One evening in 1983, I was drinking beers with a friend and discussing how I was going to turn my current carpentry work into a robust building and design business. As we were talking, I jotted down a few notes on a napkin to sketch out the principles of a successful business. They included:

Synthesis: The ability to organize and synthesize information

Integrity: Bring honesty and integrity to every relationship

Energy: Approach every challenge with energy.

Creativity: Approach every challenge with creativity.

The primary purpose of our conversation that night was to figure out the name of my new business venture. So, we started with the four words in bold above, put their letters through different permutations, and a few hours later “Syntec” popped out.

Today, my 62-year-old self looks back at my 26-year-old self and views that young man as more than a little bit naïve. Nowhere on that bar napkin will you find the most obvious driver of every business, and the object of fascination for everyone in Building, whether Developer, Owner, Architect, Engineer, Contractor, or Manufacturer: “Money, Money, Money.”

However, my younger self didn’t get it all wrong. From my current perspective, 38 years older and (hopefully) wiser, Integrity stands out as the key concept on that napkin.  The basis of every business relationship—and, arguably, the concept of money itself—is trust.

The author Yuval Harrari (Sapiens, Homo Deus), who writes persuasively about the history and theory of money, makes this point. For example, take these two sentences:

“Money is not coins and banknotes. Money is anything that people are willing to use in order to represent systematically the value of other things for the purpose of exchanging goods and services.

Money is accordingly a system of mutual trust, and not just any system of mutual trust: money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised.”

Trust underlies the nature of our business relationships, how we manage risk mitigation, extend credit (the promise to deliver money at a future date in exchange for services or products in the present), structure our building contracts, and exchange money through the payout process.

Trust in the form of credit drives all business relationships and has a particularly important role at all levels of the building process, from manufacturer to end user. Our material procurement chains are built on lines of credit. The supplier provides materials and/or services based on the “Good Faith and Trust” that they will be paid money at a certain date in the future. Lending institutions (LI) and Owners (O) provide assurances that cash and credit are available based on the “Good Faith and Trust” that the project team will deliver services and products that result in a building that appears, functions and performs as mutually agreed upon.

All the legal, insurance, finance and accounting processes that undergird “Building” have been built on these assumptions. Contracts, insurance, financial products, and payouts have all been structured to provide third parties (A/E/C/M and (LI)’s as well as (O)’s) the assurance that work performed by a certain date is complete and satisfactory and that monies are available and will be released to the project team.

With dramatic changes beginning to envelop the building industry, the definitions, solutions and products that support building projects are undergoing significant review and updating.  Each of these drivers will still be central to the Building process, but the changing nature of their definition, specific contractual agreements , insurance products…etc will impact the composition of project teams, where building assemblies are built (Off-site vs. Onsite), how they are built (Stick built vs modules), project schedules, contracts, financing, and payouts..

Change is coming and the pace will only accelerate. Technology will be one of the powerful, central tools that we will use, but “Trust and Good Faith” will be at the center of all successful change.  Our current paper money states “In God We Trust”, but in our building business lives it is really “In Each Other We Trust”. Any change in building whether it is technology, design, building equipment or process driven, must not only recognize this, but must enhance our ability to work confidently with each other, in good faith.

When you sit down to sketch out your plan for the future, keep “Trust” at the top of your bar napkin.

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Steve’s career in architecture, construction and development, always remained focused on the enormous potential and challenge of fully integrated project delivery.

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