The Liability of Expertise

I recently read Presentation Zen, a great book by Garr Reynolds, and was struck by his discussion of the zen concept of the Beginner’s Mind. The beginner’s mind is not judgmental therefore it dares to question norms, to ask why not? The argument goes that as we acquire expertise, our thinking becomes more rigid and we are more apt to categorize, marginalize and apply overly rigid ideology or process to our work. Especially in the creative world of architecture, this is a liability as it precludes innovation and fresh thinking. It also can cause us to disregard ideas brought up by our client if they come across as “too amateur” So we live in our ivory towers, our silos of specialization. And it’s boring. For us and for our clients. However, we have mutually pushed the design process to this point.

Seen that recent request for proposals? If you haven’t done at least 50 projects EXACTLY like the one that is planned, you can forget being considered (oh, and with the exact same team if possible please). And then there are our attempts at business development that involve seeking out niche markets and super-specialization. A creative, innovative design is a happy accident in this climate, when it should be the number one goal for the whole team. It's time to abandon the red-ocean thinking that pervades our industry and think a bit more about alternative strategies. I am not saying that experience is irrelevant, or that there are not some very highly sensitive building types that require expertise in order to ensure that they are compliant and functional. But, when we let mastery of the rules drive the bus, it’s like failing to see the forest for the trees. Instead, let your experience be what leads you to ask the broader questions, instead of accepting the status quo.

During the planning stage of your project, ask:
1.Who is using the space? What specific needs do they have?
 2. What are you really trying to achieve with this project?

3. Why this project? Do you really need more space, or space that is organized differently? Are there other overall issues with the campus or facility that should be solved first?

4. Where are supplies and materials coming from? Distributed to? What is the flow of patients in the space?

5. How do things need to operate? Does this need to be a separate function (departmental silos), or could a better solution involve combining uses and bringing a larger spectrum of services to a single location on-demand?

6. When will you know you have solved the problem?