Changing conditions in the marketplace create new opportunities. It is increasingly possible—but not always easier—to achieve satisfying professional practice AND build successful businesses.

Changing conditions in the marketplace create new opportunities. It is increasingly possible—but not always easier—to achieve satisfying professional practice AND build successful businesses. That is why there is considerable interest today in new trends that are transforming the design professions and in emerging structural changes taking place almost invisibly in the construction industry.

Darwin taught us that monocultures die. They adapt, or become extinct. Thus, we believe it’s valuable to look at evolution to see what’s most relevant and different and to look beyond conventional wisdom. Our position is that smart organizations will choose to evolve in this time of upheaval and threat. The wisest will survive and thrive.

Here in our offices in Atlanta we take daily stock of trends and scan all sources that can reveal fresh directions for success. We look for relevant stories from journals, newspapers and regional weeklies. We sort through micro-economic change by regions, geopolitical change, Internet data, and your mail. We look for what is both innovative and prescient to design and construction. There are dozens of trends that we follow and these are sorted and put on our list we call the DI Trends—Top 15. We also examine other professions to take note of changes in those fields and we examine the potential implications for the design and construction arenas. These trends are scrapped for current relevancy and longer-view projections. The research is ongoing 24-7 and the knowledge that is acquired makes our office environment a pretty dynamic place.

There was a time when an architecture firm could be “all things for everyone” and even today there are firms that come immediately to mind in Maine, the Dakotas, Nova Scotia and elsewhere who are successful generalist organizations. Professional practice in these firms is often very traditional except that they have advanced technology tools to bring better efficiency and productivity to projects. In major metropolitan areas, however, most traditional generalist firms are struggling. Over time these firms are doomed because other firms they compete with have diverged and branched to become specialists who find and dominate their market space (no matter how remote).

Divergence is roaring forward in our industry and clients tell us that they are looking for even deeper expertise. This is an expanding marketplace reality that has brought forward one of the strategic directions we discuss in our workshops called organizational divergence. We see the largest zone of new growth opportunities in professional practice to be in professional service “divergence” into extreme relevant categories of service. This is the “sweet spot” found in the 15 trends that are reshaping our industry. (See p. 10.) Invention of new categories of professional service is happening today and this will position firms as “new experts” who “make the rules” within these categories. Keep in mind that this is true in both non-commodity markets and commodity markets. Opportunity abounds. It’s better to have a dominant position in your preferred category(s) than to lose your position to others who are giving new insight, rules, and forms—category by category.

—James P. Cramer