Growth power nodes, dangerous untruths, and getting the future you want

Welcome to our 250th edition of DesignIntelligence. We started this publication in 1995 as a newsletter with a small network of 26 member organizations who shared ideas and benchmarks with a purpose to be stronger, better and more successful.  

We called this network of sharing the Design Futures Council. The Council grew to become a think tank with regularly scheduled meetings at the Salk Institute and the Smithsonian Castle. We carefully selected design, construction, and educational leaders.  Now this network has grown to a thousand plus worldwide and each year we are pleased to see both old and new friends at our conferences and consultations. Our growth continues and we now have ongoing events in Asia, Europe and occasionally elsewhere (recently Brazil and Singapore). Each January we publish an update to our trends research.  We’re delighted that you are here with us in 2014.

We’re in a transformational epoch. Machines can now drive a car more safely than humans can. Computers routinely rout grandmasters at chess. 3D printers can manufacture just about anything that can be imagined. New technologies are enabling new solutions everywhere we turn. These changes are rapidly redefining who does what in our industry. The traditional borders are blurring and, in some cases, melting away altogether. There are more opportunities now in the AEC industry than in any previous generation. This new epoch is likely to bring different structures and organizations plus new competitors from outside the industry and from around the world. It also means that there will be winners and losers and that marketplace positions of relevance are in fast motion and likely to be re-ordered. The only known competitive advantage is continuous learning and then adapting to change.

Growth Power Nodes

Here at Greenway Group, our take on change and managing change brings forward eight zones which we expect to see play out dramatically in the near term future. These are the essential power nodes of success for the near term future.  We recommend that these be addressed as part of your strategic conversations — the flow of thinking about what you will do differently in your organizations in order to win the future:

  1. Speed of delivery will accelerate and it will often simultaneously be expected to improve quality
  2. Leadership transitions everywhere with increasing diversity
  3. New partnerships, alliances and networks sharing expertise and big data
  4. Lean analytics, processes, and lower overhead organizations
  5. Sustainable design with zero carbon emissions
  6. Globalization with new economies and new  competitors
  7. Technological advancements in communications and design with artificial intelligence and robotics
  8. Talent shortages in both design and AEC Industry leadership

All of this spells opportunity. That is why your own organization’s strategic plan should have each of the above addressed along with a sense of leveraging your own capabilities.  One danger to the future is losing positions of relevance. As Thomas Kuhn observed in his seminal work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, “when a paradigm starts to shift, those wedded to the outgoing paradigm tend to resist.” Herbert E. Meyer reminds us that “in the end they are defeated rather than persuaded; they are pushed side to make room for new leaders who are more comfortable with the new perceptions and more fluent in the various subtleties.”

Change makes for new playing fields and new market sectors. Some will capitalize on these game changing events and they will be more likely to successfully evolve. Of course, others will resist. I heard John K. Galbraith say once: “Faced with the prospect of change or proving that no change is necessary, most people get on with finding the proof.” 

The Most Dangerous Untruths are Truths Moderately Distorted

The business mythology in the AEC Industry is notorious. We have not witnessed much improvement. Statements are regularly thrown around that become generally accepted to such a degree that they become excuses for non-achievement. Tear your assumptions apart and start all over again

Students hear from their college professors that “architects don’t make much money”. Young people in high school are counseled away from the “dirty, gritty, and corrupt construction industry.”  Committees in associations continue to share war stories on such matters as downward fee pressures without revealing smart intervention examples of how each can be successfully dealt with. Misery loves company. At a recent design convention the closing panelist said, “I started out with nothing in this profession and I still have most of it.” The crowd in room snickered. And so it was another lost opportunity to share the science of success and the massive opportunities in architecture, engineering, design, and construction.

William Shakespeare is reputed to have said, “Make use of time, and let not advantage slip.”  That sums up our intentions for this 250th edition of DesignIntelligence.

Given the trends and shifts discussed here, there are a few categories in which to organize an action plan of competent and far reaching change management.

1.    Special capabilities.  

If you do not have a clear competitive advantage or value proposition you are going to be marginalized and fail. There are dozens upon dozens just waiting to be applied.  They are constantly shifting with changes in the context of each practice.

2.    Leadership.

Successful firms and organizations are successful because of management. Smart firms know that 21st Century business models are radically different. Architects must be more than draftsmen and technicians.

3.    Focus. 

Knowing what business you are in has never been more important.  Learn how to keep score. The near future will be quite different than the near past.  

We suggest that as you read through this issue of DesignIntelligence, you bring your own style of friendly skepticism to each survey issue; each article. Give these observations your own strategic analysis but also remember to underpin this with some old-fashioned can-do optimism. Change takes a lot of energy and commitment.

Getting the Future You Want

In order to calibrate the information in this issue and to make it relevant and loaded with foresight ask the following questions:

  • Who will be in charge of leading your strategic initiatives?
  • What special capabilities do you plan to have in your firm to stay current?
  • What warning signals will you look for if your game plan is not working?
  • How can you grow and be lean at the same time?
  • What actions will you take next?
  • How will you manage your time in order to capture the new opportunities of 2014 and beyond?
  • In what ways will your investment priorities for growth be different than your competitors?

Taking Action

Believe that you can find yourself in the center of opportunity in 2014.  While it’s certain to be a challenging year, you can navigate the winds of change.  In addition to the organizational initiatives, we suggest that you create or update your own personal strategic plan. What will be your special value? What will be your vision of career progress? What will make you special in the marketplace in the near future? Will you take on a new specialized expertise? Would you like to be quoted on this expertise in the media? What will you focus and how will you stretch your skills?

We hope that you find this 250th edition of Design­Intelligence to be of superior value. As your future condition unfolds let us hear from you. And if you would like to share your stories we would be pleased to visit with you about that too. Stay in touch. We wish you much prosperity, purpose, and significance in this year ahead.  Let’s make the most of it.

James P. Cramer is founding editor of DesignIntelligence and co-chair of the Design Futures Council. He is chairman of the Greenway Group, a foresight management consultancy that helps organizations navigate change to add value.