One of the obvious perils of being an optimist happens when a discovery leads to extreme disappointment.

One of the obvious perils of being an optimist happens when a discovery leads to extreme disappointment. For example, I felt this way when the Iraqi prisoner abuse situation was disclosed a few weeks back. For Bernard Tschumi it was a dramatic setback to have the Acropolis Museum construction stopped by a political fight resulting in criminal charges being levied against advocates of the museum plan. Yet even when the learning is traumatic, optimists tend to get over the peril of the moment and incline themselves toward new areas of more informed optimism. This is true today as I think about the leaders who are transforming the AEC industry.

For many of you reading, you have no doubt recently experienced a setback, a severe disappointment, perhaps an ugly turn of events. The recent parking garage collapse in New Jersey blamed on “faster, cheaper design and construction” has created deep wounds. These setbacks hurt, and we need to learn, but they should not stop progress.

Here are three questions to ask yourself during these times of great upheaval:

  • What is your work for? How is that reflected in how you treat your staff? How about your clients? How is your purpose manifested in everything you do?

  • How alive are you in your firm? How do you measure your connections with people? Beyond an organization chart and a set of financials what makes your firm something to believe in?

  • Do you have the courage to change destructive or worn-out habit patterns? Can you deflect fear, the habit of debating strategies to death, and analysis paralysis?

Firms need optimists. Teams are strengthened by optimists. Your organization needs people of foresight and positive direction. And while the cartoon in this issue portrays our architect/designer friend Otis as a wizard, we know in reality that it does not require magic or voodoo to make teamwork a success. But it does require vision with courage. Both depend on informed optimism.

In all the change and transformation in front of us don’t neglect your spirit. Recently a young student wrote to comment on one of the DesignIntelligence interactive articles at and he said, “I feel like a slave here, and I feel there is little hope for the world ahead.” As I wrote to him online I was reminded of the words from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Even if I know certainly the world would end tomorrow, I would plant an apple tree today.” I often say to our clients: “Who you are, is your future.”

—James P. Cramer