Learning to Be Roughly Yourself

From the moment you meet at the big table in the big room with the big team of stakeholders and fellow professionals, you’re there for one reason and one reason alone.

You’re an expert at something.

You didn’t get to where you are because you’re “well-rounded.” You’re there because of your deep skills, because you’re good at something. That something – whether it is in BIM management or BIM coordination, building design or building detailing – I wrote about in an earlier post.

For projects that were traditionally delivered – whether in BIM or not – that was well and good.

But it is becoming increasingly apparent that being an expert at what you do isn’t going to cut it in the BIM and Integrated Design world.

Moving forward, with BIM and Integrated Design, you are still required to present your best and highest self, working from the place of your core competency, however you – or those you work with or for – define that.

But just as importantly, while working in IPD, the person who shows up to the table needs to be a little less well defined. Something or someone closer to a rough approximation of yourself.


Because there – at the table – you’ll be wearing more than one hat. You’ll have more than one title and you’ll be playing several roles. In fact, your title and role when you enter the big room become blurred.

You’ll still need to be yourself and play your part as you always have – it’s just that your margins are a little less well defined, your guard will come down.

And the hard line that formerly defined you is perforated and permeable.

You will be able to do this because for the first time you’ll be able to – completely and unconditionally – trust those you are teaming with.

In BIM and Integrated Design you have to be more than just your role.

You have to see ideas, possibilities and actions from multiple viewpoints and perspectives.

And make a concerted effort to not only couch what you say with your audience in mind – something you have been doing for ages – but consider the consequences for your line of action when it still just a line of thought in your mind.

It is a higher order of operating that is expected when you are at the big table.

The other day at a BIM-IPD/RUG meeting, I listened as several design professionals discussed their concerns about where the profession and industry is headed – while each spoke from their own perspective.

That may be well and fine for CAD. But with BIM and Integrated Design there is a constant need to keep others in mind as one speaks. With one ear focused on what you are saying and another on the meta message – the message heard by others at the table, and what that message might mean for them, and why it is they are sitting there silent at the table, not participating. Perhaps they are bored. Or frightened or even threatened by what they are hearing. Or perhaps something is stewing inside that at any moment might bottle up and explode.

Whether you are working with an IPD Facilitator or not – and until that day comes – it is up to each of us to develop this ability – to facilitate ourselves – in ourselves.

And we are completely capable of handling this. While the brain is hard at work putting our ideas out there, or thinking up the next thing to say, the mind is aware – on another level – of the potential impact – positive, negative or indifferent – this will have on those seated around you.

One eye focused on the BIM model while the other is on the reactions of those seated around  the table – who together have the will and power to make your suggestion a reality.

You do this by thinking about your concerns from others’ perspectives – potential clashes before they even occur in Navisworks, when they’re still in your mind

Think of it as the virtual conversation you have before it is acted upon, becoming real. You’re having a VDC – Virtual Design Conversation.

To adjust our communication style to that of the group, you first need to assess and know your own. If unsure or what to re-assess, here’s a good place to start.

My wife used to work at a company where employees walked around with coffee mugs that announced their communication style and language preferences to each other – so that, with your coffee, you could adjust your speech to whoever you ran into in the kitchen or in the hall.

I myself am an expressive. If I just talk – without adjusting what I say to my audience of 1 or 20 financial types don’t know what to do with me. To negotiate, to sell my design ideas, I have to talk in their terms.

Is this disingenuous? No, nor dishonest. It is about communicating – what you need to do – to talk, to think, in other’s terms. We do this all the time with those we  are closest with – and professionally with clients and owners.

Phil Bernstein – in a recent AIA podcast with Markuu Allison – spoke of the need for those at the table in IPD to be roughly an architect, roughly a contractor, and so on.

It is about architects developing their inner contractors and contractors developing their inner architects.

It  is also about letting-go – of our self-limiting titles and roles.

Be who you are – yes.

Maintain your expertise – certainly.

But be open to others.

Architects in particular are used to playing many roles – or at least thinking like others – from the start of projects onward.

As a senior designer – in the go/no-go early phase of projects before the fee could support a full team – I would often have to play project designer, project architect and project manager until the project was given the green light.

In BIM and Integrated Design, it is almost as though you have to embody the characteristics of each of those at the table. And the list, in Integrated Design teams, can be considerable. Start with the core team of owner, contractor and architect – and move out from there.

In a recent LinkedIn discussion at the knowledge architecture/knowledge management KA Connect group for the AEC industry (which I highly recommend you join,) group and KA Connect founder Christopher Parsons suggested that

You’ll meet three types of people in a knowledge-driven firm – writers, librarians, and teachers. Writers create. Librarians capture. Teachers share. The teaching part, the commitment to systematically sharing, is what’s missing. We are two-thirds of the way there. We just need to finish the job. “Go the distance.” 

While this may be true for the way things have been done in firms up until now, with BIM and Integrated Design teams there’s no time at the table to be “just” a librarian, “just” a writer or “just” a teacher. You have to nurture the development of all three within yourself.

Perhaps James L. Salmon of Collaborative Construction (another LinkedIn group you ought to be a part of if you aren’t already) said it best when he said you achieve IPD in 3D by leveraging existing skills on a cross disciplinary basis.

How you learn to do this – cross-pollinate cross-discipline – is just starting to become apparent in the AEC industry. What we do know, though, is that it is becoming increasingly clear that this is a skill, an ability and talent we cannot survive without. Learning to be roughly ourselves – we must.



Filed under BIM, BIM expert, collaboration, construction industry, design professionals, Integrated Design, Integrated Project Delivery, IPD, people, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Learning to Be Roughly Yourself

  1. Randy –

    I started responding to your comments about the “triumvirate” on LinkedIn and realized that I was writing a blog post. So here it is:

    “Want to become a knowledge-driven firm? Build some “T-players” and get yourself a coach.” http://bit.ly/achQCz

    Basically – I agree and disagree with you. And you helped to sharpen my thinking on this.


  2. randydeutsch

    Chris –
    Great post http://bit.ly/achQCz – one everyone ought to take a good long look at and revisit from time to time.
    So the triumvirate – of writer, teacher and librarian – becomes a quartet when you add the coach.
    Perhaps now with four they’ll play more harmoniously?
    I’ll buy that. Perhaps the distinction (in what you and I are saying) resides – as you point out – in the size and age of the organization.
    Larger organizations can support individuals who play these separate parts, whereas one is expected – in a smaller firm – to wear many hats.
    It may be generational as well. Just looking at the books on coaching. They can be divided into two types: What to expect from working with (or becoming) a coach and how to coach yourself.
    The coach yourself approach may just be a leftover from the DIY movement favored by Boomers?
    Do I agree that coaches could help? Absolutely.
    Learning to coach and even facilitate oneself is well and good, but as one soon discovers when working with a trainer in the gym, it is just too easy to lie to oneself, letting things slip, when one doesn’t have a coach to help you stay focused and accountable for what you say you’re going to do.
    If, over time, you can learn to internalize this, all the better. But until that day comes, coaches are a critical part of the foursome.

  3. Hi Randy-

    Nice blog. Were you the one that recommended the book The Opposable Mind, by Roger Martin? If not, check it out.

    The premise is that those of use who can hold two opposing concepts (models) in mind at the same time can often find a resolution that is better than either/or. He calls part of the process of resolving problems the architecture phase, and acknowledges that architects are often gifted at this talent.

    His concept of mental models is also spot on for those of us thinking about BIM.

    • randydeutsch

      Thanks Anne for visiting.
      I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Opposable Mind and while I have cited Martin from time to time I have been meaning to apply his work more directly to the subject of this blog – sounds like maybe I already have!
      I had a slightly different idea for “being roughly yourself” in that while Martin is talking about ideas, here I am more concerned about the architect and others putting themselves into each other’s shoes – seeing things as others see the problem, from their point of view. Perhaps more about mindset.
      The next inevitable step I believe is Martin’s territory: what do we do with the seemingly conflicting and contradictory input, and how do we come up with something stronger than a compromise?
      Thanks for the nudge and reminder – I’m going back to Martin right now!

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