Applying Lessons from Columbia and Challenger

January 28th, 1986 – Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart a little over a minute into flight.i 

 

February 1st, 2003 – Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry into the atmosphere.ii 

 

A total of 14 astronauts died as a result of these tragedies.
Many of you are asking yourselves, “What could possibly be the connection between these two national tragedies and my office’s performance?”  We will get to that a little later in this blog post.

 

Here is a quick synopsis of the mechanical causes of these failures:
During liftoff, an O-ring seal in one of Challenger’s solid rocket boosters failed and hot gasses burned a structural support and caused the booster to veer into the large external tank.  This led to a chain of events culminating with extreme aerodynamic forces breaking apart the shuttle.

 

During liftoff, a briefcase-sized chunk of insulation broke free from the external tank and hit the fragile leading edge of Columbia’s left wing.  This went unnoticed for the entire length of the mission.  When the extremely hot plasma of re-entry melted the internal structure of the wing, the shuttle experienced aerodynamic instability and the orbiter broke apart.  All 7 astronauts perished.

 

The root cause of these failures was an Organizational Breakdown within NASA.  A sociologist, Diane Vaughan, describes this breakdown as a “normalization of deviance”.iii  She defines this as an unsafe practice comes to be considered normal if it doesn’t immediately cause a catastrophic event.
Again, you’re asking yourselves, “Why is this relevant?”  Normalization of deviance is present in every phase of every one of our lives; family, social clubs, government – usually to a much less catastrophic level.  However; without exception all office cultures experience this on a regular basis.
My goal in writing this is to help us all notice when anomalies occur within our office cultures and speak up about them.  We often refer to these anomalies as “exceptions”.  Some basic exceptions may be; “He always does it his way, so we just let him do it”, “She seems to work on her own schedule”, “He never seems to come to important internal meetings – he must be busy”, “We don’t need the complete 800 series of drawings, we will let the contractor figure it out”.   When we see any sign that a deviation is causing a negative effect on our projects or office culture, we need to be confident enough to bring it to the attention of those it affects.

 

A robust office culture will always benefit from a keen understanding that we, as humans, have a natural tendency to allow a “normalization of deviance”.  And with this understanding we can choose to reduce the anomalies and improve the quality of our service as well as our deliverables.
We have just scratched the surface on this topic.  We’re looking forward to the interchanges during our  “Culture” discussions at the 2019 BUiLT Design Technology Summit in Seattle.

 

ihttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Challenger_disaster
ii https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Columbia_disaster
iii https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diane_Vaughan

Selling it

By Craig Barbieri

 

Introducing an innovation in one’s firm is a little bit like the role of a salesperson(vendor/Rep/etc.) I would argue a very important role if you intend to be successful. Innovations seldomly sell themselves. There’s always someone in the line of approvals who doesn’t see the value. In a past life I was a salesman for a short period.

In the mid-90’s I was an account executive at a routing logistics software company, and I was responsible for the Northeast USA. I made “sales calls” and introduced value justifications for purchasing the innovative system of ours to trucking and delivery companies. The technology was so new that few people had even heard of computer routing, let alone had a computer doing anything for them in this regard. I wasn’t very good at selling the system but I learned a lot about sales and the drivers that lead to them. Now that the tables are turned, and I am typically on the purchasing side of things, I feel I have some very useful insight to help negotiate and get the best deals for my firm. On the other hand I am also in “sales” to some degree. I’m selling the partners on why we should spend gobs of money on something that they’ve never hear of or understand fully. I do this because I take ownership of the technological path of the company and see the “big picture” as it were.

Techniques with which to introduce and “sell” within our firms might be a good topic of discussion. DTS is a week away and we’ll be discussing Innovation and aspects surrounding it, among other things.  Bring your own questions, challenges, ideas, and conundrums!

 

Innovate or Die

It’s a statement that gets thrown around every once in-awhile and was perhaps more in vogue historically than in current memory. Interestingly enough it comes from the title of a book “Innovate or Die : A Personal Perspective on the Art of Innovation” by Dr. Jack Matson; almost ten years earlier there was another book “Grow or Die” by George Land. Was the second influenced by the first; perhaps Land was a C-level business consultant putting forward a hypothesis around the nature of all things, organic, humanity, commerce being linked intrinsically around basic rules related to growth. You either grow, or die. Whereas Matson’s thesis was fail quickly and fail often as a means to be successful. Most interesting, Matson is an engineer by training, how many engineers do you know that go around preaching to their employees “we should fail on figuring out how to make this building stand-up”.

I’m being a bit facetious of course, arguably we fail every day as part of the process of designing a building or at least architects do, and I think the most successful engineers take a similar iterative approach. It’s far better for us to fail “on paper” than in the real world and undoubtedly Matson knew that when he wrote his book. We even try our hardest to fail in the real world before full construction by way of mock-ups, physical and now more and more virtual, with virtual reality gear and everything.

Obviously (if you’ve been reading any of our blog posts) you know by now that DTS’ theme this year is innovation and I think we’ve put together some really great topics to anchor our discussions (see our site for a full agenda). If we are by our nature innovative in our profession, that is attempting to fail until we find the right solution, what does that mean to us, to technology? Are we guaranteed to evolve? Are there consequences if we do not? Are there consequences for not being broadly innovative, so for example being “innovative” in how a project is designed, but failing to be innovative about the process that results in the design. Must you have both to be successful long term or can the innovation only happen in the results of practice and not the practice itself?

Practice itself is an interesting term unto itself, we “practice architecture” (or engineering, or law, or medicine) does the etymology itself imply Matson’s title? If we are always practicing, then do we ever compete, do we ever finish the race and what does that imply or mean in the context of innovation?

Are you scratching your head yet? If you are, then you belong with us at DTS in Toronto! We have a few spots left and we’d love to fill them. Please consider applying to attend through our registration process, if you’re keen to think hard and talk about what all this means and more then you belong with our group!

So what are we talking about?…

Valid question! For a variety of reasons the committee did not finalize our agenda until just recently and we do apologize for that. We’ve discussed quite a bit in our blog posts sense January about the ideas of Innovation and why we think it really is an important discussion topic, but it is also quite nuanced and, in order for us to have useful discussions about “Innovation” then we really need to make sure we’re focused!

So, what will our focus be? Glad you asked, here are our program highlights; once again totaling nearly ten hours of discussion in a day in half!

  • Welcome to Innovation! What is it (really)? – An opportunity to discuss what innovation is to each of us and, hopefully, come to consensus on how we define it for Design Technology.
  • What are they doing…? – A look at innovations in other industries and how we could apply or learn from them.
  • Ghosts of Innovations Past & the Future – What innovations have we seen in the past and how can we use that recognition to anticipate the future?
  • Technology & Innovation: In a relationship or just friends? – Design Technology and the platforms we have available to us have both advanced significantly and perhaps not at all. In any case we can “do” a lot more than we could a decade ago so why aren’t we happy? What do we need to innovate or where is Innovation required?
  • What should we be doing to help shape the future of our practice? – We’ve spent nearly a day discussing innovation in our industry, its past, its present and possible future; what does all of that potentially mean to people like “us” i.e. Design Technologist’s. What is/will our role be in the future as technology changes/ improves.

If you’re picking up on a Dicken’s theme, you’re not mistaken, in our discussions over the last six months and looking at research done by others I think it’s clear that in order to look to the future we do need to understand the past, in addition we must understand our place relative to innovation, technology and what we mean by those terms in the first place.

We still have a few seats left (call it ten) and we’d love to fill them. If you think innovation is important to the progress of Architecture & Engineering then you should join us! Attendees of BILT will receive a Multi-event discount.

Are you a technology company working in the AEC sphere? Trying to attract attention? Want to show your support of Design Technologists and how important it is for us to have a forum for open and honest communication, then talk to us about sponsorship opportunities, we have something for every level.

Regardless, need help? We’re only an e-mail away at secretary AT rtcevents DoT com

See you at DTS & BILT NA

Questioning the Current Reality – Making it Better

The Design Technology Summit has posed questions like “Is BIM Better” and “Where does this BIM path lead [the industry]” and do we have a “BIM Hangover?” We have discussed topics such as design technology Management, Collaboration, Innovation, Training, Content & it’s management, Challenges, Standards, Productivity, Virtual Reality, Project Management, BIM Project Budgeting, and many more. Some attendees argue that although the in-session discussions are quite pertinent to modern day challenges and highly valuable, the conversations in-between sessions and at the social events are also just as valuable if not more-so. No-where else does one see 40 design technology leaders of large firms get together to discuss the industry challenges and solutions. This year we tackle the topic of “innovation” in and outside of the AEC and the Summit agenda is fantastic! If you’ve never attended, I encourage you to request an invitation below.

Design Technology Leaders is an independent & agnostic collective of design technology leaders and directors of over 250 large firms internationally, with over 300 participating members and maintains unique insight into challenges of AEC collaboration. DTS brings together professionals from large firms in the building Architecture and Engineering (AE) design industry who have a responsibility for managing and implementing design technology. DTS is a forum, a venue to discuss ideas – to share, to challenge, and to refine our thinking. The design world is a constantly evolving landscape driven by the adoption of BIM tools, availability of increased computing power, the ubiquity of mobile solutions and “always on” data access. These new paradigms challenge the traditional operations of AE firms and have resulted in a new domain of expertise at the intersection of technology and practice.
Attendance at DTS is by invitation only and limited to 40 registrants. We feel that his number will better foster an atmosphere of active and meaningful discussions between everyone.

  • If you received an invitation, we are hopeful that you are able to join your fellow invitees.
  • If you have questions feel free to contact [email protected]

• If you think you belong at this event, but did not receive an invitation, please email [email protected] to sign-up for future follow-up and communication (Please include your name, e-mail, title, company, company size, address (optional), and a brief response on “why you belong at DTS”?).