You (probably) don’t have the best idea

Stealing from Broadway. How to get the best ideas and do better architecture. Consider this a reminder - you should already know this.

I’ve never directed a stage show, let alone created one from scratch but in my imagining there’s much in common with architecture. They’re visionary experiences with many moving parts and challenges. Both involve teams of highly creative as well as technically minded humans, with their own opinions, ideas and needs. Choosing the best path through to realise the final vision is hard work. Leadership is key here. So what might architects learn from the best leaders on Broadway?

You might have heard of the broadway musicals, cultural phenomenons, “In the Heights” and “Hamilton”. Likely then that you’ve also heard too of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Thomas Kail, the remarkable creative force behind those shows. There’s more than American history to learn from them. I’m stealing the wisdom of Thomas Kail.

Thomas Kail knows that anyone can have a good idea. Not only does he believe this, he embraces the possibility. Thomas, as director, sees his job is not to have the best ideas but to identify the best.

To have access to the best ideas requires a few things. Firstly, everyone needs to be in the room to express their ideas. Everyone needs to be given a reasonable opportunity to express their ideas. There must be then be a genuine willingness to hear, consider and then incorporate the best ideas, no matter who they came from. To consider if there’s a genuine willingness, take a look at who is in the room at all important stages when good ideas are being sought. Note, that may consist of the architectural team, but might also include the clients, consultants or anyone that could conceivably contribute a good idea.

As the leader of an architectural project (or anything else), it’s natural to feel pressure to come up with the best, “right” idea or solution for the project. Yet that’s not your job. Your job is to be accountable to the project, and to achieving the best possible outcome. That accountability might be weighty, but as Thomas Kail observed also helps release your from the pressure of always having to have the best ideas. There’s a whole team to help – so who do you invite into the room? Those that have not (yet) been conditioned to think in a specific way or carry the extra burden of responsibility might be more capable of thinking outside traditional tropes too, bringing a diversity of thinking.

Taking this mindset into a project takes the pressure off. You can sincerely work as a team, with no one looking to you to come up with the best idea. The team just requires your direction and decisiveness on what the best ideas are. It’s your ability to think critically, rigorously and intuitively that brings the most value to your work, not your ideas. That’s for everyone.

Picture by Albert Cots 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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