DesignIntelligence Media Group

Survival by Design—A Case for Optimism

June 29, 2017 | Jim Cramer

We all know that the pace of change is exponentially faster than it has ever been. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Yet it can confuse and cause all sorts of misunderstandings. Sometimes the speed of change ironically leads to management paralysis. This paralysis develops in some people an intellectual or behavioral hesitation to embrace change. It is what keeps struggling organizations on the lower end of the value delivery curve.

When we like change, we say that it is transformational. We are inclined to say this when change aligns with what we believe will be a positive professional experience. However, sometimes we say that change is disruptive or unwelcome. Professionals—even the most intelligent—fear change more often than they admit.

The Future Can Be Better

Why fear change? For one reason, we know that not all change is forward motion. For another, we have seen and experienced hyper-speed which has caused derailment and the breakdown of proven systems. Speed can be tricky because it manifests itself differently in each market segment and each geographic consideration. Speed can destabilize the professions in different ways. For example, some organizations currently have an over-reliance on older and less-efficient technologies. Some organizations estimate fees using old metrics and standards and find themselves unprofitable in the majority of their work.

DesignIntelligence is focused on what is new and what is next and what options should be considered in this context. When we do this, we discover that linear innovation is all around us today. Most leaders are comfortable preparing for linear innovation. However, there is also non-linear and unexpected change around every turn in the world we live in.

Our job is to study the disruptive scenarios that can cause brain freeze and to respond with not only insight but foresight.

Game Changers Can Put You Ahead of the Curve

Social media provides an opportunity to transmit images and ideas instantaneously. In minutes, a firm leader can develop a rapid response to solve problems that have not been fully understood just hours earlier. Thus, management can cut through the blizzard of reports, data, and complex statements and focus instead on leveraging foresight with a dose of pragmatism.

Accordingly, leaders in our design professions can build their capacity to change the future for the better. Here are four ways you can embrace change while also committing to wise judgment in business decision making.

  1. Anticipate. Expect even more game-changing innovations. We know that developments are already in the pipeline just awaiting release. It is smart to identify cross boundary role models who embrace the future and who see the opportunities of our time unfolding. These mentors should be authentic role models. They can alert you to expanding opportunities and how to take advantage of them.
  1. Think paradoxically. Set high standards for both ongoing quality of your services and embrace speed too. It is counterintuitive to think this way, but we believe that it will be fundamental to tomorrow’s most successful organizations. Use this mantra: speed and quality, quality and speed. Repeat.
  1. Leverage social capital. The future will depend on networks and relationships. Build the most positive relationships and commit to doubling the social capital in your organization. No in-fighting permitted.  There should be likeability, rapport, respect, and admiration, and it should be genuine.
  1. Solve puzzles. Define yourself as a strategic optimist. Blind optimism can be dangerous, but well-informed strategic optimism coupled with foresight is smart. Moreover, you can prove benefits. Each day ask yourself this question: “What did I do today that provided evidence of being a strategic optimist?”

In reality, today’s A/E/C industry is in a state of mutation. This phenomenon is breaking apart old paradigm industry silos. Sequential planning can be thought of as collateral damage.

While we have known that ideas and systems evolve, we also have come to understand that we can harness change for the good. That is why today’s best practices will become tomorrow’s commodities. New value propositions will supplant the old. The good news is that this can advance and increase the value of services so long as they grow in relevance, are understood and communicated.

It is always useful to reconsider with an open mind the state of professional practices today. There is increasing evidence that architecture and design firms are, in reality, technology companies. In this paradigm, every firm is getting stronger or weaker by the day. We cannot always see it but we can sure feel it.

Your organization can be more relevant in just a few months. The alternative is obsolescence. You can develop the perspective to see massive opportunities on the horizon.

James P. Cramer is the founder, chairman emeritus and Senior Fellow of the Design Futures Council.