Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Why some Ideas take a long time to be taken up?

In Beauty, Design, History, Leadership, Nature, Strategy, Vision on 2010/09/10 at 10:43 pm

I don’t know.

Roof gardens and “sky rise” landscaping is now a rage in many cities such as New York and Singapore.  It’s like, “why didn’t we think of this before?”

Le Corbusier in his 1926 manifesto, Five Points toward a New Architecture” said this:

“The roof gardens. The flat roof demands in the first place systematic utilization for domestic purposes: roof terrace, roof garden. On the other hand, the reinforced concrete demands protection against changing temperatures. Overactivity on the part of the reinforced concrete is prevented by the maintenance of a constant humidity on the roof concrete. The roof terrace satisfies both demands (a rain- dampened layer of sand covered with concrete slabs with lawns in the interstices; the earth of the flowerbeds in direct contact with the layer of sand). In this way the rain water will flow off extremely slowly. Waste pipes in the interior of the building. Thus a latent humidity will remain continually on the roof skin. The roof gardens will display highly luxuriant vegetation. Shrubs and even small trees up to 3 or 4 metres tall can be planted.

In this way the roof garden will become the most favoured place in the building. In general, roof gardens mean to a city the recovery of all the built- up area.”

[Le Corbusier/Pierre Jeanneret: Five Points towards a new architecture. Originally published in Almanach de l’Architecture moderne, Paris 1926.]

Almost 85 years ago, Le Corbusier had figured out, at least in part, the need for landscape to balance the harshness of the urban landscape of the high density “cities of tomorrow”, and had carefully argued for freeing up the ground plane by lifting all building on piloties (stilts) and maintaining ground footprint by cultivating vegetation on all rooftops.

This is a reminder to know our history, our pioneers and institutional memory.

Alternative Value Propositions

In adaptability, Change, Creativity, Design, Leadership, Process, Strategy, Technology, Value, Vision on 2010/05/11 at 2:06 pm

Designers can do better than offer “professional services for a fee”. They can lead by alternative value propositions.

Many creative projects get axed prematurely by key performance indicators (KPI). KPIs are typically controlled by ‘creative’ bean counters (oxymoron?) who are clients or their agents.  They typically shun change and collaboration. Their standard tool is divide-and-rule. eg train stations are transport engineering infrastructure, whilst art and sculpture is culture; therefore there is no budget for the arts as part of station development. That is somebody else’s core business. Familiar?

Designers are in a good position to propose alternative value propositions. But they need to be laterally creative and not be so naive about how bureaucrats and bean-counters work. A creative win-win is often the only way.

Take the task of designing an Expo exhibition pavilion. The no-brainer is to put up a building simply for the duration of the Expo — closing both eyes to what happens after the show is over, and visitor-ship KPI is history. Better still, have the pavilion built by somebody else and “leased back” for only the exhibition season; this way it shows up in the books as rental and not a capital-intensive inventory item!

What if the Expo building is designed in the first place for a permanent use, even if it means designing a kit of parts to have the pavilion become a school building or library where it is needed badly, say in an isolated rural location or disaster-relief area.

The challenge for designers is to find a way to collaborate with the initial client to include stakeholders who can take over the kit of parts. In return, the emotional and social benefits of the cause can be a powerful differentiating feature of the pavilion’s presentation. In Expos such as the one in Shanghai now concerned with “better cities, better life”, such an action will speak louder than the words and demos so typical of those who only think of the Expo as only a glorified sales pitch.

“T” is for Tiger and Teams

In Leadership, Policy on 2010/02/12 at 10:48 pm

Arguably, one of the most common reference for the alphabet “T” is Tiger. Ask any 3-year old.  “T for Tiger” will get a boost this year because, come 14 Februrary 2010, it will be this Lunar New Year’s Chinese zodiac sign. Happy Tiger Year!

The issue of this post, however, is not the tiger. I digressed to highlight the prominence of T for Tiger in many alphabet books. And to wish everyone a happy Year of the Tiger!

The issue is “T for Teams”. The context is last week’s (2 February 2010) Singapore ESC (Economic Strategies Committee) Report (see my post) which called for “T-Shaped” persons.

Without beating about the bush, let me admit upfront that I have some issues with the “T-shaped” person. To be sure it served McKinsey, the management consultants who coined the term in 1971, very well. They figured that they needed — in their business consulting teams — “T-shaped” consultants (note: specifically consultants, and not every person). They had found that their consultants then were too ‘vertical’, ie they knew a lot about a specific aspect of business, eg marketing or finance, and very little about the verticals of others. They did not have the broad ‘horizontal’ dimension to enable them to connect (sideways) to other consultants. Hence the T-shape. Got it? As far as I know, the T-shaped consultant, let alone the T-shaped person, is no longer in vogue in Mckinsey today (correct me if I am wrong). In 1987, McKinsey realised that “specialists” are needed in their consulting teams and not just bunches of T-shaped consultants running around with their ‘horizontal’ hooks.

The central issue then and now — for McKinsey, the ESC and for Singapore — is the team. Not the peculiar T-shaped person. We need teams of all kinds and sizes, depending on the complexity of tasks and industry concerned. Teams can be scalable, flexible and customisable. The concept of the team (note: not “groups” — go figure the difference) is that no one person can cover all bases. No football (or soccer) team can be made up one type of player, strikers, say, no matter how best they are in (only) scoring goals.  So the argument for T-shaped persons is in danger of going that same way. The success of teams typically lie outside the ‘active’ or ‘front line’ team members. Trainers, mangers and coaches for the team are critical; and are in fact often an integral part of the team. The equivalent of these team integrators in the movie industry is the producer — the one who pulls everyone and puts everything together.  In the construction industry, it is the architect. (The term architect is often used to refer to a person of remarkable vision and ability to bring people and processes together for a good cause.)

It then becomes a bit of a no-brainer that the leader and integrator of teams needs to be especially well-rounded individuals; persons with “360” vision, strong conceptual abilities and drive, both ends and means driven, skilled, knowlegeable and well connected. They are persons of character, commitment, connections and capability. In that order, I believe.

T is for Teams. Led by well-rounded, universal, renaissance persons.