How to [Re]Start Architectural Practice

Re-Strtaing architetcural practice
Architectural practice is hard. The challenges are never ending and often for diminishing reward. It's also the best job ever when it all works. So when practice isn't working the way we'd like, how might we [re]start our architectural practice?

Whether just starting out on your practice journey or well into it, it is always worthwhile to take time to stop and evaluate how it’s going. What’s working? What’s not working? What could be better? What’s the general feeling?

It’s too rare for architects to do this. They might be too busy to make the time. Some might not think to ask questions of their practice. For others the sense that all is going well (or well enough) might mean they don’t feel it’s necessary. And more often than not there’s potential for the answers to be a little too scary to even ask questions. So how to [re]start?

The first step, or steps, is of course asking some good questions of your practice:
What’s working?
What’s not working?
What could be better?
What’s the overall feeling?
What are your goals for your practice?
Who’s your ideal client?
What does your perfect practice look like?

Any of those questions that feel hard or challenging are the ones you must answer first. You need to run towards the fire in order to make a difference and start to deliver the change you seek in your practice. It’s not always necessary to answer all questions, but don’t hide from the ones that feel hard – they’re the important ones. The last three, on your goals, clients and perfect practice, you have to answer and you can leave them til last. That’s where you’re starting from. You must also write all your answers down, as thoroughly as possible, so you can really see what you’re facing. Sometimes you’ll see the answers to making change in plain sight in what you wrote. Ultimately, your answers are a prompt and reminder to learn from past mistakes and remind you of where you’re now heading.

As you might have now guessed, the next thing to do is to let go of everything you may have built previously. That’s sunk costs. Ignore sunk costs. Easier said than done, you might need someone to hold your hand or at least stand by your side to remind you to ignore sunk costs. Don’t fret, we’re not throwing everything away just yet. For the moment we’re effectively pulling things apart, laying them all out in front of us, working out what’s to be let go, to be modified, to keep, and what new parts to be built.

Ideally you’ll come into this with a beginner’s mindset. You’ll need to identify and let go of any assumptions you might have. As you go through this exercise, try to think in possibilities rather than impossibilities.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” — Shunryu Suzuki

Starting with the end in mind.

Have you clearly described what perfect practice looks like? Have you described your goals? Be honest. If not, sit down and write answers to both those questions down with as much details and thought and is realistic right now. Now add three more lines of ideas to each.

For this exercise we’re using inversion thinking, and that means we start at the end. From your goals and what perfect looks like, consider and write what you did to achieve your goals and perfect practice. You succeeded, how might you have done it? This is going to be difficult, but it’s impossible to be wrong, so really go for it. How did you achieve your perfect? Really detail it all out, all the things you can think of that you might have done to achieve perfect and the steps it took.

I’m curious, did you get right back to your [re]start? If not keep going with the inversion thinking until you do reach a [re]start. Having done so, what do you now see? Do you have a new place or way to [re]start your practice? Do you have some ideas about what you need to let go of or modify in your practice?

Here’s some more questions to ask yourself from this point,
Do you have some identifiable steps to try out in [re]starting?
Can you break the steps down into easily achievable chunks?
What assumptions are you going to have to let go of in order to make change happen in your practice? – this one is really hard and it’s often not possible to see the assumptions you’re making.
Who will you ask for help? (You never need to do this work alone.)
What is the first step you will take?
When will you start?

Inversion thinking is hard and can be challenging, but it shouldn’t necessarily be unfamiliar. It’s what architects must often do in order to deliver the design and project outcomes they seek for their clients. It’s rare, however, for architects to apply this type of thinking to their practice.

Taking such a giant leap to [re]start practice isn’t always necessary. This exercise is useful to bring a new perspective to your practice. To identify changes to make or what’s missing from your practice. It might be done as a hypothetical exercise to test your thinking, or as a deliberate catalyst for change.

This has been an exercise.
Making change happen is up to you.
First you must [re]start.

Image by Marlene Leppänen on Pexels [cropped & edited]

Hi! I’m Michael

I’m an architect and coach. I help architects rethink their practice and support them as they uncover better ways to work. I’ve worked in architecture for over 25 years, and I ran my own practice for 14 years. I understand architectural practice from the inside out. Fun Fact: my NSW architect’s registration is #10 007 and I have a license to skill.

I believe improving practice takes asking hard questions and deep listening.

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