Tuesday, January 5, 2010


In an earlier post regarding CRS, Bill Caudill and his TIB's, I mentioned CRS's commitment to research, and that I'd be returning to his "Things I Believe" and their relationship to current architectural issues. Flipping through the book, I came across the following TIB on research from Bill in April 1966.

"There are a lot of definitions for research.

I like this one:

'Regarding the search for truth'

It even looks good:


A few weeks ago I came across some new information on CRS. In her excellent paper, Marketing through research: William

Caudill and Caudill, Rowlett, Scott (CRS), Avigail Sachs provides historical analysis of the "research attitude" of the firm in its formative stage. She notes their power to integrate professional practice and research, in both marketing and design, while leading the AIA and profession in applying research and new techniques to the design world. In her conclusions, she advises contemporary architectural practices to learn from CRS's early stage commitments to research, scholarship, marketing and design leadership. Though many contemporary A/E firms have benefitted by engaging research in their practice methods, the profession still has a long way to go to bridge the research/practice gap.

For example, a few months ago I prepared a short paper in our firm, advancing the argument that architectural programming is actually primary research. The word research often has multiple meanings and requires a variety of skills that many architects and engineers are not trained to perform. Most design professionals understand that primary research is the collection and evaluation of data leading to knowledge that does not already exist, but what isn't clear to practicing professionals, is the linkages between architectural practice and design research. Looking at our profession and our firm's design practices, one might raise the question, what parts of our current methods are or could be defined as research and how as a firm and profession can we better understand and refine these methods.

In his book, Inquiry by Design, John Zeisel sets out some basic concepts regarding the relationship and cooperation between research and design, from the perspective of an environmental behavioral researcher and a designer. He argues that designers and researchers can work together to solve more broadly defined design problems than they could each solve alone. A major issue, however, is the usefulness of research material. It must be in a form that designers can not only use, but in turn, improves the chance that research information can be tested in practice. Research investigators learn by making hypothetical predictions, testing ideas, evaluating outcomes and modifying hypotheses. These activities are the basis of their collaboration and cooperation.

Zeisel states that there are at least three day to day design practices that offer opportunity for research/design cooperation.

1. Design Programming: research for the design of a particular project

2. Design Review: design assessment for conformance with exis

ting environmental behavioral research knowledge

3. Post Occupancy Evaluation: assessment of built projects in use in comparison with original design goals/hypotheses

This diagram is from Zeisel's text and describes the relationship between environmental behavior knowledge and the design process.

Of these three project practices, a revised approach to programming offers a major opportunity to recognize its research nature, improve our methodology, and create a basis for innovation and idea generation. In some ways over the past forty years, programming has moved from a very specialized consultant service into a more mainstream process, often blended with services like planning, master planning and concept design. Thus the discipline of programming has become blurred.

Perhaps a step back in recent history would be useful. Two important books were published forty years ago, Problem Seeking, by CRS and Emerging Techniques 2: Architectural Programming, published by the AIA. Both books presented the emerging practice and techniques which systematically defined quantative and qualitative facility needs. It was a predesign process and was viewed as specialty practice. In Problem Seeking, the classic quote and discipline separation was stated as "Programming is problem seeing, design is problem solving." As conceived and practiced, the programming research team was distinct from the design team and the program document was a thorough analysis and documentation of facility needs. It could stand alone as both a statement of requirements and as an evaluation tool for any design response to facility needs. A quote from the AIA Architects Guide to Facility Programming underscores the research perspective.

"It (the program) lays the foundation of information based on empirical evidence rather than assumption that helps the designer respond effectively and creatively to client requirements and facility parameters and constraints."

"Programming is an information-processing process. It involves a disciplined methodology of data collection, analysis, organization, communication and evaluation through which all human, physical and external influences on a facility's design may be explored."

The opportunity then is to reassess the methods, tools and techniques currently used to program within our profession, practices and building typologies. Considerable effort has been invested in developing templates and formats for quantative program/space needs and related programs. However a bigger opportunity still exists in regard to a wide variety of methods available to conduct primary research/facility program requirements. In Robert and Barbara Sommer's book, A Practical Guide to Behavioral Research, Tools and Techniques, they define the full array of methods appropriate for programming as research. Four basic techniques are defined: observation, experiment, questionnaire, and interview. When thought about specifically as programming, these techniques are most realistically practiced as a multi-method approach, combining observations, interviews and questionnaires, as well as case studies. The following outlines the techniques as both definition and reminder:

- Observation: includes casual observation, systematic observation, video recording, photographic recording, and behavioral mapping and trace measures.

- Interview: includes unstructured interviews, structured interviews, semi structured interviews, telephone interviews and focus groups.

- Questionnaire: includes open end and closed questions, ranking versus rating questions, matrix questions, group or individual survey, mail survey and internet survey.

I believe we should take Avigail Sach's advice to heart. We should learn from the early CRS "research attitude", look to the roots of architectural programming as a discipline, and as John Zeisel does, define programming as primary research.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

SOS: Support Our Scientists

In a recent Newsweek article, An SOS for Science, Daniel Lyons argues that clean energy science should trump politics in creating climate change legislation and positioning the United States to take advantage of the alternative energy revolution. SOS, the international signal for distress from 1908 to 1999, sends a message that we are sinking. According to wikipedia, the first ship to send an SOS was the Cunard Line, Slavonia, in June 1909 just over one hundred years ago. Much later, in popular use, the three letters were often associated with "save our ship" or "save our souls." However, Daniel Lyons is sending a different message, "support our scientists. "

His article covers the conflicting attempts to draft meaningful legislation, to get our policy makers to believe our scientists, and to get our country and policy makers to see what the rest of the world is doing to meet the alternative energy/climate change challenge. Lyons says that, as a country, we have too much prosperity, making us fearful of change and unwilling to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains. He believes we, and in particular policy makers, are too easily frightened by politically charged arguments, framed to create what people in the computer industry call FUD - fear, uncertainty and doubt - against what otherwise might be common sense solutions. He draws a bleak and threatening picture of what we are up against, though in fact, that may be counterproductive.

"Alternative energy is the next tidal wave in tech innovation. If we miss it, we will not only weaken our economy and harm our national security - we will turn ourselves into a second-rate nation.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is racing past us. In solar energy, the leaders are Japan, Germany and China. In wind it's Germany, Spain and Denmark. In nuclear it's France."

To underscore the concern he quotes Ralph Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Science who says "you can go up and down the list - in some cases we're players but we're no longer leading." To really catch up Cicerone says we'll need "a sustained commitment the likes of which are hard to see in American history." This approach in effect says we've collected the data on climate change, done the analysis and expect this information to change our thinking and, in particular, to change our policy formulation thinking.

Despite sending the SOS signal, Lyons doubts we have the collective will to respond to Ralph Cicerone's challenge of a "sustained commitment." He did note, however, a time over fifty years ago when we, as a nation, responded to the fear of falling behind the Soviets in the race for space. I was a junior in high school when Sputnik I and Sputnik II were launched, capturing the world's attention and catching the American public completely off-guard. During that year, the emphasis of college preparatory courses immediately switched to advanced math and science, leading me to the undergraduate study of engineering, and changing a generation of students and our country. Our nation's response to that "Sputnik moment," resulted in major investments in science, technology and education, leading to the creation of NASA and ultimately to man walking on the moon.

Unfortunately, the current climate change/global warming debate and context is not so singularly clear as being first in the race to launch a satellite into space. The impact of the Soviet launch was immediate and all Americans saw the event broadcast repeatedly on television and headlined in newspapers, resulting in the urgent, emotionally charged desire and commitment to change our behavior and speed up our own space program. But the space race was a long time ago. Not only has much changed regarding our own will to act, but much has been learned about how to enable people to act. Recent neuroscience has shown that, rather than threats, other methods are more effective in getting people to change their behavior, even for something as simple as recycling.

John Kotter's recent book, The Heart of Change, and an article, Managing with the Brain in Mind by David Rock, deal with neuroscience research and ways to approach change in behaviors based on the social nature of change and the brain. While their approach is related to change in organizations and high performance workplaces, the message is relevant to the save our scientists SOS signal. Current social brain research debunks common theories about the "threat and reward" response, finding instead that responding to a threat is generally not the productive path. As Rock states, "Humans cannot think creatively, work well together or make informed decisions when their threat responses are on high alert."

Nor is simply analyzing and defining the problem as shown in Kotter's message that "people change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings." Analyzing all the science, facts and figures won't do as much to create behavioral change as feeling strongly about the truth of a given situation. Al Gore's documentary effectively used this concept to show "an inconvenient truth", thereby spawning an emotional reaction that would lead viewers to take action for countering climate change. There is no doubt that the heart of change is in the emotion. Kotter summarizes it as: See, Feel, Change; three words that make for a more successful result than Analyze, Think, Change.

So if we are to support our scientists, which I do, and save our planet, which we all must do, then let our scientists find broad, powerful ways to demonstrate the truths of their research, in turn leading to emotionally committed citizens and policy makers who will settle for nothing less than fully meeting the climate change challenge.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fortieth Anniversaries

1969, the end of the turbulent 60's, was a year of national, international and personal milestones. Now forty years later, I find myself reflecting on the events which shaped my generation and influenced my personal and professional path.

The first of the forty-year anniversaries was our February wedding and honeymoon in our semi-complete ski house in Vermont. Getting snowed in so completely we were unable to get to the ski slopes, we spent the first day as newlyweds tiling the downstairs bathroom. That day was not only the start of many future housing renovations and construction projects, but of never missing an opportunity for accomplishment, regardless of the situation. Back in Somerville, we moved into our first apartment, painted some super graphics on walls and a radiator, got some furniture and started our life together. That spring I applied to the new graduate program in architecture at the State University of New York at Buffalo and we got ready to set off on another new adventure.

The summer of 1969 marked three more fortieth anniversaries: the New York City Stonewall riots in June, Apollo 11 in July and the Woodstock Festival in August. All were events of our time, marking the start of the gay rights movement, the completion of Kennedy's challenge to put a man on the moon, and a musical high point of the peace and love era. Along with millions of other people, we watched the Apollo mission on television, and we did drive from Boston to New York State in August - just not to Woodstock. Our trip was to Buffalo, New York for the start of graduate school in the very first year of the architectural program at SUNY Buffalo. What an adventure it was: a new city, a new professional direction and the purchase of our first home together. Very exciting times.

As I think back to the start of the graduate program, I'm reminded of people, process and purpose. Much humbler, but not unlike the goal of the space program to put a person on the moon, the school's innovative, even radical, purpose was to broaden the context of design and architecture by putting man and environmental considerations into the practice of architecture. The history of the school acknowledges John Eberhard as the visionary first dean of the School of Architecture and Planning and provides a thumbnail sketch of how it began. However the following quote forty years later by John in his most recent book, Brain Landscape, the Coexistence of Neuroscience and Architecture, puts the origin of the school into his own words.
An opportunity I couldn't resist presented itself when Martin Meyerson, president of the State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNY-Buffalo), invited me to start a new school of architecture at his university. He arranged for my new school to report to three provosts: Engineering, Fine arts, and Social Science. I decided to have this school focus on an inter-disclipinary graduate program, which would have as its purpose educating a new generation of architects who could organize and manage research projects--as contrasted to designing buildings. We formed a nonprofit organization outside the university called BOSTI--the Buffalo OSTI related to my friend Don Schon's research organization in Boston. During the next 5 years, our team of graduate students participated in more than 50 projects--all of which were funded through BOSTI by outside organizations.
The first person John asked to join his mission to build a new school was the late Mike Brill. Mike and John had previously collaborated at the National Bureau of Standards Institute for Applied Technology, using design-research teams that applied systematic analysis to problems in the built environment - a systems oriented, people committed social vision. Mike was the first chair of the graduate school and developed the research/teaching arm called BOSTI, Buffalo Organization for Social and Technological Innovation. The first class of twenty graduate students was a mature group from a variety of undergraduate majors, setting up the multi-disciplinary approach. All had altruistic, knowedgeable, energetic restlessness with the status quo. Banding together with purpose, they were rebels with a cause.

Those first months of a teach/learn experience in a program without a traditionally structured curriculum explored the roots of the educational model. A number of components of the vision and process were tested live on our experimental class, including: the multi-disciplinary approach to environmental design, projects as educational vehicles with real design-related problems and real clients, team learning in faculty-student teach-learn mode, research in action education funded through BOSTI, user-based, systems-oriented problem solving, and performance-based measurement of outcomes. The flavor and spirit was clearly activist and anti-establishment, particularly toward the architectural profession and schools which favored visual design education without social constructs. Assigned readings, such as Systems Approach by Churchman, General Systems Theory by von Bertalanffy, Structure of Scientific Revolution by Kuhn, Personal Space by Sommers and Hidden Dimension by Hall, supported systems thinking about social issues. Kuhn's book introduced the word 'paradigm' and John viewed this program as the new paradigm.

Forty years later, I can still see the space where we worked, its walls covered with diagrams, images, charts, and goal evaluation matrices from our projects, research or class assignments, yet I can also see how much of what was set out back then as a way to change architectural schools and practice, still remains incomplete today. Recently I took on a new role in our organization as Director of Research with the goal of completing the research-based practice loop started in Buffalo. While contributions from social science have continued to provide much more useful research about the design and use of the built environment, currently called evidence based design, the bridge between systems-based research and the mainstream practice world is still incomplete. My work started forty years ago with that drive to Buffalo, and the journey continues.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

In Search of Evidence

In June I wrote about Creativity: Luck or Preparation and Navigating the New Normal. The first post concluded that creative outcomes aren't the result of luck but rather the result of preparation, attitude, discipline and mindset. The second focused on research for business in turbulent times, concluding that the key factors are organizational discipline, core values and preparation. My interest in these topics specifically relates to the corporate practice of architecture and engineering, and the search for research and evidence from many other fields that impact that practice.

In the architectural engineering world, particularly in the area of health care, the topic of evidence-based design has expanded and evolved. An article in the current issue of Architect Magazine, Is EDAC the Next Leed? tracks the background from evidence-based medicine to the creation of a new professional accreditation and certification program. While there may be confusing definitions in this evolving design methodology, there is no doubt about its goal: to move design decisions from intuitive to informed. The Center for Health Design, which is dedicated to advancing such practices, defines evidence-based design as "the process of basing decisions about the built environment on credible research to achieve the best possible outcomes." Such credible research is not only changing the way we look at our professional practice, but at all the other claims and promises so often presented by product manufacturers.

Continuing the search for meaningful research brings me to an interesting and related article from the Boston Globe Ideas section, Luck Inc. by Drake Bennett, regarding business success books. The article challenges the content of business success books beginning with In Search of Excellence, and continues through a string of other best sellers:
"...the basic idea underlying the literature is the same: that the secrets of success can be divined by careful study of the institutional habits of the world's business all-stars... At their most ambitious, these books purport to elevate the study of excellence to a science, its nuggets culled from exhaustive research and refined by painstaking analysis."
The remainder of the article focuses on recent books, article and papers arguing that success books are not actually based on science. Bennett cites The Halo Effect, by Phil Rosenzweig, along with books by Robert Sutton and Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford, which see problems with the reliability of the data upon which success literature is built. Rosenzweig states "These books try to impress you with the massive amounts of data that they gather, but much of the data are not valid." Fueled in part by the same quantitative urge that is behind evidence-based medical care, Bennett notes that many of the recent critiques argue "for a more truly evidence-based business-success literature." In perhaps the most radical critique, Bennett explores the findings of Michael Raynor and Mumtaz Ahmed of Deloitte Consulting, and University of Texas business school professor Andrew Henderson, that success books are not good at identifying the cause of success and cannot truly distinguish success from mere luck. They say the data is too inconsistent and suggest performance could be equally well explained by random chance. It would be nice if such challenges to the current business success books result in more rigorous future publications.

In spite of these claims, I have personally read many such business books and found the advice useful, even if not based on science. I am not a fan however, of the "luck" school of thought, and am confident that future, and deeper investigation of the topic of business success will turn up pertinent information related to organizational preparation and discipline. In all fields - medicine, business texts, product design and architecture - patients, readers, users and clients are looking for proof of promises. Perhaps the next best-selling business success book should be "In Search of Evidence".

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Monday, August 17, 2009

True Grit

Seems that I'm reading, thinking and writing a lot about innovation, creativity, and team structures for successful outcomes. Maybe it's related to that Yogism, "the more you look, the more you see." At the core of my investigation is the search for evidence supporting those observations that lead to new structures and patterns of behavior which can effect successful change.

Many contemporary studies cite deliberate practice, design thinking, optimum frame of mind or mental preparation as determinants of success, but some current research points in a different, and old school direction. In a recent Boston Globe Ideas article, The Truth About Grit, Jonah Lehrer traces success from Newton's apple/gravity observations to current research on the linkage between a flash of insight and the effort to document a theory or produce a successful result. He notes that the celebration of the "aha moment" often overshadows the goals, discipline, effort and stick-to-itiveness that is actually required for success.

In recent years, psychologists have come up with a term to describe this mental trait: grit. Although the idea itself isn't new - "Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration," Thomas Edison famously remarked - the researchers are quick to point out that grit isn't simply about the willingness to work hard. Instead, it's about setting a specific long-term goal and doing whatever it takes until the goal has been reached. It's always much easier to give up, but people with grit can keep going.

Lehrer reports that two research psychologists, Angela Duckworth, who has pioneered the study of grit at University of Pennsylvania, and Carol Dweck at Stanford University, have been simultaneously investigating these personality traits, attempting to answer questions like exactly what is the 'grit' personality trait, how do you isolate and measure it, and can grit be learned?

One of the main obstacles for scientists trying to document the influence of personality traits on achievement was that the standard definition of traits - attributes such as conscientiousness and extroversion - was rather vague. Duckworth began wondering if more narrowly defined traits might prove to be more predictive. She began by focusing on aspects of conscientiousness that have to do with "long-term stamina," such as maintaining a consistent set of interests, and downplayed aspects of the trait related to short-term self-control, such as staying on a diet. In other words, a gritty person might occasionally eat too much chocolate cake, but they won't change careers every year. "Grit is very much about the big picture," Duckworth says. "It's about picking a specific goal off in the distant future and not swerving from it."

As described by both researchers, benefits from a better understanding of grit would be first to provide additional tools, beyond conventional intelligence and achievement testing, for use in a wide variety of applications to more accurately predict future success. Take the survey yourself at www.gritstudy.com to see how you measure up. The second benefit would be to provide a body of knowledge for educators to teach children the virtues of continuous effort. Dweck refers to this teaching effort as creating a "growth mindset" while Duckworth envisions educators teaching these skills to develop "a generation of grittier children." Key to these educational approaches is an emphasis on perseverance, combined with reinforcement of the basic hard work and degree of effort that leads to accomplishment.

An excellent example of a school that Duckworth and Dweck might envision is the Bronx KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) Academy. In Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Outliers, he tells the story of the school's co-founder, David Levin, the students at KIPP, and the unexpected characteristics of high student performance from this school in one of the poorer neighborhoods in New York City. Since its beginning in 1994, it has become one of the most desirable public schools in the City based on graduate achievement, and despite, or perhaps because of, its innovative schedule resulting in an extra two thirds time in the classroom over other district schools. KIPP students attend daily classes until 5 pm, spend four-hours in class every other Saturday, and don't complete their school year until three weeks into July. Gladwell quotes Levin on how students have adapted to the addition of the summer part of the program:

"The beginning is hard," he went on. "By the end of the day they're restless. Part of it is endurance, part of it is motivation. Part of it is incentives and rewards and fun stuff. Part of it is good old-fashioned discipline. You throw all of that into the stew. We talk a lot here about grit and self control. The kids know what those words mean."

No doubt, these are the forerunners of the generation of grittier, and more successful, children that Angela Duckworth envisioned.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Navigating the New Normal

In a January interview in Fortune magazine, Jim Collins, author of 'Built to Last', identified a number of key characteristics that a business needs if it is to navigate through turbulent waters. His research on turbulence is especially relevant in the current business and environmental conditions, which he calls 'the new normal'. Much of what he says resonates with my own experience and with the core values and vision of our firm, but four things stand out.

First, set core values for the organization to provide a deep keel to stay your course. Second, be aware of the caliber of people in the organization. Are they the ones you would want with you in your foxhole? Third, have the perspective to take the long view in planning, and manage by the quarter century, not by first quarter results. Fourth, develop the attitude and confidence to succeed and prevail, not just to survive.

If this is how your organization operates, then Jim Collins says that turbulence can be your friend. The key point in realizing this opportunity, again echoing Louis Pasteur, is preparation.

"If you are disciplined and prepared before the storm came, you should be thankful for those (turbulent) times."

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Creativity: Luck or Preparation

Creative thinking has long been viewed as something special, belonging to a unique group of people who have a 'creative' eye and are lucky enough to see and solve problems differently from what would normally be expected. These especially creative people are seen as quick to get to the heart of a problem and as experts at producing unusual but successful results. Somehow they just have a knack for outside-the-box thinking that others both miss and envy. But what if that creative spark could be learned?

The topic of creative thinking and its partner, idea generation, has been studied and researched over the past 50 years, beginning with the original approach of advertising executive, Alex Osborn, in his 1948 book, "Your Creative Power". He followed that in 1953 with his best known work "Applied Imagination", leading to the subsequent broad interest in creative thinking, from "Brainstorming" by Charles Clark in 1958, to "A Sourcebook for Creative Thinking" by Parnes and Harding in 1962, to "Lateral Thinking" By Edward DeBono in 1970 and "Conceptual Blockbusting; A Guide to Better Ideas" by James Adams in 1979. These are some of the classics that established brainstorming as the definitive basic method to generate ideas. All that was required was an open mind to allow for the spontaneous generation of this multitude of ideas.

More recently, creative thinking in the area of practice application has become known as design thinking, a process of building up ideas as opposed to the breaking down of ideas common to critical thinking. A champion of this approach, David Burney, defines design thinking as "a way of thinking that produces transformative innovation". Just as with brainstorming, its goal is to generate lots of ideas using a seven step process to frame the problem, develop a plethora of possible solutions and then help choose the solution which will give the best result. Far from being a strict process however, design thinking uses this structured method to capture the 'popcorn' thinking of a multitude of ideas. Just imagine the mess everywhere if your Jiffy Popper didn't have its aluminum foil top to capture all those kernels of ideas.

The tools of both brainstorming and transformative design thinking, along with collaborative approaches and the right kind of culture, are currently being used to generate multiple options, where wild ideas are welcome, since they often lead to the most creative solutions. And those wild ideas may in fact be the result of a 'prepared mind'. The concept of creativity as an organized and learnable activity is the subject of research by John Kounios of Drexel University and Mark Jung-Beeman of Northwestern University in 2006.

"The research suggests that people can mentally prepare to have an 'Aha!' solution even before the problem is presented. Specifically, as people prepare for problems that they solve with insight, their pattern of brain activity suggests that they are focusing attention inwardly, are ready to switch to new trains of thought, and perhaps are actively silencing irrelevant thoughts. These findings are important because they show that people can mentally prepare to solve problems with different thinking styles and that these different forms of preparation can be identified with specific patterns of brain activity. This study may eventually lead to an understanding of how to put people in the optimal 'frame of mind' to deal with particular types of problems."

Which goes to show, a particularly creative outcome isn't just someone's good luck, but can be facilitated, and perhaps learned, based on Louis Pasteur's well-known quote that "chance favors only the prepared mind".

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