DesignIntelligence Media Group

Cautious Optimism Among Leaders in A/E/C

March 31, 2017 | DesignIntelligence

DFC firm leaders are cautiously optimistic about 2017, but are looking through the turns to the path ahead.

There is a principle in mountain biking called “looking through the turn.” When you’re approaching a bend on the path, you try to keep one eye on the path and one eye looking through the turn. This practice will help you stay on the path (and can keep you from hitting obstacles like rocks, trees, etc.) and it also helps you prepare for what’s coming. This principle has great business applications.

As we take a “look through the turn” of 2017 in the context of what lies ahead for A/E/C, there are obstacles to avoid and opportunities to embrace to help you see around the curve. What is the outlook for the A/E/C market? What are the top challenges and top opportunities for firms? What are leaders saying?

DesignIntelligence asked Design Futures Council members to report on their top challenges and opportunities for 2017. We asked about the health of their business overall and within the market segments in which they operate. We asked them for business wisdom to share with next generation leaders to help them keep their eyes down the path.

Overall, firm leaders are cautiously optimistic about 2017.

Concerns and Confidence

While they voiced concerns—such as the unknown impact of the election, how to attract and retain talent, commodity fee pricing, and more—there was confidence too. Trends like high backlog, globalization and new market sectors, and collaborative programs were listed as opportunities.

Leaders of firms were also asked: “What business advice would you give to the leader of an organization like yours about the next 12-24 months?” Firm leaders were so generous and willing to share their hard-won lessons and wisdom to help leaders at all levels—from next generation leaders to seasoned leaders—on the winding paths of business in the A/E/C world. The responses we received were rich and inspiring—and the themes of those responses can lead to resilient organizations that not only survive during challenging times, but even flourish.

Wisdom and Insights

A review of their insights resulted in seven primary themes:


The competition for great talent is fierce, not just among industry firms, but in other types of industries where skills are transferrable. Of the 82 percent of respondents who indicated talent as one of the top three challenges, 55 percent mentioned recruitment/retention.


Awareness of the dynamics of business both inside and outside the firm is critical to sustaining growth and relevance.

Leadership Demeanor

A leader’s demeanor sets the tone for the organization. Leaders who are positive, composed, and confident inspire those traits in others.

Opportunistic Mindset

With a “glass half-full perspective,” leadership looks for opportunity in every situation—interpersonally, business to business, competition, products and services, and more.


Agility ensures a firm’s advantage. It is the certain something that maintains relevance, spots opportunity, and supports resilience toward the future.


Innovation leverages existing assets in new combinations and constructs to achieve new outcomes resulting in new achievements.


Company culture—the collective makeup of values, attitudes, and beliefs—shapes behavior and determines how people work and interact.

Cautious Optimism

As firm leaders “look through the turn,” we sense that they are optimistic about the future but they’re also keeping a close eye on economic and geopolitical developments (particularly in the United States).

No one knows for sure what 2017 will bring, but we do know there will be bumpy spots and winding paths and obstacles. However, when we focus on and prepare for what’s coming, we’re better able to stay on the path and maybe even enjoy the ride.