As changes in technology and global conditions accelerate, US author and 'business futurist' Jonathan Brill has outlined what will set apart the AEC firms that thrive
This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared on Autodesk’s Redshift, a site dedicated to inspiring construction, manufacturing, engineering and design leaders. Read the full article here
What will it take for architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms to adapt, survive and even thrive in the face of accelerating change in unfamiliar territory?
When surveyed for Autodesk’s 2023 'State of Design & Make' global report, AEC leaders shared the most pressing drivers of change shaping their business decisions.
Not surprisingly, digital transformation topped the list, with 79 per cent of respondents stating that the future growth of their company will depend on digital tools.
Fortunately for AEC firms, the ‘architect way’ of problem-solving - taking both the top-level view and zooming in on the details that support success - is an advantage when navigating volatile times.
Reframe volatility as an opportunity for the prepared
Jonathan Brill is an author and 'business futurist' who advises start-ups, the Fortune 50 and the United States Secret Service on ways to understand and take advantage of an increasingly uncertain world.
In his book, Rogue Waves: Future-proof your business to survive and profit from radical change, Brill describes how technological, social and economic trends can be like ‘rogue waves’ that develop in the ocean when individually manageable waves of disruption collide, creating overwhelming walls of water that can sink even the largest ships in seconds.
Such rogue waves are hitting businesses harder, faster and more often. But, with the right processes in place, he says, you can consistently turn these moments of radical change to your advantage.
Approach new challenges like an architect
‘As technology reshapes industries, your architectural training is an untapped superpower,’ says Brill. ‘Your ability to zoom out and zoom in is desperately needed.’
While AI absorbs data, ‘architects uniquely synthesise complexity and render insights into human-centric solutions’, he explains. ‘As machines take over discrete tasks, this contextual thinking becomes even more valuable.'
The key, Brill adds, is to find new applications for your core strengths instead of trying to change architecture’s essence. ‘Use your systems thinking to derive insights and translate vision into reality and extend your profession into new domains.’
Apply acquired skills beyond building design to find new markets
He urges leaders to expand their architectural mindset beyond traditional building design. ‘Pilot services that apply your spatial and co-ordination skills in new markets,’ he says. ‘Create experiences blending physical and digital. Help organisations of all kinds adapt.’
The accelerating pace of change rewards those who grasp new connections and implications.
‘You already have this superpower,’ Brill continues. ‘Augment it with technology, then offer it at scale as a coveted service. Architecture has a moment to expand its relevance by leveraging its native strengths. The future belongs to those who understand the whole system and then incrementally improve it.'
Cultivate the ABCs: Awareness, Behaviour, Culture
Firms need to be thinking systematically - not just about what’s there, but about what’s missing too. In Rogue Waves, Brill outlines his ABCs that will help firms thrive in uncertainty:
Awareness Vigilantly scan the horizon for clues: emerging innovations, economic and societal shifts that could collide. Continually monitor your environment to reveal blind spots.
Behaviours Act nimbly on early signals; invest in skills to spot changes early and quickly capitalise on them. Incorporate experimentation and management rigour into all processes.
Culture Instil a culture of curiosity, experimentation and learning from failure. Flatten hierarchies so insights can emerge from anywhere.