Tag Archives: Malcolm Gladwell

6 Qualities That Make Architects Ideally Suited to Lead Collaborative Integrated Teams

leadersIn order to effectively lead collaborative teams, architects would do well to downplay possessing specialized knowledge. Knowledge acquired in school and practice should be thought of as the price of admission, not their “Advance to GO” card, as so many on the team in this connected age have access to and share this same knowledge. Along with specialized knowledge, as a professional duty of practice, architects will also need to reevaluate the role of professional judgment, design intent, responsible control, direct supervision, and serving as the hander-down of rulings in the shape-shifting required from working simultaneously on collaborative teams.

Recognizing that nothing incites a non-architect’s derision, ridicule and ire swifter than to start a sentence “The architect is uniquely qualified to…” here are six qualities that make architects ideally suited to lead collaborative, integrated teams:

1. Architects can lead collaborative teams by tapping into their ability to maintain two or more opposing thoughts until an amenable solution arises. Roger Martin’s The Opposable Mind, on the problem-solving power of integrative thinking, describes the human brain’s ability “to hold two conflicting ideas in constructive tension.” Like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s test of a first-rate intelligence as “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function,” architects need to become even more comfortable working with and maintaining two or more opposing thoughts earlier in their careers. Architects famously can simultaneously maintain two lines of thought – e.g. their own and their client’s; their client’s and that of the public-at-large; the paying client and the non-paying client; the 99% and the 1%; the circumstantial and the ideal; science and art; reason and intuition; evidence and the ineffable; HSW and aesthetics; practical and dreamer. In an interview with the author, Phil Bernstein described the difference between young designers and older designers as the ability to manage an increasingly larger set of variables: “When I was working for Cesar Pelli, that was one of the amazing things about him – he could keep so many things in his head and he could balance them and weigh one against the other, and he could edit out what he called the systematic generation of useless alternatives. He would prevent us from going down that avenue.”

2. Architects are problem identifiers. Not only problem solvers, architects recognize that identifying the right problem to solve is often 80% of the solution. Frequently, the problem assigned is not the one that truly requires addressing. Architects work to make sure that everyone is focused on the most pressing, pertinent problem.

3. Architects see the big picture. Solution-oriented engineers sometimes have a difficult time seeing the forest from the trees. Malcolm Gladwell in Blink called this ability to see information in its wider context coup d’oeilcourt sense or “giss,” the power of the glance, the ability to immediately make sense of situations. Architects, by the end of their formal training, have begun to develop this ability, by thinking laterally and simultaneously – not linearly. Neither exclusively right- nor left- – architects are whole-brain thinkers. In the midst of prolonged analysis, architects can help to keep things whole.

4. Architects draw by hand, mouse and wand. Creatively ambidextrous, flexible and agile, architects are not stuck on any one means of communication or delivery. Architects make the best use of available technology to get the point across. Because architects envision what is not there, they help bring nascent ideas to life. Today, we cannot talk of leadership without the technology. We lead from the technology and the tools we use. In this way, architects lead collaboration from the middle by leading from the model.

5. Architects can lead collaborative teams by thinking like other team members, anticipating their concerns and questions before they arise. Architects see through other’s eyes, empathize and understand what is important to others. They have both deep skills and wide wingspan breadth. Architects are the only entity who serve not only the paying but non-paying client (society-at-large.) In trying to predict the consequences for any course of action, the architect needs to anticipate the responses of each of the integrated team members. To do this, an architect must know enough about each discipline to negotiate and synthesize competing demands.

6. Architects don’t lead collaborative teams because of their specialized skills, technology know-how, or privileged knowledge, but rather because of their comfort with ambiguity and uncertainty. Architects are best suited to lead collaborative teams by being able to extrapolate from incomplete information, and won’t let the lack of complete information stop them from moving forward.

The architect leading collaborative teams has implications for education in that independently trained professionals are inclined to remain independent in practice. According to NCARB’s contribution to the NAAB 2013 Accreditation Review Conference (ARC), over 80% of architects rated “collaboration with stakeholders” as important/critical, yet only 31.5% of interns and recently licensed architects indicated they had performed collaboratively prior to completion of their education program. This would need to change.

Let the Team be the Architect

The single most important issue confronting AEC leadership is, as Michael Schrage asked, how to pose problems and opportunities in forms that will elicit and inspire a collaborative response. Consultant Ed Friedrichs describes this as the ability “to inspire an entire team of participants to collaborate, to contribute the best they have to offer, in order to bring value to a client.”

Concerning collaborative teams, leaders need to ask of themselves – as well as prospective hires – are you the glue or the solvent? If architects are to be respected as leaders, their challenge is to communicate with their collaborators as equal partners in design.

In his book Architecture by Team, CRS’s William Caudill wrote: “The so called ‘great man’ approach must give way to the great team approach. From now on the great architects will be on great interdisciplinary teams.”

That was written in 1971. Buried on page 288 is the title of Chapter 109:

“Let the team – designers, manufacturers and builders – be the architect.”

So let the team be the architect, and the architect be the facilitative leader. And act soon, for we may not have another 40 years to see this out.

This post is an excerpt from Randy Deutsch’s article How We Can Make Collaboration Work: How architects can decentralize rather than be marginalized in the Jan-Feb 2014 Trends issue of DesignIntelligence journal.

Read and visit DesignIntelligence.

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

When is BIM TMI? or Death by DataPoint

No one goes into a career in architecture because they love to crunch numbers or deliver hard data.

But once initiated into the tribe, it has increasingly become a reason for many to stay.

This is where we find ourselves today: instead of surviving on our wits – we’re surviving on analytics.

Practicing an art and a science, architects naturally run both ends of the spectrum. Some consider themselves artists first and foremost, unconcerned whether their designs ever see daylight. These paper architects, updated for the conceptual age as digital architects, perform primarily in pixels.

And give architects their not always positive reputation as artists.

At the other extreme are architects for whom it is all about the hard evidence.

For them a day at work is more CSI: Crime Scene Investigation than CSI: Construction Specifications Institute.

Feeding on constraints and ever-changing regulations, design for them is a matter of looking-up and plugging-in information that’s required and, if necessary, trimming off the excess – literally in the trim command, trim tool or by way of value engineering.

So when BIM came along, these hardscrabble architects pounced on it. They love the plug-‘n-play apparatus. They devour the dialog boxes and cannot feed enough information into them.

Rather than being exhausted by the umpteenth request to provide information they’re energized by it. As though to say, hit me with another question.

It’s not that BIM has done away with RFIs; they’re now embedded in the program.

These are the people who grew up watching game shows and love to answer trivia.

I’ll take Creating New Types and Templates for $1000 and Instance Properties for $1500.

The reality is that we need both types of architects. I have argued here that in the best of worlds the two would reside in the same person. Others have argued elsewhere that it’s good for project teams and organizations to have both types of people, to provide flexibility and agility, and to serve as a checks and balances function to assure the work stays in line.

But how much information is too much?

Could there be a fear of too much information (TMI) – too much I in BIM?

For that is the crux – to know how much information is needed and when it is needed.

And while this has been addressed, particularly in some of the better contracts, it’s a mindset and skillset that needs to be developed that we’re talking about here.

It’s like when a sales rep calls on you at an inopportune time – say on your way into a design presentation and you unadvisedly or unwittingly took the call. It’s not bad information that they want to impart – it’s just not the right time for it. A week later that same information may come through for you and help you get your design approved. Just not now.

This ability – to gauge how much information is needed and when – is not a new skill but it’s just never been more important than it is now for individuals, teams and firms to acquire.

It’s not only a matter of knowing where to hit the hammer, it’s a matter of recognizing and acknowledging the context so you can nail the the question: of the project phase, who will use the information, what they will use it for and when they will need it.

And this ability is age-related: it is easier for senior team members than still emerging talent to see the bigger picture.

Malcolm Gladwell in Blink called this ability to see information in its wider context: coup d’oeil or court sense or “giss,” the power of the glance, the ability to immediately make sense of situations.

Information Intelligence (II)

Call it Information Intelligence (II) the uncanny ability to gauge when, how and to whom to apportion information.

Developing this ability in your staff – and hiring for Information Intelligence or II skillset – will save more time, fee and headaches than any other single move you could make right now.

It takes an understanding of the technology, as well as how buildings come together.

But the higher science of this knack is a people or social skill: understanding how people receive information, how much of it they can consume at one time, what the best format for the information is so that it finds its highest and best use.

We have all had the opportunity to work with people who have the II gene. They possess the uncanny ability to gauge and deliver just the right information, at the right time, to the right person, in the right way.

When LOD becomes LOL

I am not asking here whether you can get to level of detail (LOD) 300 in Revit or ArchiCAD without working in 2D or whether these tools are ready to take-on LOD 400 for fabrication (they’re not.)

While important to know, what we’re discussing here is a higher order matter.

In an interview for my book, BIM + Integrated Design: Strategies for Practice, a BIM manager and project architect described the process thus:

The process should be like an onion where you’re building an onion backwards. You’re putting on the overall scope and slowly putting in each layer inside until you get all the way down. It’s very difficult to do that in BIM because the first time you put in a wall it asks you how thick is your drywall?

Think Lean

What’s the least amount of information that is needed at this moment to get the design intent across?

What’s the role of “hard facts” and just how hard are they?

Owners see data this way: the facts, pure and simple.

Constructors and design professionals know better, because they know more.

This is where things get more complex and uncertain.

Contractors put their own spin on the data when they indicate other contributing factors to consider – adjacencies, impacts to schedule, availability of labor, codes, etc. They see the data within a larger context.

Architects are wont to bring up the sociological impacts, the social impacts, psychological impacts and not mention the equally important aesthetic impacts of the decision-by-data point.

Death by Data Point

Statistics are definitely in. Evidence the evidence-based everything.

The New Yorker’s June 7 2010 issue lists the top jobs for the coming decade. Most involve information, metrics, data analytics or statistics.

But last time I looked architecture remains an art and a science.

And while it is foolhardy to justify subjective, aesthetic predilections by any other means than by invoking hard data – it will make you this much, it will improve quality, it will get the project done on time – it does nothing to stop an underlying and critically human need for subjective, aesthetic predilections.

Still, there’s a point when TM is definitely TM.

Just as “Death by PowerPoint” is a criticism of slide-based presentations referring to a state of boredom and fatigue induced by information overload during PowerPoint presentations, Death by DataPoint is the state we feel as design professionals when relegated to feed the beast by plugging-in infinite streams of information.

So let’s put an end to TMI and work towards just enough, just-in-time information.

Start with Seven Simple Questions

Before imparting our infinite wisdom, before sharing or over-sharing, start by asking these seven simple questions:

  • What do I need to know?
  • How can I get this information?
  • How reliable is it?
  • What do they need to know?
  • When do they need to know it?
  • Can I help them get this information?
  • How can I best communicate this?

By doing so we’ll do everyone, including ourselves, a favor.

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BIM and the Human Condition

Craft is the pride one takes in making – making things – with one’s hands, mind and imagination. Two books that address craft – one recent and one published 50 years ago – help make clear the predicament architects find themselves in today as they face an uncertain future.

In The­_Craftsman, author and sociologist Prof. Richard Sennett asks what the process of making concrete things reveals to us about ourselves – what people can learn about themselves from the things they make. Craftsmanship here is defined as an enduring, basic human impulse, the skill of making things well. The pride one takes in work – whether making a wood model or a computer model – requires focusing on the intimate connection between head and hand, establishing effective, sustainable habits and a rhythm between problem finding and problem solving. It is an internal dialogue every craftsman – and architect – conducts in practice.

Craftsmanship, by combining skill, commitment and judgment, establishes a close relationship between head and hand, man and machine that Sennett asserts is vital to physical, mental and societal well-being. Combining a “material consciousness” with a willingness to put in years of practice (a common estimate of the time required to master a craft is 10,000 hours) and an acceptance of ambiguity, rather than an obsessive perfectionism, should be familiar to readers of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Dean Simonton’s Greatness and readers of this blog. Sennett asks whether our commitment to work – our craftsmanship – is merely about money, or about something deeper and more human. His answer implies that commitment – the skill, care, late nights, problem solving and pride that goes into our work – is about something greater.

Sennett does not think that craftsmanship has vanished from our world. On the contrary, as another critic noted, it has merely migrated to other regions of human enterprise, “so that the delicate form of skilled cooperation that once produced a cathedral now produces the Linux software system” – or, in the case of architects who take part in integrated practice, their work in BIM. The subject of craft has been all but excluded to date from discussions about building information modeling (BIM) and this poses a liability and potential hazard for architects – for therein resides our dedication, passion and resolve.

Hannah Arendt’s book, The_Human_Condition, published 50 years ago, distinguishes between labor, work, and action, explores the implications of these distinctions and affirms the value of human beings speaking openly and candidly to each other. In the book Arendt (1906-1975) famously distinguishes between Animal laborans and Homo faber, between labor and work. Labor is, according to Arendt, those human activities whose main aim is to allow men to survive, belong to the private sphere, and while the human being strives painstakingly to perform them, is not free. As Sennett – Arendt’s student in the 60’s – points out Animal laborans is akin to the beast of burden, “a drudge condemned to routine.” Here the derogatory term “CAD-jockey” comes to mind, one who envisions spending their working lives in front of a monitor churning out construction documents. Animal laborans: they’re the ones who, working alone, take the work as an end in itself.

With Homo faber, on the other hand, one imagines men and women doing work together and in doing so making a life in common. This is the public sphere, where men, after having provided for themselves and their families what was needed to continue, can at last be free. The name according to Sennett implies a higher way of life, one in which we stop producing and start discussing and judging together. It is in this word – together – that we find the seeds for collaboration and for integrated practice.

BIM is More Artifact than Fact, More Art than Artifact

Look around your office – it is easy to spot those who see themselves as Animal laborans and conversely those who see their role as Homo faber. You can sense it in their attitudes toward their work, their mindset in the way they tackle the challenge of learning –or familiarizing themselves with – new technologies and workflows. If you observe carefully, you can even detect it in their posture, in the way they approach their work and each other. As Sennett argues, as with Gladwell and Geoff_Colvin, motivation matters more than talent. The architect must imagine herself engaged with the model, the input of information no less an act of the imagination than the shaping of clay into new worlds for others to engage in and be inspired by. The architect has to find her inner, intelligent craftsman. If it can be reduced to a formula, as Arendt would have it,

bim = Animal laborans

BIM = Homo faber

where BIM enables integrated practice. The combination of speech and action the book calls for is the perfect prescription for integrated practice or IPD: architects working together with others, collaborating toward a common goal.

Sennett sees it differently and challenges his teacher’s definition of Labor as being too limited, slighting the practical man and woman at work, and offers a more balanced view – where thinking and feeling are contained within the process of making. Such is the student’s prerogative. Some architects complain that BIM – in being so fact-based and answer-hungry – makes them less creative, describing their work as “feeding the beast.” Here again we find Arendt’s Animal laborans, for whom the mind engages once the labor is done, and Sennett is right to push further.

When Sennett writes “leaving the public to ‘sort out the problem’ after the work is done means confronting people with usually irreversible facts,” and “engagement must start earlier, requires a fuller, better understanding of the process by which people go about producing things,” he could have been describing BIM, and IPD, the process it enables. IPD fulfills the promise and dictates of BIM just as Homo faber provides something for Animal laborans to aspire to.  

One of Arendt’s great themes is her sense of the decline of the public realm, the realm where action takes place. With the growing use of BIM, and through it integrated practice, architects once again have an opportunity to find themselves working in – and positively influencing if not creating – the public realm.

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