Impossible is why Architects get out of bed in the morning.
But even though they strive to achieve “impossible” things, their job is, in
itself also “impossible”.
Being an Architect could be looked on more as an affliction
- a cross to bear. Architects can’t stop being Architects (which tends to
really irritate people who are not Architects!). Being an Architect is a state
of mind, a way of being. For an Architect 1+1 often equals 3, or more likely
1+1 equals blue! Architects tend to break the rules. For when you break the
rules, you change the game.
Architects know and accept that there are things that they
do not know about and go looking for them (remember Donald Rumsfeld?). Most of
these things do not magically appear to them, they appear to them because they
go looking for them. They wheedle them out from all the background noise. While
most people bask in their knowledge and experience, an architect knows there
are things he does not know about and actively goes about trying to find them.
An architect is much more interested in what he doesn’t know that what he
knows. He is often surprised by what he finds, but never bored.
Because an Architect tends to see things (and find things)
others cannot, they tend always to be in a position of exposing things that
were not known, and therefore not taken account of, when decisions were made.
This puts them in a position of seemingly to always be challenging decisions
and wanting those decisions changed or in some cases reversed. This is not something
that is generally welcomed, especially by the type of people who are
responsible for making those decisions.
Humans are good at spotting patterns - our brains are
hardwired for visual pattern recognition. However Architects are different for
two reasons. Firstly, because they are more adept at seeing patterns in
concepts and thoughts, and secondly, because they can see patterns based on
sparse or very limited volumes of information. If the volume of information is
large (like a hi resolution photo) anyone can spot the pattern, but if the
volume of information is low (like a pixelated photo) only an architect can
“squint” with his brain and still see things of value.
It’s not so much about people not understanding what an
Architect is saying, but more about people finding it difficult to see the
thing the Architect is talking about in the first place. Most people do not
(are not allowed to) spend the time to do so.
An Architect is an investigator (like Judge Judy!) and one
of the tools of an investigator is cynicism - he doesn’t believe anything until
he can prove it or at least not have any feeling that he is not getting the
whole truth. The yardstick of that is understanding. When an Architect gets an
answer to a question and the answer doesn’t make sense (a big part of that is
common sense) he asks more questions. This irritates people who are hiding
things or do not know what they are talking about and then begin to call the
Architect “confrontational” or “rude” or “inappropriate” or any other of a number
of vague negative words. When that happens, an Architect knows he is onto
Many many people go through life unchallenged. Talking about
things that they do not really understand - possibly just repeating what they
heard someone else say, saying things that while not bare-faced lies, could be
considered to be economical with the truth. Many more people go through life
also hearing things that perhaps they think are wrong or do not make sense but
they do not say anything. They do not question and they do not challenge. The
reason for this is not because they are bad people, but is rooted in psychology
and man’s deep desire to “not upset the applecart” and to be friends and get on
with everyone. Architects do not think or work like that. In a way, they could
be thought of being socially inept which can easily come across as being rude,
confrontational, arrogant or disrespectful. This is not because they are bad
people that should be controlled or ignored. The more you try to control or
ignore an Architect, the more vocal he is likely to become. Paying them
lip-service or trying to placate them is like adding fuel to a fire and is
usually a recipe for disaster.
Another problem with Architects is that they tend to be in a
minority. Perhaps less than 1% of all people are intrinsically an Architect.
Add to this the fact that they tend to see things that others cannot see, and
it tends to mean they are also in a minority in terms of their views and ideas
and there is great scope for the majority to ignore them as it is usually
thought that the majority must always right - “You are the only one that thinks
that” - aka you must be wrong because the majority must be right.
Another problem with being an Architect (and making a
difference) is that we, by definition, only see and
only raise fundamental problems. By definition this either means a big
grand plan needs to be changed or if the work has been going on that a lot of
work has to potentially be thrown away. Both of these things can (and usually
do) create massive political problems as the onus is usually on someone
“important” having to either change something big he/she previously announced
or admit they already wasted a whole lot of money, time and resources. That’s
why Management should involve Architects in matters as early as possible. It’s
almost a case of - “if you don’t involve us early enough, you better not
involve us at all because you probably won’t like what we are going to say!”
Architects can often be accused of living in a “perfect
world”. This is really just a perception problem. Because they can see things
clearly that others cannot see, or cannot easily see, or do not want to see,
they can see those things are achievable while others think they are not.
In general, people see disagreements as confrontations - and
people in general really hate confrontations and tend to do anything and
everything to avoid them. That, of course, does not mean that they do not tell
anyone, it just means they tell the “wrong” people. How many times have you received
bad service in a restaurant or from a call centre but didn’t say anything at
the time, but then complained to your friends about it later? There is a saying
in retail - a happy customer will tell one friend, an unhappy one will tell
“A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from
- Baltasar Gracian
Of course, with the advent of the internet, social media and
YouTube, if you are unlucky, one unhappy customer will tell thirteen million
people - as happened with the famous “United Breaks Guitars” case. United
Airlines concentrated on saving $1,200. Their stock price fell 10% four days
after the YouTube video was posted wiping $180 million off the company’s value.
The resulting bad publicity cost them unimaginably more.
But we digress. The bigger the disagreement, the greater the
perceived confrontation. There is also an element that the person who believes
they hold the most “power” tends to see the other person as confrontational
rather than the other way round. If the disagreement is about something small
or of no real significance the confrontation is very small, but if the
disagreement is about something of fundamental importance then confrontation
can be huge. Bearing in mind that Architects only
talk about things of fundamental significance, it could be said that appearing
to be confrontational is not only possible, it is mandatory!
“As an Architect, if you aren’t annoying someone, you aren’t
doing your job properly”
The new light Architects expose (through the old windows of
peoples existing perceptions) is very challenging for many people as this
basically takes them out of their comfort zone. Big time. Most people do not
like that at all. Most people are happy to continue to live their lives and thinking,
in their familiar comfortable pond and they react in all manner of negative
ways when someone tries to explain there is life outside their pond, especially
when it impacts their pond in a big or fundamental way. They are not bad
So, where do architects “fit”? The simple answer is, nowhere
and everywhere. They don’t really fit anywhere! This is why many architects
always have an uneasy feeling of being different and misunderstood.
“When green is all there is
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder?
Why Wonder, I am green and it'll do fine, it's
And I think it's what I want to be.”
- Kermit the Frog
It ‘ain't easy, being green.