After you. No, please, after you.
Have you ever approached a 4-way intersection at precisely the same time as another driver and played that game of Who Goes First?
That’s precisely what happened the other day at a crossroads just outside of Chicago.
As will sometimes happen, an Architect, Engineer, Contractor and Owner pulled-up in separate vehicles to a 4-Way intersection.
It doesn’t matter what they were driving.
The Architect drove a Porsche 911.
But what they were driving doesn’t matter to the outcome of the story.
The Engineer in a pre-Ford Volvo, the Contractor was in a Ford pick-up and the Owner in a 700 series BMW.
So, as the architect’s custom-painted lobster red 2-door sports coupe Carrera revved its engine…
But it really, really doesn’t matter what they were driving.
Or that the owner picked-up his Beamer in ‘09 for $46,500. [Lucky bastard.]
What matters for this story is that, as would have it, they all arrived at the intersection at precisely the same moment.
And somehow had to come to an agreement on how they would proceed.
Fortunately, all four were present at the intersection – for while three were otherwise engaged with their iPods, two were texting and one was on their cell – they could all nonetheless see each other’s gestures, eyes and facial expressions.
Now, the default rule to establish the right of way at intersections – where you defer to the person on the right – doesn’t apply here since they were all right of each other.
The “person on the right goes first” rule would result in everyone moving forward at once. No good.
Normally, whichever vehicle first stops at the stop line has priority.
Rules of the road would tell you that if two vehicles stop at the same time, priority is given to the vehicle on the right.
If three vehicles stop at the same time, priority is given to the two vehicles going in opposite directions.
What about when 4 vehicles come to a stop at the same moment?
This is the really amazing thing.
There is no way around it.
Gestures and communication.
Given all of the advanced technology available to us today – the fact that our vehicles are really just giant computer chips on wheels – the only way four people in modern civilization can proceed to move forward from such a situation is to…talk.
To each other.
Ideally, openly. Transparently.
And gesture. Communicating however one can manage.
For this is the new rule of the road:
You’ve got to go primal to proceed.
In the past, the A, E and C would have deferred to the Owner to lurch forward into the intersection – to go first.
But that was before everything changed.
For today it sometimes feels like if you were to wait for the Owner to make the first move you might be sitting there, at the intersection, for a long while.
A long, long while.
And so others at the intersection – and this junction in time – are taking matters into their own hands.
They’re finding workarounds.
They’re finding ways to gesture themselves forward even if all the legal and contractual ramifications aren’t all hammered out.
For all four to proceed, it doesn’t matter who goes first, so long as someone does.
That someone has got to make the first gesture.
It’s all about leadership.
Move – do something – while keeping everyone informed, and the others will follow.
Call it little ipd.
In IPD, all 4 (AECO – count ‘em) arriving at the table day one of an Integrated Design project are all equals.
At the start – before the contracts are drafted and signed – in order to proceed, in order to move forward, they must defer to their higher selves. Their humanity.
While it is easy for the foursome to get caught up in legal language and a focus on contracts, it is best to think of the arrangement at first as a social contract rather than a strictly legal one, whereby each team member desires to maintain order and so subjects themselves to a higher order – or higher law – in order to maintain this order.
Before the team grows beyond its initial core, and everything gets all complicated, there’s a magical moment at the start of every project when the team members defer to simple etiquette.
CSNY, a quartet, with their 4-part harmony. Working together, acknowledging the other players in the band.
CSNY, the first true folk-rock super-group formed by four guitar-playing singer-songwriters from other popular bands.
[David Crosby came from The Byrds; Stephen Stills and Neil Young came from Buffalo Springfield; and Graham Nash was a member of British pop band The Hollies.]
Much like the mix and match make-up of an Integrated Design team where it is more important that team members have BIM experience than the loyalty of a longstanding relationship.
And like OAC, they were originally a threesome: CSN.
AECO, where a quartet is more harmonious than an OAC trio, and the architect and engineer are distinguished and independent of one another.
For, when we come one by one to the quadrille at the four-way corner, we are who we are at our best, bowing, nodding, and moving on.
Here I’ll repost in its entirety After You, a short essay from the New York Times and the source of this last quote, by our very own 21st century Emerson/Thoreau, Verlyn Klinkenborg.
Recently, I have been considering the four-way stop. It is, I think, the most successful unit of government in the State of California. It may be the perfect model of participatory democracy, the ideal fusion of “first come, first served” and the golden rule. There are four-way stops elsewhere in the country. But they are ubiquitous in California, and they bring out a civility — let me call it a surprising civility — in drivers here in a state where so much has recently gone so wrong.
What a four-way stop expresses is the equality of the drivers who meet there. It doesn’t matter what you drive. For it to work, no deference is required, no self-denial. Precedence is all that matters, like a water right in Wyoming. Except that at a four-way stop on the streets of Rancho Cucamonga everyone gets to take a turn being first.
There are moments when two cars — even four — arrive almost simultaneously. At times like that, I find myself lengthening my own braking, easing into the stop in order to give an unambiguous signal to the other driver, as if to say, “After you.” Is this because I’m from the East where four-way stops are not so common? Or do most California drivers do this, too? I don’t know. What I do know is that I almost never see two cars lurching into the middle of the intersection as if both were determined to assert their right of way.
I find myself strangely reassured each time I pass through a four-way stop. A social contract is renewed, and I pull away feeling better about my fellow humans, which some days, believe me, can take some doing. We arrive as strangers and leave as strangers. But somewhere between stopping and going, we must acknowledge each other. California is full of drivers everywhere acknowledging each other by winks and less-friendly gestures, by glances in the mirrors, as they catapult down the freeways. But at a four-way stop, there is an almost Junior League politeness about it.
And when the stoplights go out at the big intersections, as they do sometimes, everyone reverts to the etiquette of the four-way stop as if to a bastion of civilization. But there are limits to this power. We can only gauge precedence within a certain distance and among a very small number of cars. Too many, and self-policing soon begins to break down. But when we come one by one to the quadrille at the four-way corner, we are who we are at our best, bowing, nodding, and moving on.