Headlines often paint a very different picture from the reality facing decision makers in our industry. Here’s what is really happening:

Today’s business press, from The Wall Street Journal to the Financial Times, provides misleading headlines as they relate to architects, engineers, and interior designers, such as “Monthly Value of Construction Put in Place Rose by 1%.” Unfortunately, non-A/E/C headlines often combine housing construction with the many non-residential sectors. The Design Futures Council’s roundtable countered this with: “Negative Economic Territory Ahead for Architects, Engineers, and Designers in Most Building Sectors Except Residential and Education.”

Headlines often paint a very different picture from the reality facing decision makers in our industry. Here’s what is really happening. Falloff continues in the corporate, commercial, hospitality, transportation and industrial sectors. This will force more and more firms to lay off staff in order to realign their business plan within the current economy. Some organizations will be fortunate and won’t be affected all that much. But most will. Therefore, YOUR future is likely to be affected.

Talking with firms this week, one can quickly categorize their responses:

  • Denial and happy talk. “We’ve heard there is a recession but we are not participating.”

  • Distraction, diversion, and busy work. “This is temporary and we won’t be affected much . . . and besides we’re focusing on new mergers and acquisitions.”

  • Acceptance and strategic action. “We’ll respond with three levels of contingency. We’ll stay strong through our pertinent actions.”

Economic cycles are not fun.They slam good organizations against a wall and into a corner. Sadly, the inertia of success often encourages complacency because firms don’t want to abandon the practices and methods that brought them to a position of high repute, seemingly poised for more wealth creation. It is not surprising then that these firms’ leaders sometimes begin implementing nearly the same strategic game plans that worked for them before.

Sadly, sticking with the traditional game plan will often bring a firm to its end-with no new beginnings likely. When you get a chance, read the Almanac of Architecture & Design and count the “AIA Firms of the Year” who are no longer in business or go to ENR’s firm rankings of ten, twenty, and thirty years back. Dozens and dozens of firms went bankrupt or quietly closed their doors. The recipe for winning was lost, or ignored.

Architecture, engineering, and design are difficult, risky, and precarious professions. Therefore, there are valuable lessons for those seeking to be successful, resilient, and retuned for changing times. In the months ahead, we’ll be looking at firms of all sizes who are finding ways to succeed through vision, strategy, agility, energy, and persistence.

Passing over my desk are notes indicating that SOM, Gensler and Hillier made more staff cutbacks this month. Some may draw the conclusion that they are getting weaker. Far more likely, however, it indicates that they have the resolve to do just the opposite. They are adjusting their gears and bench strength, and, in the process, they are raising the bar on performance and productivity-even in the face of adversity.

What should be on your survival agenda?1. Vision, 2. Strategy, 3. Agility, 4. Energy, and 5. Persistence. Your agenda should include both the science and the art of each of these five. Keep in mind that success is not random. Your dreams can become your new realities. Finally, think within the context of the game of chess rather than checkers.