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President’s Letter: The Cost of Stupid

Malvin Whang, AIA

We would all agree that continually improving how we do our work is a good thing. Our clients would laud us for this effort. We’d expect the same for professionals we would hire, such as doctors and attorneys. As a part of our experience and building on each successive project with a body of knowledge that grew, our expertise in our craft should grow over time and projects. But how exactly does this happen? Hope is not the right answer.

It takes a rigorous and disciplined approach to continually improve and hone our skills as architects. We can’t simply rely on the fact that we are working on projects to get better at what we do. The effort to improve our skills and expertise takes a focused approach that is intentional. An architect with twenty years of experience can master twenty years worth of experience or twenty of the same year’s experiences.

Continuous improvement isn’t an event; it’s a process. The process starts with the idea that what we do and how we do it gets better each day. How we put together documents today should be better than how we did it yesterday, and tomorrow we’ll have found a better way to do it. Budgeting time and resources to continuously improve isn’t trivial but neither is the cost of stupid.

The cost of stupid is not improving each and every chance we get to solve the problems that lay before us. The cost of stupid is making the same mistakes over and over again because time and effort wasn’t taken to understand the problem, analyze the root cause and eliminate the defect. The cost of stupid is the time wasted to fix the same problem over and over because we didn’t have time to go back and fix that template detail or specification section the last time it was an issue. The cost of stupid is the time taken away from the work to solving problems we hoped were solved since the last time.

The dividend from continuous improvements is the time we get back to focus on the work, not the problems. It elevates the work we do and allows our people to operate at their highest levels. It helps us not make the same mistakes and discover new ones. And we can stop improving once there is no more room to improve in our work.

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