Archive for the ‘Roadblocks’ Category

The process of hatching creative ideas is often represented by a glowing light bulb or a gleaming technical image of some sort. Since we at Farrow give a lot of thought to the realities of implementing innovative approaches, we decided to capture five tips from our daily practice for the benefit of anyone who faces resistance to acting on their ideas. Here are 14 slides that introduce tactics for working through the emotional ups and downs of innovation. What do you think? What are your tips for attracting support and transforming naysayers?

-Sharon VanderKaay

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One reason so many architects love design competitions is that a finished concept can be produced without much involvement from clients and the public. Traditional architect selection committees—under pressure to appear objective—are routinely seduced by the logic of this age-old process of working in isolation. On the surface, design competitions aim to avoid messy human bias by focusing on each scheme’s perceived merits. But efforts to sell a remote designer’s finished solution can sometimes be bad for everybody.

While there are countless examples of beloved structures that resulted from such contests, I question three common assumptions that keep this hands-off approach alive:

 1.  An architects’ vision will be compromised through public engagement at the pre-design stage

2.  Visionary, meaningful decisions happen without engaging everyone (including the architect) in a learning process

3.  The public will be inclined to quickly grasp and embrace a sales pitch for the winning design scheme

As Web 2.0 participation reveals, people have an enormous appetite for making better choices by engaging in good conversation. I believe that clients’ interests would be better served through a selection process that involved spending quality time with each short-listed design team, rather than paying architects to work out competing designs in isolation.

A new era of selection criteria could include: How inquisitive are the designers who want to work on my project? How adept are they at sharing their thinking and de-mystifying their approach? How do they plan to engage the public in a conversation about shared aspirations, or defining the community’s self-image, or identifying the economic benefits of distinctive design?

Recent controversy around Santiago Calatrava’s proposed bridge design for Calgary raises interesting questions regarding naysayers, civic spunk and design process. The Globe and Mail‘s Lisa Rochon challenges Calgary to evolve into a “…a more visually enticing metropolis.” Cliff Kuang, writing for Fast Company in “How Not to Market a Big Public Works Project” advocates that city planners worldwide “…at the very least, hold a public competition to spur people’s imaginations.”

For years I felt uneasy about the risks of attempting to sell design answers to disengaged clients. Then I read Michael Schrage’s book, Serious Play, which provided my ka-boing! moment by explaining the true value of putting heads together over rough models and un-solidified ideas.

Consider also the negative financial impact on fee-squeezed design firms; in order to win a competition, teams typically spend many times over the amount they are paid to participate. This raises a question as to whether the best eye-opening ideas—or eye-catching graphics and videos—win the competition.

 Instead of jumping to the conclusion that design competitions = better results, let’s pay more attention to creating informed critics and enthusiastic champions through inquiry, dialogue and discovery.

– Sharon VanderKaay

human innovation

The human realities of innovation are fascinating. Each day the practice of planning and designing buildings provides us with lessons to be learned about the challenges and rewards of not settling for minor improvements. As Farrow makes this journey with clients and colleagues, we believe there is always the potential to do great, innovative things. But what tends to get in the way of progress? How can we work though these obstacles together?

Our frontline observation and academic research on the nature of innovation have uncovered some recurring patterns, pitfalls and questions. We see three questions as a good place to open our conversation to the world: What happens when you believe that buildings should feed peoples’ souls, as well as solve practical problems? How can clients be encouraged to take a visionary approach to planning, rather than simply aim to fit pieces of a program puzzle together? And how can the inevitable naysayers become supporters of innovation?

Much of the writing we’ve encountered on creativity either dwells on warm and fuzzy aspects, or approaches the subject as unemotional puzzle solving. And innovation is often viewed through the lens of technical solutions. This is our attempt to explore the messy, emotional, human side of innovation.

We hope to hear your stories of innovation yea-sayers and naysayers.

– Sharon Vanderkaay

photo source: Susan Ottevanger




  • About The Nature of Innovation

    We see our collaboration with clients and colleagues as providing a living lab for enriching the creative process. Farrow’s built work has been internationally recognized for leadership in human-centric design. This is where we come to discuss our ideas as they hatch and our experiences as they happen.
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