Monday, May 13, 2019

In theory / In practice

There's a reason we call what we do as architects "practice".  No one ever knows it all.  This is true whether you're right out of school, newly licensed, or 23 years down the road like me.  I won't know it all in another 23 years.  The sooner you accept that fact, the better off you will be.

One of the best pieces of advice bestowed upon me by my mentor, Gregg Scott, was:  Don't ever be afraid to say "I don't know" long as the next thing out of your mouth is "but I will find out."  As a young twenty-something plunged into the role of project management less than a year out of school, it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to seem like you know everything.  At that point in your career, especially if those at the table are far more experienced than you in the business, you're very concerned about trying to establish an image of skill and know-how at a younger age.   But, you can get yourself into much more hot water by overreaching your knowledge and presenting what you only think to be true as absolute truth, than by taking the question back to the office, and digging up the real answer.

Gregg would always tell to me take advantage of the resources around me in the office.  Whether that was George for detailing, Paul for codes or Sandy for how do deal with a difficult personality in the industry.  That was invaluable to me as young person, and why it is so important to surround an organization with the right mix of strong leaders.  Not everyone in the office is strong in every area of the practice, but that is okay when one of your partners is.

As Gregg often said, "You get paid to use both ends of the pencil."
Two decades later, I have now stepped into the role of "resource" for a couple of areas for the firm.  I know I don't know everything even about my areas of expertise.  Codes and construction methodologies are constantly changing.  I will tell someone without apology that, even though I may think I know the answer, I want the opportunity to verify that I am right.  On one or two occasions I have actually proven myself incorrect as a result of subsequent research.  My mantra is now, "it always pays to look it up, even if you think you're right".  More than once, I've found a new exception in the code that allowed something that hadn't ever been before. I just hadn't ever looked for it before.

So practice makes perfect!  Except we will never be perfect - no one is.  So instead, practice makes a level of care consistent with the industry standard!  Has a nice ring to it, no?

This is the 47th topic in the ArchiTalks series where a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s theme is "Theory and Practice" lead by Ann Lebo.  A lot of other talented writers who also are architects are listed below and are worth checking out:
-->Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
You Can Do Better

-->Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
the architecture of theory and how it is evidenced in my practice

-->Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Theory -- If Apple Practiced Architecture

-->Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)

-->Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Theory and Practice

-->Larry Lucas - Lucas Sustainable, PLLC (@LarryLucasArch)
The Theory and Practice of Full-circle Architecture


  1. Nice post; at least our patients don't die like a Medical Practice ;-)