Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Ask a question! (or 2 or 5 or 20)

I've spent the past 5 years assisting a variety of design firms with Revit and other BIM-related topics. Before that, I spent 10 years working at an architecture firm. I've noticed a few things that are pretty universal, which makes me feel better (oh, it wasn't just my firm) but also worse (why are these such systemic problems?!) and one of those is the lack of people asking (and taking the time to answer) questions. 

Why do architects in general feel the need to always figure things out on their own? Is it because that's what's taught to us in architecture school, that we need to suffer to create good work and part of that is finding our own way through everything? Is this the same in the other AEC fields?

When I was in architecture school, we did have a good mix of group and individual projects, but at least at my school, even the group projects were still mostly individual, with the group working together on common themes but then each person mostly creating their own thing. I think that it set up an unrealistic expectation that architects work on their own, when in fact reality is the complete opposite. This seemed to create a culture of "just figuring out everything yourself," no matter how long it took.

I think that my personality is just such that I am a questioner. I always want to have all the information about something before I start. I want to make sure that whatever I'm doing fits in with the plan for the overall project. I have always been conscious of how whatever I do affects the larger plan of a project. This has always been the case with architecture but even more so when you're work in a BIM-aiding software such as Revit. Collaboration requires questioning as you need questions to have understanding. I tell all of my students that Revit requires more communication, not less, which is not a bad thing.

More often than not, when a client asks me to help them figure out a workflow or create something for them, I start with asking questions. I need to understand holistically what they REALLY need, not what they just need right now to get their work done and go home. I ask them all sorts of questions about what it specifically needs do to right then but what it also might need to do in the future. I really want to UNDERSTAND what they are asking so that I give them what they really need, not what they think that they want. If they can't explain it to me then 1. how will they convey it properly on the drawings, and 2. how will I make it?

I'm always so flabbergasted when I hear of someone just opening up a Revit model that they've never been in before and starting to work without talking to the model manager, or at least someone who is working on the project currently. I've started adding a note in BIG RED letters to the startup page of all my templates "Before working in this model talk with XXXXX" (I didn't think of this, I saw it in a template I was reviewing and I thought it was such a fantastic idea that I'm paying it forward).

The other hand of this is also being willing to answer questions. Maybe those who don't ask also don't answer? I have worked with plenty of people who don't take the time to properly teach something or answer questions and then get mad or annoyed when it's not done properly, or they want to do something in a less efficient way because they don't want to teach someone the way that may be more complicated because it takes their time to teach it. It's bad practices like this that give Revit a bad name, when 99.5% of the time issues are due to user error, not software error.

Some of it might be that people think that they look "dumb" or that they aren't really an "expert" (see my last post) if they ask questions. Asking questions shows that you care and that you are really paying attention (well at least if they are real questions and not lazy ones) and on the flip side, taking the time to answer questions and teach someone something shows that that you value them as part of the team and want to help them to get better.

To me, it's like a kid yelling at their parents when they get mad at them, "You don't love me!!!" Well, if they weren't loved, why would the parent waste their time getting mad? You take the time precisely BECAUSE you care.

In the end you will always save time and heartache if you both ask and answer questions. It's always better to have information and not need it than to need it and not have it (like what I tell my kids about taking a sweatshirt to school!). 

Think about this from a selfish perspective - if you teach someone how to do something, now you don't have to do that thing, so it's really a win-win situation. You are lifting that person up and in the process moving up the mean skill level of your entire organization, which in the end saves time and money.

Moral of my story - ask and answer questions, you'll get a better outcome, and you might even save some money in the process!

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

What is an "Expert"?

Recently I had a chat with a group of women in the AEC industry about the usage of the moniker "Expert" and how men and women use it differently to describe themselves. After that discussion, I had a look back at all the various bios that I've written for myself over the years and noticed that I didn't use that word in any of them - in fact, the only two place that the word "Expert" is used to describe me is in the bio slides for the webinars I give as part of my job, and that's only because the sample slides use that word, and in the new title I received last year of "Autodesk Expert Elite."

Why is that? I definitely believe myself to be an expert in a variety of things, both work and non-work related. What is it about the word "Expert" that makes some people avoid it? Why don't I use it myself?

Maybe we start with what the word means. The definition in Merriam-Webster's dictionary:

expert | \'ek-,spərt\

1. one with the special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject

2. having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience

So, let's unpack that a bit, starting with the first definition. What does it mean to master something? A common saying comes to mind, "Practice makes perfect" which really isn't correct, as achieving perfect is in reality an unattainable goal. What I like to say instead, and I tell my kids that all the time, is "Practice makes progress" (I even had some fun lettering it early on in the pandemic.) 

How do you know when you have truly mastered something? When it comes to Revit, I like to use this - the Six Stages of Revit

Even this doesn't use the word "Expert" which is interesting.

What does it mean to call yourself an expert? What about when others call you an expert? I have spoken to women who have said that they reluctantly accept when someone else calls them an expert. Why is this? Why are women in particular less likely to accept that they "Know their sh%*?" I know the answer - we are taught from a young age to be humble and unassuming, that's why and I'm calling BS on that.

Let's take a look at the second definition now which talks about training or experience. I think that this one may be what some people latch onto. I know plenty of people who consider themselves "Experts" after having taken a training class on something, which, in my opinion, is far from the truth. I had professors in college who thought they were architecture experts even though they never actually designed a real building or worked on construction documents (all men, I might add). 

Let's think about this in another way, which I think might make it a lot easier for everyone to use the word - are there things that others come to you for advice on? Are you the "go-to person" for a particular workflow or task in your office? If so, then you are an Expert in that thing! But remember, this can be a double edged sword - don't let people know you're an expert at something that you don't really like doing - you don't have to like something to be an expert at it. I'm an expert at cleaning the kitchen but do I really LIKE it?

Some people think that if they call themselves an Expert, then they are expected to know all the answers, that they can't ask questions anymore. I personally don't feel that way. I think that a true Expert understands when they don't know something, admits to it, but then goes on a quest to find the answer (that's totally me, for better or for worse). I tell all my clients, "If I don't know the answer, I will find you an answer. Then answer may be that you can't do that thing, but it's still an answer."

Back to my bios - I use words like "experience" and "specialized in" instead of direct words that describe me. In other place like my Twitter and LinkedIn, l like to use more descriptive words. As I've been writing this blogpost, I've realized that I like to use words that are more unique and descriptive and maybe that's why I in particular don't use the word "Expert" - it's not that I don't think that I'm one (and anyone who knows me knows that I'm happy to talk about what I know and to figure out how to learn the thinks that I don't know).

We've come to the end of my ramblings and I want to leave you with this - words are what we want them to be and we are in control of them. Make your own narrative, use the words that YOU want to use for yourself and others will follow suit. Own your expertise and use it to your advantage and also to help those who don't have that same advantage and privilege that you have. This is how you become an expert, a thought leader, a master, a sherpa, a guru, a specialist... or whatever other word you want to use. When other's look to you, you are an EXPERT and you should own the word, whether or not you use it yourself or not.

As my friend Chiara Rizzarda said "I'm a BIM expert, provided that such a thing exists" (and you should check out her blog here. It's AMAZING)

If this post spoke to you in any way, leave me a comment, let me know your thoughts, let's have a chat! 

Ask a question! (or 2 or 5 or 20)

I've spent the past 5 years assisting a variety of design firms with Revit and other BIM-related topics. Before that, I spent 10 years w...