects are artists and there’s no room for balance if they’re going to achieve their dreams.

And so, they ought to go about living life at extremes, burning their candle at both ends.

Want work-life balance? Work for a firm dedicated to upholding values that support a work-life balance.

Or create one of your own.

– Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED-AP

On June 20, 2013, I will be leading a early morning session on how to lead in the new world of practice, at the AIA 2013 Convention in Denver – live in person and also on-demand for the virtual convention. To learn more, please click the link below:

TH107: (Re)Learning to Lead with BIM and IPD

2013 AIA National Convention

Thursday, June 20, 2013 | 7:00 AM – 8:00 AM

Denver, CO Convention Center, Room 201

Earn 1.00 AIA LUs + GBCI

http://eventscribe.com/2013/AIA/TwitterPres.asp?Pres=33487

Also, in July 2013, I will be leading a 2-day seminar. To learn more, please click the link below:

BIM: Lessons in Leadership

Harvard GSD Executive Education seminar

July 8, 2013 – 9:00am – July 9, 2013 – 5:00pm

Gund Hall, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA

Earn 14 AIA/CES

http://execed.gsd.harvard.edu/programs/bim-lessons-leadership

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