Lessons from the Corporate World

I spent three years working as director of design in a corporation — a startup. It was a wild ride and I learned a ton. Going corporate is definitely something I recommend all architects try.

There’s a lot I can write about my time in the corporate world, but the most important takeaways from working with business professionals all center around lessons on agility and flexibility, whether to meet the changing needs of the marketplace or to adapt the corporate structure to a new business plan.

I’ve been triggered to write this by all of the recent reporting out there on how architecture firms think they’re locked in with Autodesk, who’s been ripping them off for decades. My corporate time taught me that anything can be changed if it pencils out economically (and basically everything except the most batshit crazy nonsense will pencil out). Not nearly enough architects or firms take a dispassionate look at big changes to their practices, nor do they have independent boards of directors pushing them to do so and asking tough questions along the way.

Great businesspeople are more creative than architects in an important way: they can dispassionately look at every part of their business and ask tough, honest questions with seemingly unattainable answers; then get super creative in pulling off plans to make the unattainable a reality. In architecture, we get so romantic about so many parts of our practice that we let any business judgement get clouded by these romantic notions of how we do what we do (see any discussion ever amongst architects about hand-drafting or sketching by hand). Businesspeople don’t get particular or sparkly-eyed about how it gets done, so long as it gets done on time, on budget, and it’s done correctly. Meanwhile, architects go on diatribes about shit that doesn’t matter in the production process.

As creative professionals, I can see granting us a little, tiny bit of space for our hangups preferences on how our production process works; but surely the first boundary around that space is economics. When something in your production process doesn’t pencil out because it costs too much money or time, I don’t care how hard you think it will be to change (and it’s never as difficult as you think it will be), it’s time to move on from a business standpoint.

It’s all one more reason why I laugh at these conversations in the wake of the angry open letter to Autodesk. In a corporation a conversation would’ve ended any attempt to even send an open letter in the first place:

Employee: “We want to issue this open letter complaining about license costs to our biggest software vendor. It’s cutting into profits and the software doesn’t even work that well.”

CEO: “Have you talked to this vendor before you considered an open letter?”

Employee: “Yes, they offered excuses and then ignored us on subsequent attempts to communicate. They also just raised prices…again.”

CEO: “Assholes. Let’s dump them. Someone else makes software that does the same thing or better for less, right?”

Employee: “Well…yes. But it would be too much work to switch, since everybody knows the other software.”

CEO: “How different can the two softwares be if they do the same thing? Pull together an ROI analysis and transition roadmap for Monday’s meeting before you go sending open letters out. Let’s figure this out.”

This is the spot where the employee would pull together numbers with their team and realize that the change pencils out rather reasonably.

Instead, I’m counting the days until the newsfeed brings us a story about a firm tacking on an Autodesk Surcharge to their fees to cover them getting gouged because, well, Revit is just such an integral part of their practice and it’s what people know. 🙄

PS
This isn’t about being anti-anything in terms of software, it’s about whiney architects being chickens. Design however the hell you want to, just don’t expect to get taken seriously when you choose to let a software vendor key to your design process walk all over you because you think change is impossible. I ain’t afraid to make a change when I realize the time has come to do so.

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