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

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

  1. randydeutsch

    [Note: Greg left this comment at my other blog http://www.architects2zebras.com but I believe it – and my response that follows – is equally relevant here.]

    Greg Howes – February 28, 2010


    Thank you for your perseverance and stubborn optimism. I would like to read more about your views on BIM and IPD. Apparently we have to wait until 2011 to read your book on Integrated Design, but why don’t we begin the discussion now?

    I have 15 years of experience as a residential builder and 10 years as a technologist and in literally thousands of conversations with architects and other professionals within the AEC industry I continue to be amazed at how change resistant even “progressive” architects are when it comes to actually implementing BIM and IPD and in their work. We are working with the most advanced fabricators using cutting edge computer-aided-manufacturing CNC equipment to produce building components for thousands of buildings ranging from simple truss suppliers to components for $500 million dollar buildings by starchitects. The efficiencies of BIM, IPD, and fabrication continue to gain recognition but almost no design firms have moved beyond using revit models to actually design for fabrication by collaborating with fabricators to produce prodcution-ready fabrication information models for CNC production. Watch Norman Foster’s TED talk to see one example of an architect actually doing this or research how Frank Gehry’s Art Gallery of Ontario redesign was actually fabricated. Another example is Shigeru Ban’s Metz Pompidou which opens in May of this year in France. We know of 10,000 more examples but these three are a good start.

    From your view as an architect, academic, and author recognized for embracing technology and new building systems, why does this disconnect between designer-fabricator-builder continue to stubbornly persist? The Swiss and German engineers we work with would be eager to demonstrate to you how this disconnect is far more common here than in most of Europe.

    Greg Howes

    randydeutsch – March 1, 2010

    Hi Greg
    Thank you for your feedback, for sharing some great sources and for your inquiry. The subject of change and the AEC industry – the disconnect – is something I address more indepth in my other blog. Likewise, we’re discussing change right now in a heated discussion in LinkedIn’s “linking CONSTRUCTION” group – up to 90 comments as of this morning. So suffice it to say that your question concerning the disconnect, as you so aptly put it, deserves one or even several blog posts to address adequately. And even with my experience and immersion in the subject – I cannot pretend to have all the answers. OK, now with the caveat out of the way…

    That said, here’s why I believe there’s a disconnect between design and construction, or concept and fabrication:

    As building information modeling (BIM) technology is embraced there are concerns regarding legal and contractual risks, requiring parties to be insured. This has been the case for some years – but how and who is insured still needs to be worked out.

    Working with BIM technology, especially in an integrated project delivery (IPD) process – with everyone at the table day one designing the project virtually before constructing it, addressing clashes in advance, etc – ought to impact the perceived and actual risks of construction in a positive way. But it also makes some parties at the table nervous.

    Working in BIM and IPD present different issues from the past, potentially blurring of the distinction between the traditional design and construction roles performed by design professionals and contractors. Design professionals in particular are nervous about working outside their comfort zone while this collaborative approach raises questions concerning whether the contractor’s involvement in the design process will create new risks which are not adequately covered by its traditional insurance coverage.

    Design professionals must question whether collaboration with contractors (and incorporation of contractors’ submittals and information into the design models) could expose them to a greater degree of risk, including assumption of responsibility for the contractors’ means, methods and sequences. Now everyone – the desingers, contractors, their attorneys and brokers – is feeling pretty nervous.

    Regarding the sharing of the BIM model, there’s the additional concern regarding the degree of responsibility the design professional may assume for corruption of the design model caused by faulty information provided by other contributing participants, by uncontrolled access by contributing parties to the design model, by the corruption of the design model by defects, and by the potential product liability risk created by owners who insist on taking possession of a design model as a contract deliverable. This is where things get pretty technical – but you can start to see why there’s the disconnect.

    Setting aside the current concerns about the discrepancies of LEED certification – intent vs. actual project results – concentrating instead on the advent of BIM and IPD, architects are waiting for someone to step forward and explain how they are going to address these concerns, in the mean time allowing these concerns to impede their opportunity to change.

    It really just comes down to fear – fear of the unknown, the discomfort of working outside one’s comfort zone as well as area of expertise. And architects, if they are to survive and thrive have got to find a way to face and overcome this fear and discomfort. Strategies to deal with and overcome this fear will be, as you mentioned, covered in my book. Any insights you – or others have – are of course welcome and encouraged. Thanks again,

    PS I love this quote from Pete Zyskowski: “If only one book were to be written about BIM, it might have ‘DON’T PANIC’ printed in large uppercase letters on the front cover.”

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