Daily Archives: February 22, 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