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seven habits

The seven habits of highly effective architects – part one

May 11, 2020
  • Article by Jos Maple

Effective habits are internalised principles and patterns of behaviour that assist us to perform at our best. This is the first in the series.

Habit One – Be Responsive Not Reactive

Have you ever heard the term ‘knee-jerk reaction’ being used as a compliment, or even in the same sentence, as something positive?

We’ve all been there; the productive plans for the morning get thrown sideways after receiving a demanding, or simply incorrect, email from a builder or collaborator. Stressing over it is not going to help get things back on track, nor is a swift pointed response. Similarly, if you have a client request an additional space, fitting or fixture, simply accommodating their wish may have further knock-on effects that could outweigh the benefits that they perceive.

As an architect you will never perform at your best if you simply deliver via reaction. The reactive approach commonly ends up being a mediocre experience, not just in terms of your own personal effectiveness, but also for those with whom you deal. So what is the alternative? Pause, process measure and respond. You can implement this easy-to-follow method to stop reacting and start responding with measured deliberation.

“Reactive people are driven by feelings, by circumstances, by conditions, by their environment. Proactive people are driven by values – carefully thought about, selected and internalised values.” – Stephen R Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Pause then process

In order to regain control when something unexpected gets thrown your way, you need to take a moment and pause. Not to sound like a yogi, but breathe. Your aim here should be to stop yourself from being reactive. Now process the situation. Seek to understand the underlying issue or objective. What’s it all about? Not the meaning of life, but the email, the demand, the request. What do they really want or need?

Ben Peake, an associate at the award-winning Sydney-based architecture firm Carter Williamson, says, “We try our best not to rush to decisions. It’s a good approach when there is a sensitive email or issue to respond to, to share our response with a colleague and seek their input. You have to acknowledge the initial emotional response, but also think rationally in a response.”

Measure and respond

So you have a proposed solution. Before going further you need to measure. Put your laser range finder down… Now is the time to measure the proposed response against competing priorities and available resources. For example, this may include considering whether a call versus an email response is more effective. Or whether other more critical work means that a response at a later time is the right course of action. Or even whether there is someone else who is better placed to respond. Similarly, when developing a response to a client’s brief, it pays to make the effort to truly understand their desires and goals and not simply list their spatial requirements in a pragmatic way.

Good architecture aims to go to the next level, to integrate the brief into a concept that responds to the client’s way of life, or company ethos and culture. Prior to architecture Peake worked with Fujitsu, a leading organisation in the IT management industry. The service centric organisation actively sought to avoid the reactive approach, focusing its efforts on identifying and addressing the core problems.

“My days at Fujitsu were involved in its ‘Sense and Respond’ method. The fundamental principle was [an intent] to understand our clients’ true ambitions so that we could respond to their needs in a way that better supports their business. Sometimes, this involved responding in different ways than they had originally asked us to do. I think this is true in design also. [At Carter Williamson] we commonly hear our architecture clients say, ‘Oh, I never thought of doing that!’,” says Peake.

The way you operate on a day-today basis is your lump of clay. You have the ability to reshape it at any point. By developing the habit of being responsive rather than reactive, you will be able to become more effective, less stressed by minor issues, and less influenced by the emotions and reactions of others.

Once mastered you will begin to stand out as someone who is effective, who solves problems… the one who gets things done.

Image: The Mill, Balmain © Carter Williamson

This article first appeared in AR161.

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