Because Someone Had To: The Flawed Thinking of being a Trouper

In the last three weeks of our novena, we are focusing on transformation. Last week we looked at our career path and how to make the necessary adjustments to achieve maximum potential.  In week eight, we do the same for our work process.

At my old firm, there used to be a mantra uttered by the staff whenever confronted with an impossible situation.  “Get ‘er done,” frazzled architects and interns would say, as if a results-oriented approach would make the crushing deadline, impossible budget, or demanding client seem less overwhelming.  The objective was to hunker down and focus on the most streamlined path possible to meeting the objective, then put your nose to the grindstone and crank it out.  There was a certain pride, even, in the ability to be uberproductive in the face of such odds.

How many times have you found yourself faced with a problem for which you were ill-trained, understaffed and poorly equipped and just muddled through and made up a way? Woe to anyone who dare criticize the final product, means, or method, so proud are you to have accomplished the task.  If you feel like an innovator in situations such as these, you’d be right, but only in a can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees kind of way.

You feel proud of yourself for accomplishing something in a jerry-rigged half-assed way- because someone had to.

Perhaps it is our experience of studio instruction, where professors try to avoid placing too many parameters on the task at hand in order to encourage individual exploration.  We are just a little too comfortable as architects with working with an ill-defined problem and making the best of it.  A lot too willing to make sacrifices in order to get the job done (hello, all-nighter mentality). The trouble is we are diverting our creative energy to dealing with procedures instead of devoting it to design.  We make managing the schedule and the budget the design problem, not the design issues.  We’re rewarded for this flawed thinking when the metrics of success for a project are: 1. On Time and 2. On Budget and the people assessing our performance have taken those two measures completely out of the context of design.  It’s time to realize that being a trouper means only that you were willing to be put in a box and not complain about it.  What kind of team player does that really make you?  How to break free:

Don’t accept the premise.  Dealing with impossible design parameters is exciting, challenging and opens the door to innovation. Dealing with impossible demands from clients, co-workers and bosses is draining, stressful, and leads you to keep recycling the same solutions over and over again because you know they will work.  Do not confuse the two. 
1.  Schedule, budget, and aesthetics are interdependent variables of the design problem. They are not design problems in and of themselves. 
2. Use the pre-design phase to determine design parameters that will meet schedule and budget goals.  3.  Stay focused on the design problem, knowing that these are addressed. 
4. Start saying no to the things that aren’t about solving the design problem.  These things are not only distractions, but they affect all of your variables, therefore compromising the design itself.
5. One you define the problem to be solved, don’t dilute your efforts by allowing others to introduce new problems.

Always take time as a team to revisit the view of your project from 35,000 feet.  This helps everyone understand the goals and big design ideas and stop obsessing about the details that are actually off the reservation.  It's easy to get distracted by concerns crises that seem critical to one or more team members, but responding to panic with panic sends the project off on a tangent.  Instead, ask how a given change in direction or new area of exploration will help meet the overall goals.  If it doesn’t, then it’s a waste of time and money.  How’s that for meeting those on-time/on-budget metrics?

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