Spotlight of the Week: Guest Blogger Dace Campbell
Dace Campbell, AIA, LEED AP is a Customer Success Manager at Autodesk and a nationally recognized expert and strategist in innovative tools and processes, including Building Information Modeling, Lean Construction, and Integrated Project Delivery. He is a licensed architect with almost 25 years of experience in design, construction, and computer visualization supporting collaborative, efficient design and construction.
Innovation and the Three Rules of Sailing
Practically all AEC firms claim to innovate. Unfortunately, many merely pretend to lead change in hopes of appearing competitive. Others legitimately try to innovate, yet find themselves in the unenviable position of playing copy-cat with their competitors. However, the firms that truly lead our industry forward differentiate themselves by enthusiastically leveraging innovation in a few common ways. I liken those common approaches to the "three rules of sailing," which I learned from a salty old skipper who taught me to sail ten years ago. His rules were:
The First Rule of Sailing: Always Look Good
The Second Rule of Sailing: Always Do as Little Work as Possible.
The Third Rule of Sailing: Safety First
These rules are as true as in sailing as they are in many aspects of life. And they certainly ring true when it comes to innovation in the AEC industry. Let me explain…
#1: Always Look Good
In sailing, this refers to getting the right trim on the sails, keeping the deck clean and neatly organized, and avoiding the sin of leaving your fenders out over the rails when at sea.
In our industry, a prime reason to innovate is to differentiate yourself from the competition while increasing market share. Whether innovation is accomplished through a formal research and development program, or informally and integrated into project operations, the critical thing is to show value to your client.
For example, years ago many AEC firms differentiated themselves by innovating with BIM to enhance owner communication, comprehension, and confidence in project work. Today, BIM is standard practice, but innovative firms continue to exploit it to look good, as evidenced by trends in innovation today, like computational design, "6D" facilities maintenance models, and augmented reality visualization.
Of course part of looking good it is promoting your innovation – externally of course, but it's probably at least as important to promote it internally to advance your firm's culture. Note, however, that innovation for the sake of itself, or because it might sound cool in a press release, isn't sufficient. You need to offer and demonstrate measurable value to your clients. To do this, you need to develop metrics for success, and measure and report the ROI of your innovation when promoting just how good you look.
#2: Always Do As Little Work As Possible
To be a successful sailor over the long haul, don't fight against the weather or currents; rather, use them to your advantage. If you obey rule #1, then you must trust the boat to do the work it was designed to do and eliminate wasteful motions and energy fighting it.
In AEC, another prime approach to innovation is increasing your profitability, which is best accomplished by eliminating waste and defending your margins from erosion. Whether you decrease the cost of doing work, or increase your efficiency or productivity, it can lead to larger profits – and innovation can play a significant role.
AEC firms leverage BIM technology and process innovation, much like Lean Construction, to provide the right information and materials to the right person, in the right place, at the right time. It's about eliminating redundancies and waste, doing more with less, and minimizing uncertainty and unpredictability by perfecting a prototype before a project is built.
Those firms that innovate with BIM today understand that it is about more than coordination and clash detection. Best-in-class firms proactively collaborate to tear down obstacles to interoperability, support prefabrication and modularization, tailor early information for downstream uses, and repurpose lessons learned about prototyping from other industries.
All these innovations require upfront work to increase a firm's productivity over time. That is, you invest in innovation to ultimately enjoy the return: doing as little work as possible.
#3: Safety First
In sailing, this rule is self-explanatory, of course. But the wit of ranking it third is born from a kernel of truth: if you're following #1 and #2, then you're already doing much of what it takes to be safe on a sailboat. Safety is absolutely integral to the culture of successful sailing.
In AEC, whether you're innovating to differentiate yourself in the market, or whether you're aiming to increase productivity, at some point you need to integrate your tools and process with operations and support aspects of practice.
To successfully solve real-world problems, innovation with BIM must be practically and directly applied to firm-wide and project-specific goals. Examples like improving your safety culture (there it is: safety first!), stepping up the quality of your deliverables, decreasing your delivery schedule, reducing your carbon footprint, minimizing disruptions to occupants and neighbors, and increasing understanding and confidence with key project stakeholders are all possible goals that can be met by embracing innovation in AEC.
In any of these examples, it's not just about looking good, and it's not just about minimizing your workload; if you don't practically integrate your innovations into everyday practice, "R&D" will be considered overhead and a cost center, at risk of defunding when times get tight. Furthermore, successful innovation needs champions at grass-roots levels as well as in upper management who can guide it, integrate it into operations, and defend its existence in the face of those protecting the bottom line.
To be worthwhile, innovation must directly support and ultimately change your professional practice for the better. By integrating your innovation efforts with your operations and solving real problems on projects, you strengthen your firm's culture and ultimately improve our AEC industry as a whole. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats, even those that are powered by sail.
What do you think? Can successful innovation happen without obeying these three basic rules of sailing? Besides these rules, what other key tenets should you follow when innovating?