Semantics

Laura Handler, author of bim(x), posted a comment on the idea of an IDEO like practice in Architecture. Her suggestion of bringing in other design/construction disciplines into the process earlier forced me to examine my initial negative reaction to the idea.

Intellectually I think including these people on the team is important. Emotionally I cringe at the idea.

Why?

I think a lot of it has to do with semantics and my experiences with the consultants I’ve worked with on previous projects.

I remember clearly when I first realized my consultants and I weren’t speaking the same language. I asked a Mechanical Systems Engineer to Design the HVAC system for a building we were working on together. It was coming up on our Schematic Design Submittal so we needed something that would be helpful in furthering the conversation. What I was getting wasn’t what I was hoping for – too much text, too vague, dependent upon too many assumptions. When I pressed for more they responded by metaphorically throwing up their hands in dismay; did I really expect them to design a system in schematic design? Well yeah, of course. What I came to realize was that when I was saying Design they were hearing what I would have meant by Engineer. Once we understood the distinction, that all I needed was a simple one-line diagram with approximate sizes of ducts and units, they were able to produce what was needed for the submittal.

So, Design isn’t Design to everyone. To some, Design is Innovation; to others it’s Engineering. If we’re talking about Design as Innovation then, is it helpful to include those who think in terms of Engineering? My gut tells me no. Oddly, if the conversation is about Design as Engineering then I absolutely do think that the Innovators should be included… I’d go so far as to say they HAVE to be there.

I don’t like the term Engineering here… it’s too loaded. Maybe it’s enough to use right brain, left brain thinking. Certainly gets me out of the hot-seat with my consultants! <grin>

There is danger, I think, in bringing in left brain thinking into the process too early. During the earliest parts of the Design process, left brain thinkers supply the wrong sort of input and typically play Devil’s Advocate during the process (and I don’t think he/she/it needs any help).

Tom Kelley says it well in his book The Ten Faces of Innovation;

“What’s truly astonishing is how much punch is packed into that simple phrase. In fact, the Devil’s Advocate may be the biggest innovation killer in America today.

…innovation is the lifeblood of all organizations, and the Devil’s Advocate is toxic to [its] cause.”

So my knee-jerk negativity then stems from too much of this. Too much negativity. Too many instances of “yeah, but…”

I’ve known a few left brainers who can hang out with and challenge the right brainers. They’re few and far between and worth anything they ask. If these are the type of people Laura wants to include then that sounds like a fantastic team… one I can’t wait to join.

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3 Responses to Semantics

  1. […] Semantics – LTSFCW waxes lyrical on right brain and left brain clashes over ductwork… […]

  2. Douglass Turner says:

    Hi,

    I’m a Apple alumnus and Silicon Valley veteran. I know the IDEO crew well. Their secret sauce not merely a multi-disciplnary team. It is that each team member is “T-shaped”: deep expertise in one domain combined with awareness/empathy/skills in horizontal domains. This is how you blur the mental model disconnect issues you mention.

    I’m T-shaped. You will also see the term Zero-G (zero gravity) thinking.

    Regards,
    Doug

  3. Evil Devil4la says:

    What I came to realize was that when I was saying Design they were hearing what I would have meant by Engineer. Once we understood the distinction, that all I needed was a simple one-line diagram with approximate sizes of ducts and units,
    they hadn’t previously done what you requested. Next time they’ll know (at worst, send samples when ou next request this?)

    I don’t see this problem as related to engr vs “design” (imo, engr is design).

    To some, Design is Innovation; to others it’s Engineering.
    yet tech improvement (metallurgy, computing, bio, research, etc) is virtually all of the basis for innovation.

    sometimes “left brain” operates independently of “right brain”, but i usually do both simultaneously. Similarly, i also violate that standard “avoid early (conceptions of) solutions” admonishment. I don’t see any other way to get things right. (been doing it that way since a preteen)

    form follows function? or chicken or egg? (“which came 1st – the pterodactyl or the egg?”)

    “[Devil’s Advocate is evil, blahblah]”. [so much for “tom kelley” (who?)] I constantly devil advocate myself. again, this is simply a truth-seeking manner of doing things.
    devil’s advocacy is not “negativity” when it is correct (and the “angel” is incorrect.) Which is which? [which came 1st – the devil or the angel?]

    Doug comment:
    I’m T-shaped. You will also see the term Zero-G (zero gravity) thinking
    me: great. whatever works. 🙂 Creators develop their own internal terminology, and it’s the results that matter, imo.

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