CHANGE IS TECTONIC

The current group of blog posts are being written in a very uncertain environment. Testing has just begun to accelerate and the COVID-19 numbers continue to grow around the country and the world.  We all sense that a fundamental change is taking place that may alter our lives forever.  

The current situation has led me to reflect on how change itself happens.  

The pressures and needs that shape and motivate change almost always grow slowly—and often in a subterranean manner—for years, decades and even centuries. However, more often than not, the actual change itself, when it finally occurs, takes place swiftly.   

This model of change should sound familiar to all of us in the building industry, where those who benefit most from the status quo typically hold on for dear life. Those fighting for change are typically driven by the opportunity to improve the existing state of things and the desire for a greater share of wealth and influence.  Over time, effective change agents develop more knowledge, allies and strength. The equilibrium between the conservative and progressive forces persists precariously on a sharp-edged, increasingly toxic balance. While their respective forces remain equal, these two highly partisan adversaries combat each other into static exhaustion. 

Inevitably, the system described above receives a severe shock. This could be a natural disaster, a man-made disaster, or a combination of both. Like an earthquake, the underlying pressures that have built up over extensive periods of time suddenly erupt, and the old order succumbs to the new shock. Voilà, a dramatic tectonic shift to a new reality occurs.  

COVID-19 may very well turn out to be the severe shock that will force fundamental change on our society. Perhaps, most critically, on our public health and political systems. 

Building is certainly not immune to this process and is heading for its own tectonic shift.  

Most of our companies have a set way of doing business: 

  • Businesses operations: Financing, insurance, HR and staffing, contracts and risk mitigation.  
  • Building Project Execution: Managing and executing our building projects to create the built environment.  
  • Building Products: Building materials and Building end products. 

However, a number of new elements are now coming together to enable change:  

  • Innovative hardware and software technology  
  • The digital skills and social priorities of the up and coming generation   
  • Improved standards, workflows, and data structures  
  • New building materials and building end products  

We have the ability and opportunity to immediately effect changes that will create:  

Better Quality Buildings, Better Quality Work Environments, and just overall “Better Building.  

Nonetheless, the “static exhaustion” described above continues to keep Building decades behind almost all other industries.   

Building brings together countless systems. Over the years, each team member develops a sense of comfort with their specific operations that allows them to produce their product or service at a consistent and controlled quality. This enables them to satisfy their current customers and promote future business opportunities, while at the same time mitigating their financial, insurance, warrantee and legal risks.  

Change is typically embraced by only a few and is often feared by the majority. New methods are often costly to implement, and are often implemented in a way that disenfranchises existing stakeholders. Existing stakeholders are invested in—and most skilled at—the old ways of implementing building projects. For them, change puts all this at risk. Additionally, all the supporting service institutions of finance, insurance, regulation and legal consulting don’t move quickly in their own operations.  This inertia creates additional resistance for innovative building companies. These supporting services are required to operate and quite often cannot clearly identify and support the new operational risks.  

This is often contrarian logic, since the majority of new operations are almost all logically structured with the intent to decrease the overall risk inherent within the current building market. 

In the past 10 years, new technology, workflows, software, apps and tools have been tested and implemented throughout the building industry. Every company is trying their best to create a proprietary method to knit these new capabilities together into a coherent fabric. Nevertheless, once again, the industry is recreating countless new digital silos where every company has to reinvent its processes as it moves from project to project. Perhaps the most important tectonic shift that Building needs to embrace is to identify and adopt just a few (perhaps three) standard platforms of operation. Platforms that treat all members equally and promote a consistent method of operation for all businesses. 

Our current method of creating a “Built Environment” in which to live, work and play is not sustainable. An increasing number of pressures will soon become an overwhelming force for change. Over time—I suspect within the next 20 years—change will impact all of us, no matter where we are situated within the building eco-system.  Everything will be impacted: from how our companies are organized, build project teams, and procure materials, to the processes and technologies we use, to the products and services we sell to the general public. Those of us who lead this change proactively will be much better positioned to ride this wave of change. Those of us who resist this change put themselves at risk of being overwhelmed by the wave. 

There are specific solutions that are being developed that will provide models and structures for implementing Building’s future. In the coming months, these solutions will be shared in more and more detail. The question I continue to ask and wrestle with is: 

What will be the final straw that figuratively breaks Building’s back and starts the tectonic shift? 

A NOTE TO THE INTERESTED READER: 

What is interesting about this crisis-driven model of change is that the current status quo, now under siege, used to represent the cutting edge in the not too distant past. Once, it was part of the revolutionary force that was pushing against the inertia of the establishment. Now, the avant-garde of the past has become today’s establishment (for example, think of the petroleum market), and they are being demonized as blocking agents for a better future by the new, developing industries of the present moment.  

Is it possible for our society to create a better system of change, instead of requiring competitors to battle to an Exhausted Stasis, and fight tooth and nails for their continued existence?  Can an evolutionary process be developed, where historical and current service and product industries can be thanked for their service and constructively integrated into a changing new world with shared benefits for all?  

It may be that this type of planning and collaborative change is not possible and that our minds are wired for a “Victor Take All” mentality. Hopefully, positive change is possible.  In any case, change will require the emergence of a powerful tectonic force in order to sweep out the old and make room for the new. 

Why It Took Two Earthquakes for San Francisco to Finally Build Smarter:

https://www.history.com/news/why-it-took-two-earthquakes-for-san-francisco-to-finally-build-smarter

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