Consulting, as a profession, is in my humble opinion an extremely honorable pursuit that can bring tremendous value to the purchasers of consulting services. But that’s only when applying a very narrow definition of the “consulting.”

What is that definition?

A true consultant is an independent professional that through the application of their unique knowledge, experience and (occasionally) intellectual property, transforms the outcome of their client’s situation. (Kudos to Alan Weiss for that insight…)

But unfortunately, the majority of “consultants” out there are simply supplying outsourced labor.

And perhaps that’s why Lucas Miller’s post at TNW bothers me a little. The title of his post kind of says it all: Why you’re more qualified to be a consultant than you think.

From the intro:

This post isn’t just to boost your mood, although that would be a good side effect. The real purpose here is to show that you can utilize your talents in such a way that they pay the bills. The name of the game here is “consulting.”

I think words like “freelancing” or “subcontracting” are much more accurate than “consulting” when it comes to describing the work that most self-professed consultants perform.

To be fair, Miller does make mention of a consultant he knows that is producing measurable ROI for their clients, despite being only 18 — a real outlier. Unfortunately, it gives the impression that anybody can leverage skills picked up in between homework assignments and school dances.

Nervous about launching your career as consultant?

Don’t be — all you need is some successful experience, some productive failures, a lot of sweat equity, and the willingness to scrap a plan on a minute’s notice. If this sounds like you, congrats — you’re already qualified to be a consultant.

What’s missing? If you want to be a true consultant, make sure that the efforts of your client work produce measurable results, and ideally, implement value-based fees as opposed to billing based on increments of time.

But ultimately, perhaps the real test for who is and who is not a consultant comes down to their relationship with their client. A real consultant is a peer of their client, engaged in a collaborative process.

Christopher Hill (no relation to yours truly) is a longtime construction law attorney and mediator practicing out of Richmond, Virginia. His blog, Construction Law Musings, has always been one of my must-read sources of news and insight pertaining to construction law ever since he started it in late 2008. Be sure to follow @constructionlaw on Twitter for the latest updates from a true thought leader in the art and science of resolving construction disputes. Without further ado, I am proud to present Mr. Hill’s guest post on a topic that I couldn’t agree with more — the business case for why the mediation process is so critical to the A/E/C industry.

First of all, thanks to Brian for his invitation to discuss a passion of mine, mediation, at his great AEC Forensics blog.  I read it regularly and so should you. (more…)

Great Big Story bills themselves as “a global media company devoted to cinematic storytelling.”

Last year, they produced a great short feature about a team of skilled contractors and archeologists putting ancient building techniques to use in order to construct a medieval castle. Here’s the description accompanying the video:

It’s hard to fathom how magnificent castles were built centuries ago. One group set out to understand just that by building their own masterpiece two hours outside of Paris. Tucked away in a forest, a team of master builders and archeologists are attempting to construct Guédelon, a castle from the 13th century, using only medieval techniques.

And here is the video:

Bill Graham, legendary concert promoter and impresario said the above quote in regards to one of his favorite bands to work with: the Grateful Dead. Since today is the 22nd anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s passing, I thought it would be fun to tie in today’s post with something related to the Dead…

Matt Handal, SMPS rock star, head of marketing for a highly successful consulting firm in the A/E/C industry, author of the best book I know of on responding to RFPs, and just an all around neat guy, posted yet another intriguing post at his website, Help Everybody Every Day. The post: Architects and Engineers Suffer From Mass Superiority Delusion.

(more…)

Just a few short months ago, in May, two construction workers were killed due to unsafe working conditions at a site in Navi Mumbai, a suburb of sorts to the Sai Mannat business hub in India.

While the deaths should have prompted outrage and collective demand for improving safety conditions, that’s just not the way things work in India. Reporting for NDTV, Sonal Matharu and Sreenivasan Jain shared the following:

We filmed inside the Sai Mannat site using a hidden camera – as well as a regular camera from the outside – to find workers suspended several stories above ground without safety nets or belts. We could see open wires, posing the risk of electrocution.

A metallic plank, the same one which caused the fatal accident in May, could be seen sliding down the building, tilted, with three workers on it without helmets.These findings shed light on the darker side of India’s $140 billion construction industry, where a pervasive lack of safety, as well as lack of government oversight places millions of workers at grave risk.

The Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996, which governs safety at worskites, sets out nearly 200 rules, including asking employers to ensure that workers are supplied with helmets, boots, harnesses and other safety equipment. Risky open spaces are meant to be covered, with netting, for instance. Exposed wiring in wet areas is another no-no under the law.

If you have ever witnessed the construction of larger projects in India, then you probably already know just how deplorable safety conditions are, compared to what we enjoy in the US. I personally have seen pictures of job sites for Fortune 50 companies building large commercial office buildings with workers scampering across bamboo “scaffolding” barefoot, with no personal protective equipment whatsoever.

So yeah, those toolbox talks take time, and wearing fall protection and PPE does slow you down. But those tactics may also save your life so you can still get home to see your family tonight.

Submitted for your approval, below is a video that is part of an entire series of videos on YouTube depicting a guy working on excavating a tunnel all by himself, using primitive tools.

On the one hand, the idea that someone is constructing a massive tunnel by themselves, using hand tools, working shirtless and barefoot is certainly intriguing.

On the other hand, not only is this completely unsafe and goes against well established standards of practice, but if I understand some of the comments, he is not performing this work at his own property. If true, it is highly illegal, and it exposes the actual property owner to significant liability!

Perhaps there are other hobbies one might want to consider…

Bloomberg’s Mark Bergen reports:

Alphabet Inc.’s secretive X skunk works has another idea that could save the world. This one, code named Malta, involves vats of salt and antifreeze.

The research lab, which hatched Google’s driverless car almost a decade ago, is developing a system for storing renewable energy that would otherwise be wasted. It can be located almost anywhere, has the potential to last longer than lithium-ion batteries and compete on price with new hydroelectric plants and other existing clean energy storage methods, according to X executives and researchers.

Where does the salt and antifreeze come in?

Two tanks are filled with salt, and two are filled with antifreeze or a hydrocarbon liquid. The system takes in energy in the form of electricity and turns it into separate streams of hot and cold air. The hot air heats up the salt, while the cold air cools the antifreeze, a bit like a refrigerator. The jet engine part: Flip a switch and the process reverses. Hot and cold air rush toward each other, creating powerful gusts that spin a turbine and spit out electricity when the grid needs it. Salt maintains its temperature well, so the system can store energy for many hours, and even days, depending on how much you insulate the tanks.

Molten salt is the medium used for several high capacity solar energy production facilities, so it is a somewhat proven technology. Should be interesting to see what the real-world data shows as far as efficiency goes once this system goes online.

One very interesting tidbit from the article states that California discarded more than 300,000 megawatt hours of solar energy due to a lack of viable storage options.

Once again, TechCrunch (a publication dedicated to covering startup companies in the world of technology) has the scoop on an app for the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.

And from what I can tell, this app really is a major game changer. Here’s more:

For architects, complying with building codes means navigating labyrinthine layers of regulations that vary between municipalities. Sorting through different codes and keeping track of updates is a daunting task and, in a worst-case scenario, a mistake can cost thousands or even millions of dollars to tear out and fix. Firms that can afford it hire building code consultants, but a startup called UpCodes wants to make code compliance easier for all builders.

Founded last year by brothers Garrett and Scott Reynolds, UpCodes is currently taking part in Y Combinator. It now has more than 45,000 monthly active users and claims 11 percent growth week-over-week this year. Its app puts building regulations into one place, makes them searchable and adds collaboration tools so team members can research and share notes on projects.

This statement from Scott Reynolds really underscores why this is such a big deal:

“I came out of school where design is freeform and architecture is a very creative endeavor, then got into the workforce and realized how difficult the regulation atmosphere is to navigate,” says Scott. “I realized how difficult it was for me, my colleagues and individuals to understand those codes. It drove me to a point where architecture wasn’t enjoyable any longer.”

And this describes precisely the problem that exists in the built environment. We have all kinds of gifted technical minds working on improving the codes and standards that dictate how various assemblies should be installed. But getting that information into the hands of the tradespeople and draftsmen and other folks on the front lines — especially in a user-friendly format — is extremely difficult.

I hope that the folks at UpCodes are actively pursuing Spanish language translation to truly make this an effective tool for how the construction industry really works.

Deezeen recently featured a profile of a recent art installation by British artist Alex Chinneck titled Six Pins and a Half Dozen Needles.

Chinneck’s piece is located at a mixed-use development in Hammersmith called Assembly London. In essence, it appears as if an entire section of brick cladding has been ripped in two — much as if one tears a piece of paper in two. Here’s a picture, courtesy of Deezeen:

six-pins-half-a-dozen-needles-alex-chinneck-design-installations_dezeen_2364_col_4

According to the article:

The artist collaborated with a diverse team over the course of 14 months to complete the piece, working with structural engineers, brick makers, water cutters, steel fabricators, site welders, crane operators and tilers.

The sculpture is placed on a steel framework that’s bolted and welded to the building, and its rip is made from 1,000 separate stainless steel components and hundreds of unique bricks – each individually cut by hand and water.