Transitions in construction

Transitions in construction

Whatever you thought, think again.

Agents of change

ReflectionsPosted by Dan Engström Sun, November 06, 2011 01:14:57
So you're the agent of change in your group? The one that tries to make something new happen. I'm in your corner mate. I am of the opinion that construction needs to succeed with the transition we've started from project based logic to systems building. It's the kiss of death to be the one that keeps bringing it up, but I'm with you anyway. And you've got that big meeting coming up where you can bring your ideas to the table again. Let's have a look at that, shall we?

I used to work as head of engineering for an engineering consultant with over a thousand employees. Systems building was my main goal from day one. I thought back then that if I only had a watertight case, enough colleagues would see my point so that we could start working on the change together. I thought I only had to make sense. Silly me. You see, having taken on the responsibility of making change happen, I had the burden of proof resting squarely in my lap to overcome the bias of status quo. I failed.
And as I said, in the long run the concept of developing a systems-based logic for design is...

If you're anything like me, you'll feel like a clown trying to let unwilling people know what you can help them with. Well. That doesn't help anyone. Since then, I have learned that making sense is not enough. The engineery, logical type persuades noone. People will hear you but they will not listen, and they will certainly not act on what you say. Because apart from presenting a watertight case, you will need to overcome the audience's emotions and their bias. Ethos, Pathos and Logos. Logos alone will not help you.

You guessed it. This is old Greek stuff, Aristotle to be exact. It's knowledge about 2,300 years old. And let me tell you, I had no clue. I went for my reasoned argumentation and got polite nods and smiles, but no action what so ever. So, when we finally got the attention of that group of important people in suits, what do we need to do to make something happen?

Any community or organisation is characterized by a set of guiding beliefs. In this case, one of them will very likely be the status quo bias. "We're doing business as usual here, and it's bloody important business too." As agents of change, it is our job to show them that they have someting to gain personally in the short term from helping to bring the change about. Let's prepare the case for that.

The audience have emotions. Yes, they are actually PEOPLE. Save us. They worry. They get bored and think about other things while you speak. They check their emails. Let's quit yapping long, difficult words at them and start helping them feel comfortable in the change we are suggesting. Suggest small steps, one at a time. Be concrete. Let's give ourselves a fine for any buzz word we use that we haven't come up with ourselves. And for crying out loud, let's not take ourselves so seriously. Practise smiling for the camera, that'll give you about the right feeling of being a complete doofus. You're not, but you'll feel like one.

Ah, yes. The reasoned discourse, the logical argumentation. If we do not make sense, rest assured one of the opponents to the change we are suggesting will pounce on our logic. Everyone will immediately see their point because that's the easiest way out for them. We should check our facts and try our conclusions on people much like our audience and ask for their worst critique. We should prepare our argumentation based on that.
Now get out there and be heard. It'll be hard, but noone said change is easy. If it were, most of the people in the audience would be up there with you.

Images, Flickr Creative Commons
: Self-conscious clown by Steenbergs and Rise Against live at The Orbit Room, Grand Rapids, MI, in November 2008 by YODCOX!

Cry wolf

ReflectionsPosted by Dan Engström Tue, November 01, 2011 19:47:46
This is really hard to take. Greece have announced they will hold a referendum and stocks fall all over Europe. Analysts cry wolf, everyone puts their plans on hold for just a little bit and the crisis suddenly becomes reality.

There is a lesson to be learned here. Have a look at this article for example. Or let me quote from it: "Yesterday RIM released its numbers for the 2nd quarter in the financial year 2012. While the numbers are solid, they are slightly lower than expected. Investors were less than amused and RIM shares dropped by almost 20%."

That is the kind of event that makes managing directors want to show muscle and their readiness to do what it takes, and lay people off. Numbers are solid but people lose their jobs. Numbers are solid but the work the staff are doing is only part of the story. The work the analysts value from the staff is what counts.

Analysts, i.e. people in suits gambling with other people's money, guessed wrong again and somehow that became the RIM company's fault. The map becames the terrain. The hard work the RIM employees put in to improve their company could be out the window.

The value of your company is less important than what a handful of people outside of the company think the value of the company should be. Why do we put up with this?

It occurred to me

ReflectionsPosted by Dan Engström Mon, October 31, 2011 12:08:20
... that I really should put my thoughts out there more often. Construction needs an overhaul, and is in the process of fundamental change. It really is a paradigm shift. Our history of complete focus on project-based logic is increasingly being examined, and in many ways discarded. We have done so many good things but we cannot rest. Our recurring small improvements need to be based on on a substantial foundation where we can harness them. This, we've been crap at doing. Really.
The traditional ways are being complemented with systems building. We are building systems and building with the support of systems. I'll write a post on that too. Or more than one, I am sure. For now, let's just note that systems building is a paradigm shift. As such, the transition is hard to achieve. Even when necessary, paradigm shifts are always easier to not do. They hurt because we are all leaving our comfort zones. If people like me (who do this for a living for crying out loud) do not make the effort to discuss the change, who will? If I don't look at my own suggestions in the open before I try to make them happen, who will?

So, with no further ado, this is it. You have just read the first post in the blog Transitions in construction. Now, on to writing a post with some content on the subject matter.

Image by Ell Brown (Flickr Creative Commons)

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