Monthly Archives: February 2010

Switch or Stitch? A formula for saving the architecture profession, construction industry and maybe even the world

This post will introduce two concepts for bringing about much-needed change.


Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard is the name of the new book by Chip Heath & Dan Heath authors of the serially successful Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.


Stitch is a metaphor invoked at a recent TED talk by REX founder and former OMA architect with REM, Joshua Prince-Ramus.


Architects know that they need to change.

They know by now that BIM, IPD and LEED will together help bring about the changes necessary for them to flourish as well as for their survival.

So why is change so hard?


In the first 2 minutes of his TED Conference talk, Building a Theater that Remakes Itself recorded at TEDxSMU, Prince-Ramus summarizes the architect’s by now all-too-familiar back-against-a-wall predicament.Switch

The book is a rich, fascinating read with a single important premise: our minds are driven by two, main components: one emotional and one rational.

The rational system is a thoughtful, logical planner.

The emotional system is impulsive and instinctual.

When these two systems are in alignment, change can come quickly and easily.

When they’re not, change can be grueling.

The Heath’s finding is of particular interest to me because the premise of my book – BIM and Integrated Design: Strategies for Practice (Wiley, 2011) – grew out of something GSA’s Charles Hardy heard someone say:

BIM is 10% technology and 90% sociology

In other words, BIM is 10% rational and 90% emotional

Architects I’m afraid are neither internally – nor externally – aligned.

In those situations where change is hard, is it possible to align the two systems?


In the TED talk, Prince-Ramus calls architects to the mat. In the opening moments he announces “It’s time for architecture to do things again, not just represent things.”


Chip and Dan Heath believe it is possible to align the two systems. 

In Switch they have made their game plan for change available to everyone in the hope that they could show people how to make the hard changes in life a little bit easier.

If you are searching for a framework to think through current BIM, IPD or LEED change efforts Switch is the book to read.

The authors present a 3×3 approach for helping the reader to initiate change:

i. Find the Bright Spots
ii. Script the Critical Moves
iii. Point to the Destination

i. Find the Feeling
ii. Shrink the Change
iii. Grow Your People

i. Tweak the Environment
ii. Build Habits
iii. Rally the Herd

iv. Keep the Switch Going

Nothing compares with reading the book, especially when 50%_off. Once you have you can explore some of the free resources here.


Prince-Ramus talked about the state of architecture and architects today. “We are for decorative purposes only. Now who do we have to blame? We can only blame ourselves. Over the last 50 years the design and construction industry has gotten a lot more complex and litigious. And we architects are cowards. And so as we have faced liability we have stepped back and back. Unfortunately where there’s liability there’s power. We have found ourselves in a totally marginalized position way over here. What did we do? We’re cowards – but we’re smart cowards. We redefined this marginalized position as the place of architecture. And we announced, ‘Hey, Architecture, it’s over here!’ We’re going to concede control of processes. And we’re going to do something that is horrible for the profession. We actually created an artificial schism between creation and execution. As if you can create without knowing how to execute and execute without knowing how to create. Now, something else happened. And that’s when we began to sell the world that architecture’s created by individuals creating genius sketches. And that the incredible amount of effort needed to deliver those sketches for years and years and years is not only something to be derided but we would merely write it off as execution. So what do we architects need to do?”


In the main metaphor for the book, the Heath brothers liken the emotional mind to an elephant and the rational mind to a rider. The elephant’s sheer force results in it directing most of our behavior, while the rider is often passively on top thinking he’s steering.

Readers will recognize this metaphor from Jonathan Haidt’s brilliant and brilliantly-written, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, whose main hypothesis is that people make decisions with their gut and then use their brains to rationalize those decisions.

Three components of a successful change initiative are presented: Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant, and Shape the Path.

In each of the three components, three primary actions are recommended.

Architects are used to justifying their elephant-like ideas by appealing to their client’s rider, and to a lesser extent, by appealing to their elephants.


Prince-Ramus: “We need to stitch back creation and execution. And we need to start authoring processes again instead of authoring objects.”

Stitch: How to Mend Creation and Execution, Architecture and Construction, Architects and Contractors.

Joshua Prince-Ramus believes that if architects re-engineer their design process, the results can be spectacular.


The Rider (i.e. our rational side), the Elephant, (i.e. our emotional and instinctive side) and the Path (i.e. the surrounding environment in which change initiatives will be conducted).

The challenge is to direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant, and shape the Path to make change more likely.

“No matter what’s happening with the Rider and Elephant…If you can do all three at once, dramatic change can happen even if you don’t have lots of power or resources behind you.”


At the 5:25 mark of his talk, Prince-Ramus asks: “If we are so good at our craft, shouldn’t we be able to conceive of an architectural manifestation that slides seamlessly through the project’s and the client’s constraints?”

This is the challenge that he poses for architects, firms and the profession.

Now that we know how to go about change, are we up for the challenge?


There will always be those who would rather fight than switch. I suspect that there are some readers of this blog that would count themselves as fighters.

For everyone else, near the end of the book the Heaths summarize how to make a switch.

“For things to change, somebody somewhere has to start acting differently.”

Will it start with you?

“Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s your team. Picture the person (or people). Each has an emotional Elephant side and a rational Rider side.”

Which should I appeal to?

“You’ve got to reach both. And you’ve also got to clear the way for them to succeed.”

This is what is needed now from our leaders in the profession and the industry.

This is what is needed now to save the architecture profession, construction industry and maybe even the world.



Filed under BIM, Integrated Project Delivery, IPD

The Way Out is the Way Through

Happy architects are all alike; every unhappy architect is unhappy in his own way.

–          with apologies to Leo Tolstoy and Anna Karenina

Architects complain that contractors and owners are positioned to benefit from utilizing Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) but that architects are not.

It is clear that owners and contractors benefit from BIM and IPD. That there are fewer RFIs because the technology detects clashes before they occur in the field alone should be reason enough to convince owners and contractors that it is to their benefit to work collaboratively in BIM. But there is more – cost estimating done in advance, value engineering on the fly – the list of benefits seems to get longer every day. So who wins?

The owner wins. And to a lesser extent the contractor wins as well.

What about the architect?

No so much.

Architects complain that they have to do a lot more work up front, often hourly at-cost – and do work that they normally would do later in the process, and get generously compensated for.

So what are architects in it for? What do architects hope to gain by going down the BIM and IPD path?

Who benefits?

We were warned at the outset that none of us would get rich (nor become Frank Lloyd Wright.)

We went into architecture originally to be professionals – and somewhere along the way we were wooed by the prospect of making money. Yes, we need to survive and not be victimized, take-on needless responsibility and risk without opportunity for reward or recompense.

But the truth is if we work hard and do a good job it will be recognized – perhaps not on this project but the next.

We are motivated to do a good job – not by extrinsic rewards but rather by the promise of rewards more intrinsic.

But then the money’s doled out and we cry foul: the contractor and owner see all the benefit.

First we must realize that this is not true. We always did more work than we were compensated for. Today, with BIM, LEED and IPD, is no exception.

To empower ourselves – right now, at this moment in time – we need to do the work, earlier in the process, upfront, and yes maybe more of it than we’d like.

What’s the value proposition? We ask, despite the fact that if we were honest with ourselves we’d have to admit that the words – “value proposition” – weren’t even in our vocabulary a few years ago.

The value – and benefit – will come. It will come when

1. We first value ourselves and our own contribution and our own people. If you don’t value yourself and your people how can you expect others to?

2. Do the hard necessary work. Communicate with the contractor – what is needed for their model to be worthy, useful? Talk to your attorney and insurer – identify where they are willing to give a bit – and take it.

3. Be the ultimate professional you are capable of being. Be fun to work with – yes, fun. Be someone others want to work with. They will come to you again as much for the experience as for the sheer joy you create in others.

4. Identify the things you can leverage – your permitting ability, your political connections or clout, your experience and insights.

So for now, you may not get rich like the contractor or like the owner, but…do it anyway.

“80 percent of success is just showing up” — Woody Allen

Do it anyway? That’s right.

But what’s in it for us architects?

1. You’ll stay in the game.

2. You’ll be the first others think of when things pick up.

3. You’ll gain valuable experience working with BIM and related technologies and the collaborative work processes enabled by them.

4. Perhaps most of all, you’ll be perceived as being easy to work with.

So in the meantime – no matter the answer – do it anyway.

While the answer is being worked out – you’ll be at the game, at the show. It will go a long way to prove yourself a team player. And that in itself, in this economy, in these crazy times, is something, not nothing.

That you’re in it for more than obvious financial gain will become apparent to all and appreciated by a few.

For now, for the time being, do it anyway.

Balky Architects

But they won’t praise us.

Do it anyway

The extra effort won’t be appreciated.

Do it anyway

It’ll just give us additional exposure we don’t need.

Do it anyway

It’s not our responsibility.

Do it anyway

They say they’ll just use another firm if we balk.

Do it anyway

They say we won’t get any more money because we should have been doing this all along.

Do it anyway

The Way Out for Architects is the Way Through

As much as you might like to, you just can’t avoid it. You can’t resist it. No, you can’t sit this dance out. You have to go through with it. You have to play to win. And if you play nicely, with a good attitude and a positive mindset from the outset – all the better.

The way out is the way through. There is no other way.

Not around. Not under. Not by standing still until 9you hope) it goes away.

There are no workarounds for architects in the Game of BIM, LEED and IPD.

You have to show to play. And you have to play to win.

Being obstinate won’t work. Blocking, playing hard to get, holding back, balking, withdrawing, thwarting, resisting or retreating – none of this behavior will work. There is only one thing that will work right now, today.

Give Unconditional Architecture

Author Kent M. Keith was a Harvard student in the 60s when he first wrote “The Paradoxical Commandments,” a manifesto about doing good in a crazy, ungrateful world. These commandments have been quoted by the Boy Scouts of America and discovered in Mother Teresa’s children’s home in Calcutta. They’ve taken on a life of their own and are the basis of his repackaged and expanded book Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments: Finding Personal Meaning in a Crazy World available for a penny, .01 cent, here.

What architects need most to do is to do the right thing.

Architects need to do good, right now, in a crazy, ungrateful world.

The Architect’s Paradoxical Commandments

1. People you work with and for are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered.

Serve them anyway.

2. If you do good, contractors will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.

Do good anyway.

3. If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.

Succeed anyway.

4. The good you did yesterday will be resented today and forgotten tomorrow.

Do good anyway.

5. Honesty and frankness make you appear weak and vulnerable.

Be honest and frank anyway.

6. The biggest architects with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest clients with the smallest minds.

Think big anyway.

7. People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.

Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

8. What you spend years building may be shelved or even destroyed overnight.

Design and build anyway.

9. The public and users really need help but may attack you if you try to help them.

Help them anyway.

10. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.

Give the world the best you have anyway.

– with apologies to Kent M. Keith

Until there is a clear advantage for architects – Do It Anyway

I was talking with a colleague the other day – she has been looking for work for some time and said that the basic attitude out there in the job-hunt warzone is:

“No BIM, no LEED, no interview”

Imagine a sign on the office door that reads:



No interview

You may not have a shirt on your back – and your shoes may be in ill-repair – but you can have these. BIM , LEED and IPD – or BIM and Integrated Design, for short.

You know the sign that reads: No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service?”

BIM is the shirt on our backs.

LEED and IPD each of our shoes.

We’re not too far off from being turned away from RFQs and RFPs and, yes, from interviews:



No interview

There are a lot of reasons to learn BIM. And a lot of reasons to study and take the LEED exam.

Not fall behind, to remain competitive, to stay sharp, to help our clients achieve their goals,to help make the world a better place for all (need I continue?)

I have in my time been accused of being an architect. And, by association, idealistic.

I suggested the other day to a colleague in my network that there was a dollar amount above which was unnecessary for me to make to be satisfied, fulfilled and happy. And that person called me an idealistic architect.

And in doing so he was being redundant. Idealistic defined here as foolhardy, unrealistic and lacking any business sense.

And architect?

Doesn’t pay what I’m worth? I don’t care – I do it anyway.

There are lots of reasons NOT to do these things

No time

No money

No motivation



Too many people out there competing for the same positions

There are no jobs…

All excuses

No time?

Do it anyway

No money?

Do it anyway

No motivation?

Do it anyway (the most important writing advice I have ever been given? 3 words: Butt in seat)

Feel helpless? You are not your feelings. The feeling will pass.

Do it anyway

What’s the point?

Do it anyway

Too many people out there competing for the same positions.

Do it anyway

There are no jobs!

Do it anyway

You get the point…Do it anyway


Filed under BIM, BIM employment, BIM jobs, collaboration, design professionals, Integrated Project Delivery, IPD, people, Uncategorized

Can You Teach an Old Dog New Tips and Tricks?

There are two approaches you can take to BIM at mid-career.

1. You can play the role of experienced architect and – in the classic architect/apprentice fashion – sit beside the agile BIM operator reciprocally feeding your building technology input in exchange for their BIM magic.

2. Master BIM yourself and become the real deal, all-in-one, all-of-a-piece, master virtual builder. BIM operator not included. Some rules apply.

The Side-by-Side Approach

The first approach has the advantage of using your current skill sets and experience to help move projects along while advancing emerging professionals in their understanding of how buildings come together. At the same time, the emerging architect – working in BIM – has the opportunity to

  • inform you of what they discover in the model,
  • what works and doesn’t work,
  • where there are gaps in the information and
  • where coordination may be needed.

The relationship is reciprocal and there’s a clear symbiosis to it. As one mentors “up,” the other mentors “down,” and there is an evening-out – a flattening – of any perceived or actual hierarchy. Working in BIM, privy to important information before anyone else, the emerging architect feels empowered. Working alongside the BIM operator, the senior professional is

  • assured that the building is coming together effectively,
  • grateful not to have to pass along redlines wondering if they were understood and addressed correctly, and
  • intrinsically rewarded knowing that she has passed along some hard-won lessons and experience to the next generation.

Advantages of the mid-career architect’s mind

Mid-career architects may have an advantage that gives them a leg-up on learning BIM – both the technology and collaborative work process. So it is no longer only experience, wisdom and hard-earned professional judgment that distinguish the experienced architect.

A well-known and well-regarded architect and educator I interviewed for my book recently described the difference between young designers and older designers saying that older designers have the ability to manage an increasingly larger set of variables. He went on:

When I was working for x, one of the amazing things about him – he could keep so many things in his head and he could balance them and weigh one against the other and he could edit out what he called the systematic generation of useless alternatives. He would prevent us from going down that avenue. A lot of the sorts of things that are transactional – does the building work from a fire code perspective, do we have the right orientation for the sun – a lot of that stuff is going to be supported by analytical algorithms, which I do believe for good designers will change the nature of the design process.

As Tara Parker-Pope recently discovered, “Recently, researchers have found…the brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture.”

Architects are trained to see both the big picture – and the minutest detail – at one and the same time. One could assume that the mid-career architect would then have an advantage on seeing the big picture, perhaps pointing to mid- and later- career opportunities for architects working in BIM and Integrated Design

The presence and example of mid-career and experienced architects in the workplace is absolutely critical to the success of projects and the firms in which they are designed, modeled and documented.

The DIY Approach

The second approach involves

  • learning the software – and the collaborative work process
  • unlearning habits you picked up along the way – including thinking in CAD
  • attaining an open and flexible mindset and attitude toward change
  • being easy on yourself when problems occur or trouble appears

Change, a timely subject, with Oscar contender Crazy Heart ‘s Jeff Bridges living the “it’s never too late” theme. For it is never too late for mid-careerists to learn a few new tips and tricks.

Several studies indicate that it takes 21 days to break a habit, while others say it takes longer. “It takes between 30 and 60 days of doing the same thing over and over again on a daily basis to create a new habit or break an old one,” says Larry Tobin, co-creator of “We all walk around on a daily basis with habits that are detrimental to our productivity.”

But are we really calling CAD a habit in need of change, replacing it with a new habit called BIM – a two-step process whereby you call out the bad habit (CAD) and identify its well-documented and acknowledged negative consequences and create an alternative action in its place (BIM.)

Or are we talking here not about habit change but about learning a whole new technology, mindset and work process – the whole shebang?

Two questions

Can mid-career architects learn BIM? And should mid-career architects be learning BIM?

The first is a question of the middle-aged brain and its capacities. The short answer is Yes.

The second is a business and professional question: one having to do with roles, identity, profitability, ROI, personal growth and development. This second question is more situational – while it is a business question, and a career one, it is also frankly, a personal decision.

The money factor does come up. At their hourly rates, especially as firms aim to work leaner and more efficiently and effectively – does it make sense to see a 48 year old working in Revit vs. sitting alongside a younger BIM operator, one hand on computer technology, the other on building technology.

Will mid-careerists be able to not only change but keep up? Absolutely. It all comes first and foremost down to attitude and mindset. It involves giving up past ways of working that are at once familiar and comfortable – but detrimental to your work, progress and ultimately your indispensability.

To do so mid-career architects will need to reinvent themselves. The world, industry and profession is not the same world we inhabited just a few years ago. So we will need to change, adjust and adapt. When things return – we won’t be returning to the way things used to be. The old formulas simply don’t apply anymore.

For most, learning the technology is a no-brainer, a non-question: KFA offers a half-day quick start training course in BIM that will get you off and running, and resellers offer some powerful 3-day workshops, not to mention tutorials, online and old school. Several of the IT experts I interviewed for my book scoff at the idea that learning to master BIM is even difficult. They don’t even question whether 50 year olds can learn it. It all really comes down to what you want, where you want to see yourself 5-10 years down the road.

Three Career Phases

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Dante Alighieri, age 35, was halfway through his biblically allotted seventy years when he wrote these magisterial words. One typically defines a mid-career professional as someone who is 35-50 years old, has worked in their field for at least 10 years, and is at least 10 years from retirement. By this definition, Dante was a mid-career professional.

Forgetting roles – project manager, project architect and project designer – and titles – associate, etc – for a moment, an architect’s career has roughly three phases:

  • post-college “emerging architect”
  • mid-careerist “re-emerging architect” and
  • experienced architect

It is best for the mid-career design professional to think of themselves today as re-emerging. Given the economic conditions we are currently subjected to, we are all – or soon will be – re-emerging professionals. The world has undergone some massive changes in the past several years and along with it the industry and profession. When work returns we will all be re-emerging with the economy, with building owners, with each other.

Architects who are working at capacity (the minority,) at under-capacity or not at all (the remainder) – are re-emerging mid-career into a bright new world brought about by three forces: sustainability, technology and business – or roughly speaking LEED, BIM and IPD. For more on this theme, see Scott Simpson’s brilliant designintelligence blog post on the same.

So, how to train a re-emerging architect? There are 4 steps the mid-career architect needs to assume before taking a first step into this bright new world.

1. First, assure yourself that all is not for naught

2. Next, obliterate the myths you may have mistakenly come to believe as gospel

3. Resolve to learn – and master – a new trade or skill

4. Once underway, keep a daily log off your progress – and rate your progress every day

NYC author and blogger Gretchen Rubin has as one of her resolutions in her excellent new book, The Happiness Project, to Master a New Technology. She writes,

“Once I got through the painful learning curve, it was fun. The novelty and challenge of mastering the technology – though I was maddened with frustration at times – did give me enormous satisfaction, and it gave me a new way to pursue my passion…”

If you haven’t done so already, learn BIM – the technology and the process. If unemployed, invest in yourself and join the Autodesk Assistance Program, where even mid-career architects are considered students. The program has been extended through March 2010 so you can take advantage of it.

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.
Susan Jeffries

Think of it as training. Why training? Because in 2010 we will need to reinvent ourselves to adapt to a changing world, industry and profession – and to do so there is no better way than to train. Why would you continue to do the same things over and over when you already know what the outcome is going to be IF you are looking for a different outcome? Or, as Albert Einstein put it, The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Training the Mid-Career Brain

The New York Times recently ran a popular story on How to Train the Aging Brain by health blogger Tara Parker-Pope.

In the story – and the informative comments that follow the article, many long-held views, including the one that 40 percent of brain cells are lost, are overturned. We learn that brains continue to develop, neurons continue to multiply, synapses continue to connect (even if neural connections progressively weaken with disuse and age,) through and past middle age.

As Pope and Barbara Strauch in the New York Times explains, “What is stuffed into your head may not have vanished but has simply been squirreled away in the folds of your neurons.” Much the way that information can be buried inside a BIM model. For those fortysomethings that can regularly access deeply folded information in their own minds may hold the key for where to place information in the model so that it is readily accessible by all.

With a brain already full of well-connected pathways, adult learners should “jiggle their synapses a bit” by confronting thoughts that are contrary to their own, says Dr. Taylor, Kathleen Taylor, a professor at St. Mary’s College of California, who is 66.

She asks: Is there a way to train the middle-aged brain to do better?

To learn more, read the full story, “How to Train the Aging Brain,” and read the discussion.

Myths dispelled

Over the years we’ve been led to believe many myths concerning the brain that just aren’t true:

The 10% myth (that you only use 10 percent of your brain)

The brain doesn’t grow new cells myth  (certain areas in the brain—including the hippocampus where new memories are created and the olfactory bulb the scent-processing center—regularly generate new brain cells)

The memory loss is inevitable myth (no, memory loss isn’t inevitable as we grow older)

The videogames are bad for you myth

The you can’t change your brain myth (Your brain changes constantly in response to your experiences retaining its basic “plasticity” well past midcareer)

The people lose brain cells every day and eventually just run out myth (you grow new brain cells creating new connections, or prevent the ones you have from withering, when you exercise your brain)

And one myth especially pertinent to mid-career architects,

The memory decline is inevitable as we age myth

The Oldest Profession

Architects not only need to consider working longer due to increased life spans, but also due to the economy stalling their retirement – if they ever intended to retire. Historically, architects tend to retire late as it is and some it seems never retire. Oscar Neimeyer recently returned back to work after surgery. He is 101. Which supports the truism that architects never retire.

Witold Rybczynski recently asked why architects don’t ever retire. For many that have seen their retirement accounts dwindle, this may seem like an insensitive and moot question. Architects may quip that they want to spend whatever time they have left working, but given that they have more time to learn – how is it best to use that time? Retrain for a new career? Learn new technology to enhance or reinforce a current position? Will learning BIM – the technology and collaborative work process – help to make mid-career design professionals indispensible?


Filed under BIM, BIM employment, collaboration, design professionals, education, IPD, modeling, people, process