Buddy, can you spare a design?

Are you an idea-hoarder?  Do you hold back waiting for the most opportune project or presentation to share your best thoughts?  Worse, do you withhold your creativity for when you’ve locked into a contract? Perhaps the urge to compete is hardwired into us as a survival mechanism.  We see the world of design as a finite pie and feel that somehow maneuvering to prevent others from getting a piece means there will be more (or any) left for us.  I even had a boss who once said, “it’s not so much that we win the job, as that others lose.” 

I don’t even know where to begin on the shortsightedness of this kind of red ocean thinking.  What it really shows is a lack of belief in the compelling power of your ideas. Fear that they might be pirated away and someone else will profit from your inspiration. Instead of talking about ideas, we do what I like to call defensive marketing and attempt to show a prospective client how much we outrank the competition via any number of self-serving metrics.  This is your wake up call: they don’t care. Since your competition is probably making the same unfavorable comparisons with you, all praise or criticism become neutralized.  Clients will really select an architect based on their ideas, including those that can positively affect their processes and bottom line.

Ideas are valuable, but only when they are shared.  What you are sharing is your ability to listen, gather and synthesize information and creatively interpret it to make an environment:
Your ideas are what differentiate you
1.  They are the personal connection that shows a client that you get it
2.  They are what showcase your individual personality and likability (a very underestimated criteria for architect selection).
3.  They speak to your culture and work process more than any marketing lingo ever could.

Your ideas inspire your clients to dream bigger

1.  They ask clients to question their own assumptions
2.  They make someone think differently about a problem
3.  They help to define a problem in a clear, concise way (and maybe even shed light on the fact that the client is trying to solve the wrong problem).
4.  They show what is possible.

Your ideas grow, stretch and multiply when you share them
1.  They are a renewable resource. No matter how many ideas you share, your mind will make more
2.  They create a flow of energy and creativity that grows in value
3.  They are the key to access old markets run by old ideas
4.  They enrich us by expanding our inspiration, reach and vision

Don’t hold back. Creativity and innovation is not a zero sum game.  There is always room for change and improvement. When you hoard your ideas, no one can benefit from them, not even you.


  1. The sad reality, I think, is that too often people want to run with a promise and a cheap price. From a client perspective cost is an issue. They want the most bang for the buck. They will go with who appears to be able to give it.

    I am coming from a different industry. My experience has been promise the most, give least and make up for it somewhere.

    I think dollars followed by trust is the biggest issue and I think that is what you are getting at.

    But consider the impact of tossing out a great idea and having a potential client jump on it and go with someone else to execute it.

    Maybe I am missing the point, but too often I have observed iron pyrites sold as gold and frankly regained business by selling the same with a better spin. How do you fight ignorance and cross goals before it puts you in the poor house. Not to mention the psychic impact of knowing you can do better, but facing a client that cares more about numbers? Perhaps, by getting the accountants to see the negative impact? Sure, get the best at the best price, but realize that you have to have the skill to know when you are getting snowed. Perhaps living in a world supplied by TV commercial product only might do this?

  2. Great post Angela, this is well-crafted, salient assessment of a very pervasive mindset throughout our industry. That which is particularly discouraging is the "zero-sum game" mentality you speak of that encourages a diminished, myopic form of creativity. Thank you for the post!

  3. Aden,
    Thank you so much for your observations- I'm so glad that you see things this way as well in the design world- better together should be the way we think!


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