Saturday, December 22, 2012

The global AEC industry has become a large swamp

These days I observe that the majority of people working in construction tend to fall into one of two categories:
The ‘plodders’ or the ‘lily-pad-hoppers’.

The ‘plodders’ make up the larger of the two groups, mostly good people with fundamentally decent goals and principles at heart:
get through the day, do a reasonable job, don’t over stretch yourselves, bring home the bacon.
I’m not referring to just labourers, tradesmen and construction managers here but also architects, engineers, client representatives, even clients themselves.
You’ll recognise them everywhere that any type of building creation is done – from the early days of ideas where feasibility is explored – well into operation and maintenance of the finished product they’ll diligently do their plodding.
They staff construction projects all around the world, from the smallest hut that is pulled together in a remote village  to the highest skyscraper that there is, currently being nudged further up into the clouds of a metropolis.

Curiously though, the really able builders we have in this industry fall into the other group,
the ones I call the ‘lilypadders’.  (the shorter version of the tongue-twister ‘lily-pad-hoppers’ I mentioned earlier);

Most excel in building, that is building their ‘own careers’.
Mostly by jumping from one lilypad of a ‘wobbly project’ to another and repeatedly surviving unscathed, even if the pad gets fully submerged not long after they abandon it.

I know project based lilypadders that periodically move from one company to another.
These are the ‘freelancers’ that manage to get away with doing as little damage at any certain day on any certain project to not be caught out, or are just so well-honed with their timing skills, that they move off the project before any type of performance becomes critical.

The ones eve more cunning than the freelancers, tend to join-up larger organisations, preferably multinationals and if possible early in their careers and focus all their skills, effort and attention on understanding, maintaining and supporting ‘the pond’ that their organisation is.
They rarely concentrate on the final outputs of the projects they’re responsible for, not to mention clients’ wellbeing or the betterment of the industry as a whole, but maintaining the ability to predict the point when the part of the pod they’re residing on will become too hot or to wobbly to hang around there any longer.

Fortunately, most of these moves – as uncomfortable as they can be – are also upward-travels on their carefully cultivated career-ladders and will bring in more money, flashier titles and better perks.

We might manage to ignore the question of morality of these widely used practices.
After all, due to the lengthy processes most projects usually go through, it will take on average, probably only 10 screwed up projects to reach the desired climax of a lilypadder’s career spanning 20/30 years in senior AEC management.
Most of these guys then retire with dignity to make space for the new generation of budding lilypadders.

It is the wasted opportunity that bothers me.
All that skill and talent carried by these power-houses and input somewhere in the system (not to mention paid for handsomely), yet we are still left with no better AEC and no good building outcomes generally.
Just murkier swamps and even fatter frogs that are harder to get rid of and messier messes they leave for the others to clean up.

Lily Pad Place Photograph - Lily Pad Place Fine Art Print - Dave Martsolf


  1. So true... it makes me want to cry... or smash some lily-pad-hoppers face...
    Typicaly they jump onto the lilypad you try to keep floating as the new boss that is supposed to save the project. Then they produce a budget and schedule that is impossible to do. Then they stand up and take the applause from the management, and then leave. One year after, the plodders get the blame for not keeping the budgets.

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