I have an ironic story to share with you: it is an account of an architect's journey into business, based on my on experience as well as the experiences of my esteemed colleagues in architecture. Architects, with all their skills and wisdom, are often quite blind to the reality of business practice.
We were “rarin’-to-go” once we graduated, armed with our new-found skills and insight into architecture. We were itching to ply our skills and change the world. I spent time discussing with my colleagues: we talked about all the latest award-winning projects, critiqued the design of projects under construction, and explored new materials and methods of building. Many evenings were spent in the local pub expounding how we were going to change the landscape of architecture in our city. The old established architect were out of touch and didn’t know what they were doing.
Once employed, we shifted into talking about how our employers were stuck in their ‘old’ ways and had no idea about the latest trends in architecture. Despite this talk, many of us apprentice architects developed considerable skills in the design and technical aspects of architecture. This phase of our career saw us planning for our future – we dreamed of starting our own firms. The world was waiting for us to show the way.
Never once did it occur to us, that although we were well accomplished in our craft of architecture, we were neophytes when it came to business. And, even after we began our own practices, we just continued our typical conversations on the design and details of architecture. Due to our lack of basic business expertise, we did not have the vocabulary to sensibly discuss business topics.
Something is wrong with this picture
As time went by, we began to sense something was amiss. Running a business didn’t look like it should, we thought. We worked long hours, had little time off and took marginal income was the result of our condition. This was not the dream!
Now when I met my colleagues, we complained that the world was against us, and our desire to succeed. Couldn’t the world see we were here to help build a modern sophisticated urban environment? We complained that our employees didn’t subscribe to our ideas, our clients didn’t understand our intentions, contractors worked against us and city hall conspired to create our downfall.
Never, in our wildest dreams, did it occur to us that the root cause of our lack of success was us - more specifically, our lack of business acumen. We avoided talking about businesses as we didn’t have the knowledge to create a meaningful conversation. To make thins worse none of us wanted to admit we knew very little. We convinced ourselves that spending time talking about our business would have a negative impact on our design sensitivity.
So we floundered. Some of my colleagues closed down their practices while others struggled on, relying on their intuition and hard work, keeping their office afloat, however marginally.
Becoming a successful practitioner
By learning about business you will overcome the old taboo of being afraid to talk about money and about business. This conversation will begin slowly: only meet with those who want to talk, study and learn about business. As you explore this topic with others you will learn more about how to help yourself become what you dream: becoming a successful and respected architect. Only by engaging in these conversations will your skills and training as an architect be fully realized. With time and effort, you will blossom into a well-rounded architectural practitioner.
Then as a businessman, you will see your success: your in-house team will have greater respect for you and your clients will see your achievements as a measure of a notable architect. You will have then set yourself apart from your colleagues who continue spending their time talking about design and dancing around the topic of business.