Daily Archives: May 23, 2011

Peer Pressure Transforms our World, but Can it Transform our Industry?


In an interview for my
book, BIM and Integrated Design: Strategies for Architectural Practice (Wiley, 2011) I asked Perkins+Will CIO, Rich Nitzsche:

IT is constantly changing. P+W, founded in 1935 in Chicago, has 20 North  American offices and three overseas, with a total of 1,500 employeesat, is one of the world’s largest firms (#1 in Architect Magazine’s 2011 Architect 50.) How exactly do you turn a firm the size of an aircraft carrier around to embark on an entirely different IT direction?

Rich Nitzsche responded:

“Sometimes you feel like you’re in a dinghy pushing against that aircraft carrier. Not making a lot of progress. We didn’t do anything entirely different.”

“First of all,” he continued, “you have to have buy-in from the top.”

How effective is peer pressure in changing behavior?

“One of the things I’ve learned is we’d be sitting in an operations meeting with the guys who run our offices every day from a practical, bottom-line and staffing point of view.” 

This is where peer pressure came into play:

“One guy would grumble about how BIM is going,” Nitzsche added. “There’s a great opportunity to find the people around the table who have success stories to tell, who have already done the labor to get there. You need to let them shine – and let peer pressure do its work. Not in a mean-spirited way. It’s a way of saying ‘This can be done.’ You’ve done it – why not have a conversation about what it took? Try and highlight the success stories.”

“That’s something we’re trying to do a lot more of in IT – focus on communication. I’m finding that peer pressure is one of the most effective tools to try and persuade other groups to move ahead.”

I was a bit surprised by his response. So I asked:

With reference to BIM and other related technologies, how do you – in your role – create and communicate value for a firm as large and diverse as P+W?

Rich again answered in terms of peer pressure:

“There’s not an RFP that crosses our threshold that doesn’t have BIM as a requirement. And now we’re starting to see IPD show up. So if we’re going to compete with what we consider to be our peer group – and even with people who are smaller than us – we’ve got to be ready on all of these levels. So we’ve got to go in with a great BIM story and not only a great sustainability story but a leadership story about sustainable design. We have a green operating plan and green IT is part of the green operating plan. We’ve done a pretty good job of that. My goal this year is to get us into a leadership position about BIM and IPD – in the eyes of owners and our peers. Because we all measure ourselves to some degree in terms of how we measure ourselves in relation to our peers. And I would say we’re on the front edge when it comes to those two things.”

How did you know Revit was right for P+W?

“We have folks who insist that they can’t design in Revit. And I have other designers – who are just now emerging – who say that they can accomplish 95% of what they need to do in Revit. Designers who have taken it on as their personal mission who say that they’re going to wrestle this beast to the ground and bend it to my will as an architect. As these people emerge, we’ll do the peer pressure thing.”

“That said,” he concluded, “we can’t get stubborn about it and say we can’t use these tools – SketchUp and Rhino – to author your design idea. We would have open revolt.”

Peer pressure can transform the world, but can it transform our industry?

In National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant recipient, Tina Rosenberg’s “Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World,” she explores the thinking that human behavior is defined by our relationships with our colleagues and acquaintances.

Why did she make peer pressure the subject of her new book?

“Problems were in endless supply,” she writes. “But it was starting to seem more interesting and valuable to write about solutions.”

Solutions, that is, such as the virtues of peer pressure.

Rosenberg builds the case the most powerful motivator of our personal behavior is the search for status and peer approval.

But can peer pressure assure that we, as a profession and industry, will adopt the new technologies and collaborative work processes enmass?

Motivating through fear

A review in The New York Times pointed out that Rosenberg’s examples, while impressive, also raise doubts about peer pressure’s effectiveness.

“Many of the efforts that she reports on are successes in the short run but not in the longer run, or on a small scale but not a large scale,” reminding us that peer pressure alone cannot transform the world.

The Times review reminds us that our success as a society “depends on the strength of our communities, because the development of our best traits — trust, honesty, foresight, responsibility and compassion — depends upon our close interactions with others.”

So, peer pressure may not be able to transform our industry, but perhaps “it illuminates one crucial piece of the complex puzzle of social ­improvement.”

Join the club

You might recall from your youth peer pressure’s reputation for less beneficial behavior: doing what your friends did to go along with the pack.

Doing something just to fit in, to not rock the boat, to not stand out.

This behavior is perhaps understandable in a large corporate firm, where standing out is professionally ill-advised, and fitting-in the name of the game.

But here’s the rub:

If you have a good reason for using the tools you’re using, you ought to be able to explain and justify your choice.

You shouldn’t give-in to the powers that be because “everybody is doing it.”

It ought to be a choice, one that you make and most importantly, are free to make.

And yet, this admittedly can be difficult.

The concept of peer pressure implies the power of a group to impose its will upon an individual, “to coerce a state of being that might not otherwise exist.”

For as Rosenberg says, “We are all good boys at risk of the bad crowd. Peer pressure is a mighty and terrible force—so powerful that, for the vast majority of people, the best antidote to it is more peer pressure.”

Habits run deep

Many design professionals still refuse to change from their tools of choice – no matter the incentive.

And are just as unwilling to leave their silos and work together collaboratively.

As Rosenberg says in Join the Club, “No amount of information can budge us when we refuse to be budged. The catalog of justifications for destructive behaviors is a tribute to human ingenuity.”

Can an unwillingness to move to BIM, and not taking part on integrated teams, be considered “destructive behavior?”

Absolutely.

Can we be pressured, even coerced, to change against our wills?

I wouldn’t want to wait to find out.

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

Building Model Client-Designer Relationships


You don’t need to be a designer to benefit from the best practices espoused in this magnificent new book. A must-have for designers, those in design management and anyone who works with designers on integrated teams.

What does a book on design strategy have to do with BIM and integrated design?

It turns out – a great deal.

For it turns out that today designers of  all stripes emphasize co-creation, communication, mutual benefit, respect and trust in building strong team relationships.

These qualities are no longer the sole province of those participating in Integrated Project Delivery.

Based on over 100 interviews with designers, researchers and educators, The_Strategic_Designer by David Holston provides an overview of the design process and designer’s best practices.

The Strategic Designer: Tools and techniques for managing the design process, published by F+W Media and HOW Design, is billed as a Strategic Graphic Design Thinking book.

Despite this categorization, the subject matter transcends graphic design and can be universally applied to any of the design trades and professions including architectural design.

The book description will sound familiar to anyone working in architecture and related design professions: on integrated teams

As designers look for ways to stay competitive in the conceptual economy and address the increasing complexity of design problems, they are seeing that they must not only be experts in form, but must also have the ability to collaborate, to design in context and be accountable through measurement. By adopting a process that considers collaboration, context and accountability, designers move from makers of things to strategists.

The book focuses on the designer’s workflow, ideation techniques, client relationships and methods for measuring the success of their projects.

But it doesn’t stop there.

An excellent foreward by Shawn M McKinney, alone, is worth the investment in the book.

Each chapter covers a specific design phase emphasis, providing a practical step-by-step approach, complete with tools and techniques.

  • The Conceptual Economy – where those who have the ability to collaborate and manage the increasing complexity of design will have greater opportunities
  • Overview of the Design Process – a process rife with opportunities for misinformation, dead ends, and divergent tracks, as well as amazing outcomes
  • The Value of Process – the benefits of having a well-defined design process
  • The Collaborative Designer – emphasizing co-creation, communication, mutual benefit, respect and trust in a strong client-designer relationship. This is a particularly rich chapter, addressing and answering such questions as: What makes a Good Designer? What Makes a Good Client? and Clients to Avoid. There’s a wonderful sidebar on: Seven Principles for Managing Creative Tension.
  • Empathic Design – explaining how research provides a path and imperative for moving forward
  • Understanding the Business – includes a breakdown of basic strategy techniques and an explanation of the purpose of business analysis as understanding and defining goals of the client
  • Designing with the End User in Mind – with an emphasis on facilitating and moderating participatory and collaborative work sessions. The Designing for People chapter focuses on research as a valuable tool for gaining insight into the organizational needs of clients and their prospective audiences.
  • Managing Ideas – especially when ideating with others in a participatory or collaborative setting, relying heavily on the experiences and knowledge of people involved.
  • Making Strategy Visible – how the designer takes an empathic approach to design that connects business goals with user needs.
  • Design Accountability – asking: Why is design hard to measure? And answering by sharing significant research findings and metrics. Salient quote: “The price for a seat at the decision-making table is accountability.”
  • Planning in a Turbulent Environment – the days of using a linear design process are over. Strategic designers face increasingly wicked problems. A helpful framework offered by project management.
  • Refining Your Process – so it can provide a common understanding for “how things get done” mitigating wasted efforts while creating value for the client and user alike.

Holston’s text anticipates your questions and concerns and places each topic in a larger context. He is clearly in control of his subject.

The author places the book and subject squarely in Dan Pink’s Conceptual Economy, a term describing the contribution of creativity, innovation, and design skills to economic competitiveness, especially in the global context.

In his book A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink explains how the economy is now moving from the information age to the conceptual age.

Later in The Strategic Designer, Rotman School of Management dean Roger L Martin says that the world is moving from the Information Economy to a Design Economy. A small distinction, but one that unnecessarily complicates matters. I would look to a book such as this to clarify the playing field, at the very least to acknowledge that the labeling of epochs and phraseology are still a work-in-progress.

The book’s strength is not in creating new knowledge – but in repackaging what is largely already known, experientially by every designer – in an easy to carry tome.

In this sense, the book is not a product of the Conceptual Age, but instead is a well-designed, convenient and accessible agglomeration, aggregating both explicit and, perhaps the greater achievement here, tacit knowledge on the subject.

The design world – including the universe of BIM and IPD – is a much better place for having this book at its disposal.

The Strategic Designer is a must-have book for designers, those who manage design projects and those who work with designers in a collaborative setting. It will benefit anyone participating in integrated teams by placing them in a multi-disciplinary mindset. Highly recommended. 

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Filed under BIM, BIM organizations, collaboration, construction industry, design professionals, Integrated Design, Integrated Project Delivery, IPD, people, process, workflow