Page C1.2 . 25 April 2012                     
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Design with Enterprise


Building a New Model

I believe in change — a new model, if you will, leading toward an expanding definition for the profession of architecture.

Churchill said, "Success is never final." Success is a journey. The only problem with being a success is that you have to keep on being a success. Successful people aren't just lucky. Good things happen because people are willing to think smart, work hard, take risks, and be resilient.

Not long ago I spoke to the students and faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during their spring lecture series. During the presentation, I said the choices we make put us on a pathway. By Sunday night we are not the same person we were at the beginning of the week. Week after week, if we learn well, we will get better, stronger, and be of more value — not just in school or our career, but especially to our family, friends, and, yes, to ourselves.

With self-esteem, which is to say the value you place on yourself, comes an ability to be resilient and uncommonly optimistic, seeing opportunity where others see only a mass of problems.

Dr. Jonas Salk says, "Where there's a will, there's a way. Unfortunately, where there's a way, there's not always a will." We need designers, architects, clients, and political leaders of will and courage to find a new way.

The most important intellectual breakthrough of our time is the realization that nothing is impossible. However, we shall not achieve great goals with limited vision. We shall not achieve relevant and satisfying professional careers with petty services. We will not find our way guided only by small dreams. Choice, not chance, determines destiny.

I have traveled exhaustively across America and much of Europe and Asia. I have talked with hundreds of people in the construction, business, and design communities. Some feel that the architectural profession is headed in the wrong direction and slipping into decline. But they are not representative of those who consistently realize success.

Those successful architects and their supportive, insightful clients have persuaded me to remain optimistic about the strength and value of the profession. To them the current turmoil is not a sign of decline, but the opportunity to create a new identity and with it a new reality.

Successful firms see trends
and then get ahead of them.

In the future I see architects at the center of relevancy and value. Not just players but leaders. Not just offering traditional services, but offering creative full services. Not just coordinating, but collaborating.

Not just marginally rewarded, but fully compensated. Not just concerned about design and quality, but with courageous insight and economic relevance offering inspiration during negotiations.

This much I know based on stories of progress from all over the globe: As concern grows for shaping a better, more compassionate world, we are entering an era of great opportunity for the enterprising architect. For many, it will be a new and deeply fulfilling reality.

Turning Point

"Now we ask: Is there a point at which the principle of change will be fused with the principle of permanence? ...a perpetual re-beginning and a continual return."

—Octavio Paz

It will take time to change the attitudinal and scientific culture of the design professions. As Thomas Kuhn observes 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 aside to make room for new people who are more comfortable with the new perception and more fluent in the various subtleties."

What about those designers who, by contrast, understand how to fit in and capitalize on the new playing fields? They have successfully evolved. They are open to more evolution. They are resilient and often in their own quiet way are gaining increasing confidence and optimism about the future.

What they are doing may be very quiet most of the time. But make no mistake: They are revolutionizing the design professions. They are redefining their professions for the better.

Based on what I have seen in looking at a number of success stories, there are five principles driving those participating in and benefiting from this model:

  1. No one owes you anything — not the state registration laws, not the government, not the economy, not your employer, not your parents. You must invent your own sustainable future and be an entrepreneur of your life.

  2. Chaos and change are a major force in a designer's life. Love it or hate it, but don't whine. Take advantage of the infinite possibilities now available to you in a world of constant flow.

  3. Design your life to be lean and results-oriented. Follow your values and your vision. Your values will give you integrity and peace; your vision will energize and propel you ahead to achieve your goals.

  4. Only you can make personal and professional choices. These principles will support you:
    • Be focused as you take action; know your priorities.

    • Have a strong will and positive commitment.

    • Be anticipatory and resilient.

  5. Take care of your relationships and leverage your experience and wisdom. Leave a legacy that makes a difference.

Taken together these five rules of design enterprise are not by themselves a recipe for inevitable success. They seem, however, to be the key principles guiding today's and tomorrow's designers toward careers that are personally rewarding and professionally fulfilling.

In the brave new world opening before us, this is the gateway that empowers designers to make a profound contribution to the quality of life. And with that contribution will come renewed respect for those who, along with nature, shape our world.   >>>

Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...


James P. Cramer, Hon. AIA, Hon. IIDA, is the founder and chairman of the Greenway Group, which consults on strategy and business foresight for the design and construction industry. Cramer is the founding editor and publisher of DesignIntelligence and the Almanac of Architecture & Design, and is also the cofounder and president of the Design Futures Council, an AEC think tank. He served as chief executive of the American Institute of Architects from 1988 to 1994. In addition to consulting and giving seminars around the world, he has authored hundreds of articles and coauthored the books How Firms Succeed: A Field Guide to Management Solutions and The Next Architect: A New Twist on the Future of Design.

This article is excerpted from Design Plus Enterprise: Seeking a New Reality in Architecture & Design by James P. Cramer, copyright © 2002, with permission of the publisher, Greenway Group.


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Design Plus Enterprise: Seeking a New Reality in Architecture & Design by James P. Cramer.
Image: Greenway Group Extra Large Image


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