Saturday, November 30, 2013

Everyone is Practicing Integrative Design or At Least That’s What They Say!

In an article published by Barbra Batshalom on her blog at Sustainable Performance Institute, she questions whether design firms are practicing in an integrative manner or just writing and talking about it. When framed in the context of green building design she recognizes the importance of integrative design process in creating green buildings and challenges firms to question – “how green is your process?” Perhaps most importantly then is the question- what are the indicators of that process?
This article and its questions strikes and reinforces many themes on a variety of topics in many design process improvement conversations.There are a couple of key points to take away and further engage in that conversation.
First is the importance of design process in the realization of design outcomes.  As she says “there is a heightened awareness that design process itself determines the success and cost effectiveness of implementing green building and using rating systems.”
Second is the appreciation that there are many clear indicators of a “dis-integrated” team process. I’m sure many designers have experienced some indicators and you could reflect on these items that are cited so that they can become things we all seek to change and improve.
Third, and most importantly, are some of the clear indicators of teams that are engaged in an integrative design process. What are some of these signs?
~ You are pushed out of your comfort zone.
~ You are asked for your input on a wide range of issues.
~ The expectations of your work are clear and detailed.
~ Other people’s work is dependent on your work.
~ Interaction of the group inspires creativity.
~ You feel more respected and valued with a higher level of pride in the outcome.
~ The work process is clearly mapped and decisions are made in a transparent manner.
~ Innovative solutions are encouraged.
~ Client/stakeholders decision makers are involved in a significant way.
Barbra summarizes a challenge in the end of the blog with the following quote.
The first step in assuring your proficiency as an integrative designer is to pay particular attention to your own indicators – if you are reflective about your participation and the participation of others in the group, and look for quantifiable feedback that evaluates the collaborative nature of the process, you have a much higher chance of success.”
Simply stated you have to work at it but you also must feel it.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

True Grit: Diana Nyad

Much has already been said about Diana Nyad's amazing swim from Cuba to Key West and many stories will evolve from her accomplishment and methods.  But at the clearest level she proved that perseverance and big dreams can transcend age, injury and setback.  This to me is the definition of true grit.

In a Boston Globe article called 'The Truth About Grit', Jonah Lehrer traced the research that links a successful scientific result with the effort required to produce that successful result.  I wrote about his article a few years ago in reference to learning, but it's appropriate in this context as well.

In Lehrer's article he noted that the celebration of the moment often overshadows the goals, discipline, effort and stick-to-itiveness that is actually required for success.  He goes on to state that researchers are quick to point out that grit isn't simply the willingness to work hard.  Instead, it's about setting a specific long term goal and doing whatever it takes until that goal has been achieved.  It's always much easier to give up, but people with grit keep going well after others might have conceded.

So after thirty-five years and five attempts, Diana did just keep going and accomplished her goal.  As reported by Lizette Alvarez in the New York Times in her interview, Nyad had three messages.

"One is we should never, ever give up.  Two is you are never too old to chase your dreams.  Three is it looks like a solitary sport but it takes a team."
During the grueling journey, she maintained focus as she always has done, by humming her favorite songs in her head.  With a reported song list of over eighty songs, including the Beatles, Janis Joplin, Neil Young and others, her strokes were calibrated to the cadence of these songs.  From tunes like 'Ticket to Ride' and 'Paperback Writer', she got the positive distraction needed to keep both her body and mind going.  Sheer will power carried her across the straits.

The day after the swim the Boston Globe's Reflection for the Day was a quote from the late Pulitzer Prize poet, James Wright.  I'm sure Wright wasn't thinking about swimming in his comment, but the timing and sentiment is perfect for Diana's strategy and preparation.

'You can endure almost anything as long as you can sing about it.'

This interest in the power of music makes me wonder - did Diana perhaps have the Beatle's 'When I'm Sixty-Four' on her hum list?  The timing would have been just right.  Diana's triumph sends an inspirational life message to aging baby boomers and all who will listen.

'If something really is important to your heart, you look and see what's inside yourself and you find a way.'

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Slow Ideas: How Do Good Ideas Spread

Last week I tweeted the link to Atul Gawande’s recent New Yorker article titled, Slow Ideas. Today I’ll follow up with some things I think are useful to all design professionals. While the article is framed in the context of significant healthcare inventions and challenges, the results and patterns of idea creation and diffusion apply to many settings. To set the stage, Gawande analyzes some current and historical examples of idea generation and innovation pointing out how some ideas like anesthesia were very quickly adopted while other good ideas took a generation to adopt. All of his example and case studies like sterile practices, rural birthing and cholera were or are global societal challenges.
But packed into his article and case study examples are many stories and messages highly relevant to professional practice and approaches to managing our adoption of ideas and change. Certainly many issues we deal with are “invisible” to some or many and certainly many people favor technical solutions. But as Atul states most successful change is accomplished through social methods.
I liked the reminder about “Seven Touches” both in client marketing and change agency; the clear support for and necessity of face-to-face exchange; the appreciation/understanding of inherent change resistance; and the realization there is a timing or readiness for change.
There are also many good quotes and I’ll note a few. I’m sure you may find more that resonate with you.
“This has been the pattern of many important but stalled ideas. They attack problems that are big but, to most people, invisible; making them tedious work, if not outright painful.”
“To create new norms, you have to understand people’s existing norms and barriers to change. You have to understand what’s getting in their way.”
“In the era of the iPhone, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become enamored of ideas that spread effortlessly as ether. We want frictionless, ‘turnkey’ solutions to major difficulties of the world–hunger, disease, poverty. We prefer instructional videos to teachers, drones to troops, incentives to institutions. People and institutions can feel messy and anachronistic. They introduce, as engineers put it, uncontrolled variables.  But technology and incentives are not enough. ‘Diffusion is essentially a social process through which people talking to people spread an innovation,’ wrote Everett Rogers, a great scholar of how ideas are communicated and spread. Mass media can introduce an idea to people. But, Rogers showed, people follow the lead of other people they know and trust when they decide whether to take it up. Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that change is a social process.”
I think the BetterBirth Project case study shows many useful examples of leadership and person-to-person learning that can be considered in the birthing of organizational changes and new ideas.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Key Design Issues Are Research Questions

Four years ago Thomas Fisher, Dean of the College of Design at University of Minnesota, wrote a short essay for the Boston Society of Architects Research Grant program entitledResearch in the Design Studio. His essay and the following exerpt reminds us that research opportunities are everywhere in our design work.

" Research occurs in design studios and offices all the time: historical research, precedent studies, programming analyses, form explanations, functional evaluations and so on. But we don't think of this as 'research' and so we rarely frame our work using research protocols, such as hypothesis statements, testing methods, evaluation criteria or generalized conclusions. Nor do we document and share the results of research with colleagues very often. If we transform architecture into a more evidence-based, value added discipline, we desperately need to see design as a form of research..."

Based upon this narrative, Thomas Fisher is providing us a method to expand our definition of design and our understanding of our emerging Market Smart approach.

Last fall Mardelle Shepley, FAIA, Texas A&M, wrote an article with a similar theme for AIA California Council entitled, How to Convert Key Design Issues into Research Questions.  She too has long observed that design professionals and process are a great, but sometimes unexplored, opportunity to capture research questions. The introductory sentences set the tone for the article.

"Architectural designers are prolific generators of research topics. The very essence of the design process is to identify questions and pose answers."

She suggests the strongest connection and most important part of the design project, the initial stage, is also the most fertile for identifying possible research questions. Whether you call it planning, visioning, goal setting or programming, it is here that the design approach is framed.

"The distillation and prioritization of design research questions occurs during the programming process, where primary design goals are generated. While the uninitiated may consider a building program a mere list of spaces, designers are aware that the crux of a good program is the identification of project objectives.These objectives are the equivalent of research hypotheses."

As noted there are a number of ways that project or design goals can be generated: overall client specific outcomes; design team design strategies; pressing or ongoing research topics; or novel, untested design innovations. Any of these categories can spawn specific large and small scale design goals. They can each become a hypothesis when the designer or team collects data and draws conclusions about the intended or possible outcomes of the design idea.

To assist and structure the process of converting a design goal into a research question/hypothesis, Mardelle states that most design hypotheses contain four components.

1. The design intervention/design feature or the independent variable
2. The outcome/result or dependent variable
3. Subjects, all of the occupants or users
4. Responses, all of the environmental resultant conditions

As we all know, design decisions are numerous and vary widely in scale from planning strategies to furniture and graphic selections. But whether formally documented or not, all designers know that these design decisions are intentional even if the outcomes are unstated. To aid in clarifying the nature of these possible outcomes, four general categories are offered with a couple examples.

1. Psychological:  satisfaction, emotional impact
2. Behavioral: frequency of use, interaction, collaboration
3. Physiological: heart rate, pupil dilation
4. Mechanical: air quality

When we combine the design intention, the IF, with the anticipated outcome, the Then, the result is a simple If-Then hypothesis statement for any or all of our design decisions.

So in their essay and article what actions are Thomas and Mardelle advocating?

1. Create and document clearly constructed design goals/design intentions on a full range of scales.

2. Create or otherwise establish expected outcomes or results from design decisions or features. Some that are quantitative and some qualitative.

3. Conduct assessment during the design process through simulation or other analysis and/or upon completion and occupancy to confirm the relationship of the intention with the reality of the actual outcome.

4. Repeat the process, building the results of the design feedback into the design process.

Design is a research process and research is a design process.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tipping Toward A White US Minority

Last week new census data was widely reported including this article in the Boston Globe. The article revealed an unexpectedly more rapid change in US demographics.
While demographers have long expected that the aging white US population would eventually shrink, the rapid change over the past five years, partially attributed to the recession, caught many by surprise. The projections now anticipate that white US population will become a minority by 2045. It seems far off but it really isn’t.
There are a number of ways to consider and understand the implications of these changes including social programs, the future work force, the US economy and our standing in the world. The article considers a number of the issues and certainly there are other challenges that society and design firms need to focus on and respond to.
In the article William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, offers a number of quotes and comments that focus on and underscore the social and economic concerns of like Social Security and Medicare. In regard to the acceleration of the demographic changes, Frey notes some impact of these resulting transitions.
“Today’s racial and ethnic minorities will no longer be dependent on older whites for economic well-being.” He then suggests that the situation might be reversed when he noted the following. “It makes more vivid that ever the fact that we will be reliant on young minorities and immigrants for our future demographic and economic growth.” He takes these thoughts further when he adds “The issues of minorities will hold greater sway than ever before.”
There are many other obvious topics not addressed directly in the article including immigration policy and education. Of these I think these more rapid shift in demographics should be a serious reminder of our efforts regarding educational reform, revised education programs and policy and the required resultant improved achievement and opportunities for all.
Just consider that a five year old entering public school this fall will be reaching an age of serious earning power in 2045 as the demographic tipping point occurs. Given these new predictions it would appear as an excellent reminder that the future welfare of the country is in our hands to change now.  It will certainly be in the hands of all the five year olds in 2045.
Can we take heed of this information and resulting challenge and create the appropriate learning environments for all our five year olds?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How IDEO Brings Corporate Design To America

I recently found this article from Fortune which features David Kelley, founder of IDEO, and his thoughts on the evolution of his firm and how the business world is increasingly impacted by design thinking. One of the more powerful quotes comes when he says…
“Our real impact on the business world is that the design-thinking process helps companies innovate. We help to instill in our clients the belief that they can routinely innovate.” 
It’s a great quote and leaves me only wanting to add that innovation is anything but routine.
At the end of the article, David shares three pieces of advice relevant to an architectural firm.
Do stuff rather than plan: So he reinforces a bias for experimentation, action and learning and, I would add within an organizational framework, that does include planning.
Play and look at things with a child’s mind. So do things in your teams that change your habits and your work environment and inspire your work.
Find your fit in life: So I assume you have found your fit but have not yet realized your best work. Reinvention may be the next fit.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Funky Leadership Advice

Stories of leadership are found in all shapes and sizes, both very serious stories and some not so. One excerpt from a new book The Art of Doing:How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well was recently shared on the Fast Company blog titled The Mothership Connection: Funktastic Career Tips From Funk Legend George Clinton.
The basic take-away is that great things can happen when fun, passion, excellence, focus, experimentation, persistence and timing collide. It’s certainly true for music, art and design.
The story offers up nine pieces of advice and lessons learned from George Clinton, a short manifesto for doing cool things well. Check them all out and a few that I’ve highlighted below are great reminders.
1. Someone has to be the ringleader: “Someone’s got to be in control and if you know what you want, it might as well be you.”  I guess I’d substitute responsible for in control.
2. Grab What You Like and Bring Your Own Thing: Was funk a Blue Ocean strategy?
6. Listen to Feedback: “You hear us. We hear you back.”
7. Stick Together:  “… if anybody gets in trouble, we’re all going to stick with that person no matter what.”
9. Keep Chasing the Dream: ” I’m not trying to catch up with being happy–because it’s the pursuit of happiness i’m after. I want to be so close behind it I can almost touch it. That’s what keeps me looking forward and moving ahead.”
As George says if you’ve ever been in the Funk, you’re in it forever.  Oh, we like the funk, we like the funk!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Science of Persistence - Climate Science Pioneers

Within the past month, two significant global environmental events occurred, the death of Joseph Farman, discoverer of the Ozone Hole, and the first recording of atmospheric CO2 levels above 400 ppm on the Keeling Curve. What connects these events?

Reading Joseph Farman's recent obituary in the New York Times, I was reminded of his Ozone Hole discovery almost thirty years ago, and was drawn into the interesting story of his dedication as a scientist and researcher. With the British Antarctic Survey in 1957, he began collecting the ground level ozone readings which eventually resulted in one of the most important environmental discoveries of the twentieth century. But what emerges beyond the discoveries, the subsequent adoption of the Montreal Protocol to ban CFC's, and Farman's related personal recognition, are the quotes, taken from the Times obituary, regarding his methods and diligence.
"…his commitment to the prosaic first principles of data collection, they said, in the remotest outpost of the scientific world, produced discoveries unimagined by other scientists and overlooked by orbiting satellites."
"But Mr. Farman refused to stop making ground-level readings, despite his superior's questions about their usefulness, and despite his lack of standing in the field of ozone research."
"His dedication, as much to the principle of scientific record keeping as to ozone study, would make him something of a working class hero among scientists."
After twenty five years of recordings he had collected enough evidence to show that ozone levels over the Antarctic had fallen by 40% in just a ten-year period and that the ozone hole was a real and present danger to life on earth. Sharon Roan, author of Ozone Crisis: The 15-Year Evolution of a Sudden Global Emergency, noted his modest willingness to do the research he thought was important to do. "He wasn't looking for anything astonishing -- just doing a little job, and persevering at it. And he came up with the most astonishing discovery."

At the same time that Joseph Farman began his environmental recordings, another climate science pioneer, Charles David Keeling, was initiating his recordings of atmospheric carbon dioxide, two miles high on the rim of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. As a scientist with Scripps Institution of Oceanography, he began making daily recordings with a device he developed at Caltech. These measurements were begun as part of a one-year initiative, the International Geophysical Year. Like Farman, Keeling's persistence and discipline resulted in daily recordings which have been consistently recorded since 1958 and are now referred to as the Keeling Curve. Historical research has shown that, prior to 1750, pre-industrial levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide ranged from 275-285 ppm. When Keeling initiated his measurement the level was about 315 ppm, and his subsequent measurements recorded the growth attributed to human activity and fossil fuel consumption. The terms greenhouse effect, global warming and climate change all have origins resulting from this data and Keeling's subsequent research.

When the May report of atmospheric carbon dioxide recordings showed measurements of more than 400 ppm, it was seen as a possible tipping point. Many believe, like climate scientist James Hansen, that we must reduce levels to 350 ppm to mitigate the range of environmental impacts associated with higher levels of concentration of atmospheric CO2. Framed around the crucial need for reduction to this lower level, Bill McKibben's environmental movement,, also reacted to the announcement of the 400 ppm recording.

But back to the nexus of the climate science pioneers, Farman and Keeling, and the recent events that remind us of the important lessons of their research. Both scientists began their studies in remote locations and at about the same time in the late 50's, just as Sputnik went into space. Both were personally passionate, believing in themselves and the importance of their work, and persisting over significant time in the measurements which have changed our understanding of the planet. Farman and Keeling left us powerful lessons, yet we still have much to learn.