Awaken Your Inner Architect

April 30, 2007 · by James P. Cramer

Successful practice management in the architecture, design, and construction marketplace is not dependent on firm size alone. It is about leveraging talent and resources to give clients what they really want. In a word, it’s about strategy.

Successful practice management in the architecture, design, and construction marketplace is not dependent on firm size alone. It is not a Goliath versus David contest. Instead, it is about leveraging talent and resources to give clients what they really want. In a word, it’s about strategy – about defining what you are going to do differently to be better. A firm of 55 can successfully compete against a firm of 550, or even 5,550. This continues to be possible today – often for new and different reasons than in the past. Moreover, new technology is providing talented small and medium size firms opportunities to compete for and win premier projects.

From the release of the recent AIA Business of Architecture survey, it is painfully obvious that far too many firms are woefully behind the curve in implementing new tools for practice management success. Some firms are not only failing to keep pace with today’s best practices but are falling significantly behind the pack of average firms. Nearly 40 percent of firms in the AIA survey do not have a web site. Imagine that! Less than 30 percent of firms have experience doing a green or sustainable project. The average billings per full time staff equivalent are less than $85,000. And the amount spent for technology? Just $2,700 per employee. These numbers and others in the study present an urgent warning sign. If not addressed by the profession this survey represents a preliminary pathology report for thousands of firms.

Technology is not a money-burner. It is a huge tool to leverage talent and to do faster work. Designers need to get over their anxiety about technology and focus on opportunities and results that foster relevant value. New technology enables firms to create and analyze more solutions faster, to discard paradigms not worth keeping, and to do more productive work in the same amount of time. Speed keeps costs down, not only for the client but for the designer, providing more consistent financial success. When we do things quickly and with confidence, we create positive momentum for the entire project team. Since speed and the technology that creates it is inevitable anyway, we might as well embrace it – the issue is not going away.

Architects, engineers, designers, product manufacturers, and contractors who utilize the new technologies will find that they can and will awaken their imagination for what’s possible. Four characteristics will flow from utilizing imagination along with new technologies. Each characteristic can bring new levels of strategic success to your firm or organization:

  1. Your primary focus should be on what benefits the client, not internal politics
  2. Think long term versus getting hung up on short term barriers
  3. Move away from the bureaucratic and imagine being both fast and flexible
  4. Be increasingly dissatisfied with status quo and challenge existing benchmarks and pesky average metrics.

Creating change is what design is all about. Orchestrating a constant process to profit from change is necessary if your organization is to stay on the leading edge of competitiveness. Utilizing the latest technology means spending more than double and perhaps triple the amounts reported in the survey cited above. Complacency as a professional characteristic should not be praised, it should be challenged. When firms adapt quickly to the latest shifts in technology they will outperform their competitors and awaken their inner architect to what’s possible in this profession of new meaning and opportunity.

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Top 10 Foresight
Reading List:
Spring 2007

  1. Powerful Times: Rising to the Challenge of Our Uncertain World. By Eamonn Kelley (Wharton School/Pearson Prentice Hall)

  2. The Next Architect: A New Twist on the Future of Design by DFC Senior Fellows Scott Simpson and James P. Cramer (Ostberg/Greenway)

  3. The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas L. Friedman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

  4. Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals by Jeffrey D. Sachs (Earthscan)

  5. Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble by Lestor Brown (W.W. Norton)

  6. Why Globalization Works by Martin Wolf (Yale University Press)

  7. Winning the Oil Endgame: Innovation for Profits, Jobs, and Security by Amory B. Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute (FS)

  8. A whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink (Riverhead/Penguin)

  9. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by Kim and Mauborgne (Harvard)

  10. Inevitable Surprises: Thinking Ahead in a Time of Turbulence by Design Futures Council Senior Fellow Peter Schwartz (Gotham/Penguin)

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