Aspiration vs. Inspiration

Most of us are not unfamiliar with achievement.  On the battlefield of office politics, project expectations, and ever shifting work paradigms, we focus on scoring small victories daily.  We are also not without ego.  We want to do amazing work and have that work be appreciated and recognized.  But, with so many metrics by which our performance is judged, we can’t possibly dance to all those tunes.  How many times do you find yourself settling into a single mode, putting on, say, your sustainability hat to the neglect of managing things, or your manager hat to the detriment of thinking outside the box?  Let’s not even go to lean thinking, silo-busting, or ROI.  We’ve been conditioned to aspire, and that soon becomes our undoing.  That’s because aspirations are external motivators- other people’s ideas of success.  Attempting to please everyone muddies the waters and results in mediocrity, especially when the goalposts keep moving as new metrics get developed.  Aspiration is a treadmill, not a path.  It’s time to hit the off switch on these bad habits:

Exceeding Expectations

Implicit within this lovely catchphrase phrase is the idea that the expectations were clearly communicated and that they contained some threshold for clearly measuring success; which is not really in fact what will be considered success as you should have exceeded it.  In this economy, our clients cannot succeed if they pursue mediocrity and they hire us to access and facilitate fresh thinking.  Transformational projects never arise out of metrics.  They arise out of questioning existing patterns and habits and freeing ourselves from expectations.  Stop handicapping your vision. Instead of asking, “what now?”  ask “what if?”

Expectations are also tied up in emotion.  The fear of not meeting expectations leads everyone involved to play it safe.  That isn’t inspiring to anyone.  Instead, try pulling back to a more logical viewpoint, one that justifies thinking big by providing a path to get there. Focus on the solution and the trials and tribulations of the process will seem less onerous.

Marching into the Abyss
Of course we would like our next project to be user-centered, efficient, restorative, and transformational.  Of course we want to collaborate with the project team to leverage expertise and find innovative solutions that are faster to build, more cost effective that the traditional ones and save even more money over the life of the project.  Of course we want to attract and retain the best staff, satisfy our patients, residents or customers, and generate positive marketing. That some enterprising souls have found ways to codify these things (LEED, Lean, Evidence Based Design, organizational management, BIM, etc.) should make it easier for us - right?  Eh, not so much. 

When you try to add project expectations and tools together like a layer cake, you don’t get much real benefit from them.  Moreover, you drive yourself and your project team crazy chasing rainbows.  LEED, for example, can actually hurt the project’s overall quality *gasp* not because LEED is inherently evil or that sustainability shouldn’t matter, but because you aspired to be sustainable instead of being inspired to provide a better environment.  When we lose focus on why we are building in the first place and get distracted with “measuring up,” we start doing things that are not in alignment with the project goals or our personal ones.  We miss opportunities to enforce these goals in ways that would probably blow the doors off the LEED scorecard.
Chasing Proficiency

Scattered energy impacts nothing.  Trying to follow all of the buzzwords and metrics is more than just exhausting, it obscures your clarity.  Let go and start practicing with purpose.  When you know what you are all about and pause to plan how to express that in your work, you suddenly find yourself passionate, energetic and clearly communicating your vision to others.  Your inspiration leads them to be inspired as well.  This alignment of purpose and passion creates the focus that allows us to achieve the seemingly impossible. It is this distilled message and effort that leads us to mastery over mediocrity.  Mastery is what our clients crave and seek out, what the market rewards. Achievement is not about ego, which is limited by aspirations of what “should” be.  Instead, it is about having a consistent philosophy that can be understood by others. When you are functioning as your highest self, others will see you that way as well.

Simplify and pare down instead of frantically rushing to adopt whatever trend you recently read about.  Focus on the things that really matter to you and design on purpose instead of by default, allowing all the checklists, codes, technologies, requirements and strategic alliances to limit your vision then using that as the excuse for why the project wasn’t better.

Aspiration is playing into the expectations of others, inspiration is following you own path.  Do you want to get somewhere or not?