Building a Niche

March 13, 2009

Today’s business world is beginning to reward those with a niche.

There are examples of this everywhere. Products and services that are designed for a very specific market are doing very well even in tough times. Lamborghini is having its best year. The Tesla Roadster is on backorder. But those things that are commodities, or are being turned into a commodity are worth and valued less and less particularly when money is tight. The Big 3 automakers who make average cars for average people (with a few exceptions of course) are in so much trouble they’re begging for money.

Service industries become a commodity when they take on any job that comes their way regardless of what it means or how it will impact their industry and business in the long run.

I think that’s a mistake.

According to wikipedia, a commodity is “anything for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market.”

Unless you are Amazon, or in years past Sears, and can take the entire long-tail under your purview, differentiation has to come from something other than an all things for all people mentality. You need to specialize. You need a niche to dominate. You need to be the best in the world, or more to the point, the best in the world of those in your market.

Instead of tackling anything that comes your way, choose an aspect of your industry and focus all of your efforts here. Become an expert in your market. Participate in forums and online communities involved in these areas. Help who you can without trying to sell your services. Start a blog and talk about your ideas and thoughts on the topic and pull in pages and articles your market would find useful. Start a newsletter for your audience and develop a permission based contact list of people who want to hear from you.

It might take time and it will certainly take effort but eventually your market will see you as an expert and will seek you out for your thoughts and your help.

Is it a lot of work? Yeah, of course it is, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Collaboration as it Could Be

December 10, 2008

To continue from the last…

For those of us who are not artists, who cannot and should not rely on raw inspiration to achieve success, we need to find a way to work that pulls from the best of those around us and allows for immediate feedback on an idea.

To work together maybe we should really work together. Sit around the same table, around the same drawing, the same screen, the same model and talk through the issues. Work the design as a team. Charette the problems. Come to solutions together. Only then should we work to implement those ideas individually.

The doing of the work, the actual production of the drawings, models and images that represent our understanding of the idea, should be done as quickly as possible so that we can get back to what we’re really all here to do, creatively solve problems.

Collaboration in Isolation

September 15, 2008

I’ve been thinking about how we work. About collaboration and what makes it work when it works. I think I’m on to something that I’ve been trying to understand for years. Collaboration, as seems to be defined by my colleagues, is a sequence of do in isolation and review in group.

Makes sense I guess. This is, after all, exactly what we did in school during the juries of our projects. Work for weeks in relative isolation and then present/review with a group of our peers. It wasn’t meant to be collaborative. It was about the individual, the classic definition of an Architect as Renaissance Man (or Woman of course). No wonder we carried that with us into the workplace, we had no other model to follow.

“Collaboration is a recursive process where two or more people… work together toward an intersection of common goals… by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus.” – Wikipedia

If that’s true then how can we call what we do, when we isolate ourselves from others (headphones on, intently focused on our screens), collaboration? It takes two, at a minimum, and yet we only occasionally get together. When we do it’s to discuss what’s been done since the last time we met. We review the work instead of working together.

There are times, certainly, when working independently can be extremely powerful. When it allows us to discover design as it happens. When it allows for “happy accidents”. Some of the best work I’ve seen done is a direct result of this happenstance.

Here’s the catch, if you’re not drop dead talented, a true artist, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to coax these accidents out with any amount of regularity. Still, you can try, you can fake it. Something will eventually get built.

to be continued…

Project or Process?

September 15, 2008

I’m wrestling with a problem of which is more important, the project or the process.

At first glance the answer seems obvious; the project is most important because it is ostensibly why we are in business. Clients come to us (or we to them in the case of an RFP) and we help them realize their projects. If we stopped working on projects we’d stop getting clients and we’d all be out of a job. Certainly then the project is critically important.

So what of process? If all else is secondary to the project why bother working the process? Why not stick with what’s working? Certainly makes some sense, particularly when we focus on the immediacy of this project and the next. Who has time to bother with process when there are projects to complete?

The ugly truth is that your process is more important than your project.

I should clarify here that my use of the word process is in no small way a placeholder for something more than “a series of actions, changes, or functions bringing about a result”.  To my mind it includes just about everything we do that’s not directly related to the project.  Office culture, standards manuals, email policies, marketing tactics and company moto are all things that have just as much and more important than the project.  It’s what gives us whatever edge we may have in the market place… in addition to any awards we might have won as well of course.

Process is what allows us to grow and change with the evolving world and business climate around us.  If we continue to hold onto outdated processes and insist on working the same methods the market will bypass us and find other ways to achieve its goals.  The only way through this is to accept continual change and work on process.

So process is important too.  More important than the project because process is about growing the company, the industry and yourself.  The project is about a completion date and a set of expectations.  It has an end and an outcome that is focused on the now with little to say about what comes next.  Process is the next and the in-between and the before and the during.

Projects are what allow us to work on the process.

What’s in a name?

August 27, 2008

I was looking at my blog stats today and saw that the traffic I was receiving from Google and the like don’t exactly matchup with the topics I’m talking about. They’re mostly searchs for “cheap wine”! LOL

Guess I have a lot to learn about how search indexes work.

From what I do know about SEO it seems that Google is prioritizing the name of the blog over the content. I’ve read Google gives content that’s emphasized preferential treatment. Titles, headings even bold and italics are more important than body text. Go figure.

So, with that said I think it’s time I changed the title and tag line to something more relevant.

Originally I had “Life’s too short to drink cheap wine.” as my Blog Title and “My maternal grandfather, Robert Smith, used to say this to me a lot as a kid.” as the tagline. Gotta document your history!

Okay then, what should I use? I talk about Revit and BIM of course, but I also talk about work processes and how our assumptions and traditions affect how and why we work. So how do you say that in a way that Google likes? What’s another word or phrase for all that?

It has something to do with marketing as well (I’m heavily influenced by Seth Godin and his writings and thoughts). Seth uses the word zooming to describe the process of continual changes and how they’re critical to business growth and success so that’s another keyword that might work.

How about “Zooming with Revit” and “thoughts on Revit Architecture, BIM and how they change the process” for a tagline?

Yeah, that’s not bad. Let’s try that and see what happens.

Now, what do I do about the URL! LOL

All about Me… in one page

August 27, 2008

Why is it that we continue to use resumes as an introduction in our search for new opportunities? It’s one page (occasionally two, never more than three) with standard formatting (contact information on top followed by work experience, educational history and a short list of skills) whose sole purpose is to get you in the door, to get you an interview. They are the gatekeepers to employment and they have outlived their usefulness.

I can’t find a history of the resume online anywhere but I think I can make some reasonable guesses about where they came from.

As businesses grew to require hundreds of employees those responsible for making hiring decisions would have needed a tool to help them weed out the applicants to a select few with the necessary and required skills and experiences. The single page resume would have made this process much easier and since these large companies were creating products and services for the newly emerging mass market the remarkability of employees was not necessary or often desirable. Remarkable people upset the status quo. Mass market abhors change and prefers to keep the world and the market stable to ensure sales and profits. Employees in these businesses were little more than cogs in a machine, resources needed to produce whatever it was the mass market required. New jobs and new departments where created to manage these Human Resources and the resume was one of their tools to find the right match for the task oriented jobs that were being created more and more quickly.

This method of finding and selecting personnel worked very well for the decades of mass market dominance. But the internet, niche markets and the Long Tail are changing all that. More and more we’re finding that it’s not enough to just have the skills and experience. We need to be remarkable. We need to be the best in the world (or at least the isolated niche in which you’re invested). If we want to do more than get by we need to stand out and step up.

Resumes get in the way of selling and showcasing your remarkableness. Its static formulation and brevity make it difficult to identify the remarkable beyond the occasional and rare remarkable education or experience. What we do, how we think and what we have to offer is far more valuable now than an Ivy League education or a job in the mail room of a Fortune 500. The resume is designed precisely to obfuscate the remarkable in order to reduce you and your efforts to a single page.

This blog makes for a better introduction than any resume can. It doesn’t list where I went to school (The University of Kansas) or whom I’ve worked for (HOK Sport, Gould Evans Associates, Architekton and more) but it does show how I think and where my interests and passions lay (hint – it’s all about the process). Does this make me remarkable? Not yet maybe, thought some would seem to think so, but it does lay the foundation.

Geek: Definition

May 30, 2008

Found this awhile back at I think it helps make it okay to be a geek. I think it suggests that it’s essential that you be a geek about something.

“My definition of a geek is, “Somebody who socializes via objects.”

When you think about it, we’re all geeks. We’re all enthusiastic about something outside ourselves. For me, it’s marketing and cartooning. For others, it could be cellphones or Scotch Whisky or Apple computers or NASCAR or the Boston Red Sox or Bhuddism. All these act as Social Objects within a social network of people who care passionately about the stuff.

Whatever industry you are in, there’s somebody who is geeked out about your product category. They are using your product [or a competitor’s product] as a Social Object.

If you don’t understand how the geeks are socializing- connecting to other people- via your product, then you don’t actually have a marketing plan. Heck, you probably don’t have a viable business plan.”

It’s okay, go geek out on something. You’ll like it!