Without a doubt, the biggest rising trend in the architecture, engineering and construction industry is health and wellness. In the mid-80s, the World Health Organization released a report on the impact of indoor air quality on building occupants. Perhaps the most damning portion of the report was the finding that “energy-efficient but sick buildings often cost society far more than it gains by energy savings.”

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The world of professional advertising and marketing can be really weird.

I didn’t watch the SuperBowl this year. Or any other year, for that matter. Apparently at some point during “the big game,” there was a power outage. Some advertising folks working on behalf of Oreo (the cookie) took advantage of the opportunity and tweeted about how you can still dunk an Oreo in the dark. They were essentially taking a page from the David Meerman Scott playbook (see Newsjacking: How to Inject your Ideas into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media Coverage).

And it worked. Not only did Oreo’s brand receive massive attention, but the advertisers won a very desirable award at the Cannes Lion festival. Andrew Teman, an advertiser himself, now had to live up to a promise he published on his blog:

I promised that if the Oreo tweet won a Cannes Lion, I’d quit advertising. And now I’m going to do that. Kind of.

I’m leaving my day job, and heading off to create my own agency (with my friend and now partner Thomas), and it’s going to be called Heart…

We want to work faster, smarter, and lighter. We want to work at pace with other passionate people. We want to make smart things that make our partners richer and famous-er. We want to work in the name of work that works.

via Andrew Teman

Brooks Barnes recently wrote about an unlikely division of Disney in the New York Times. Called Disney Institute, the division operates as a management consulting firm that aims to help businesses better understand the correlation between happy customers and happy bottom lines.

Desperate for new ways to connect with consumers, an increasing array of industries and organizations are paying Disney to teach them how to become, well, more like Disney.

Revenue from the Disney Institute has doubled over the last three years, according to Disney, powered in part by its aggressive pursuit of new business. Over the last two years alone, 300 school systems across the country have sought its advice.

Other clients range from very large entities — Häagen-Dazs International, United Airlines, the country of South Africa — to small ones: three Subway restaurants in Maine, a Michigan hair salon, a Boston youth-counseling center.

Via NYT

Mark Haas has another great post up at the Institute for Management Consultant’s Daily Tips for Consultants blog. In it, he compares the work of consultants to that of detectives, prompting the invocation of the world’s most famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. When asking What Would Sherlock Holmes Do? Haas came up with the following list of recommendations:

  1. Keep an open mind, not being swayed by the preponderance of opinions as to the “obvious” solution.
  2. Employ deductive reasoning, based facts you have confirmed.
  3. Investigate all possibilities thoroughly, especially ones that at first seem implausible.
  4. Look carefully at the details, again especially at those details that may seem irrelevant.
  5. Look for connections, relationships, consistencies and inconsistencies.
  6. Ask lots of questions, and don’t automatically accept the first answers you are given.
  7. Wear a disguise (OK-you might want to scratch that one!).
  8. Be relentless in pursuit of the solution.

I don’t know Mark, sometimes a disguise may be in order!

In my work as a consultant in the construction industry, especially in the field of forensics, these suggestions become the requirements for professional success. Although admittedly, there seems to be a lot of overlap from one project to the next, we still need to approach each situation with an open mind, exhausting all possibilities before reaching conclusions.

Link: IMC USA

In the last week or so, there has been a lot of talk in the tech industry about the upcoming theatrical release of a lost interview with Steve Jobs from 1996. The interview was part of a series by Robert X. Cringely, called “Triumph of the Nerds.” An excerpt of the interview has been circulating lately, including at Fortune. This particular excerpt includes some of Steve Jobs’ thoughts on the design process.

And the problem with that is that there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make. There are just certain things you can’t make electrons do. There are certain things you can’t make plastic do. Or glass do. Or factories do. Or robots do.

Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.

And it’s that process that is the magic.

Design is a challenging process for me. I don’t see myself as the world’s greatest designer. To me, good design is functional – in that the design of something is integral to the overall strategy of that thing. This to me, is a major factor in the design of a website, for example.

Well designed websites are highly functional. The design serves as a vehicle for delivering a message to the visitor/reader. The overall strategic goals for a website should thus inform the design – not the other way around.

Redesigning AECforensics.com

I have been publishing content to AECforensics.com for just about two years now. The site started as a reflection of my passion for pursuing quality in the built environment, following more than a decade of work as a construction consultant. I realized that there was a large void in our industry in terms of reliable news and content pertaining to the A/E/C (architecture, engineering and construction) forensics field.

From very early on, I had a vision of how the design of the site would play a part in the overall strategy. The problem is, I just haven’t been able to implement or execute that design intent. Until the other day…

The amazing designers at WooThemes recently released a new theme for WordPress that caught my eye. I could see the potential for how the building blocks of that design would serve to meet my goal. After a nearly sleepless night of modifying the code of the new theme (that’s where the “keeping five thousand things in your brain” comes in), I finally found what I had been looking for all along:

AECforensics.com Screen Shot
AECforensics.com Screen Shot

Above is a screenshot of the new design. One of the things I am most excited about is that this theme is based on the concept of responsive design. This is a fancy buzzword that folks are using these days to describe web design that dynamically adapts to whatever device the site is being displayed on. If you are using a computer screen to view the site, it looks similar to the screenshot. But if you adjust the size of your browser window to a narrow width, the layout of the site adapts to that smaller display size. The site also looks great on an iPad or other tablet device.

So there it is. I could have spent 100+ hours trying to develop a design from scratch. Instead, with the right starting point, I have been able to achieve the design intent that I have envisioned all along. Is it the world’s greatest website? No. But that isn’t what I’m going after. Is it the right design for communicating the information that I am trying to share with the A/E/C industry? Yes.

At least until I decide to shift strategies…

Note: This was originally published on October 11, 2010.

Pareto’s Principle states that 80% of the effects come from the 20% of causes. I don’t necessarily agree that this exact ratio is true 100% of the time, but the principle is sound. Let’s see how this works in marketing.

In affiliate marketing campaigns, many professional marketers describe something known as the power curve. There is usually a small group of affiliates, or sometimes just one affiliate, driving the bulk of the conversions (sales, clicks, or whatever the intended goal is). Professional marketers in other mediums report similar effects that illustrate Pareto’s principle – 60 to 90% of conversions from 10 to 30% of the resources expended (advertising spending, or other resources).

In marketing professional services, it is well worth analyzing results to determine what tactics are most effective. Unfortunately I often see companies focusing their efforts on the inverse of Pareto’s ratio: spending 80% or more of their resources on campaigns that produce 20% or less of the desired result.

In tough times, such as the current economic crisis, marketing budgets are often the first to go. By analyzing the results of your marketing efforts, it may be possible to reduce marketing spending, but still increase results. Look for the techniques that require less resources but produce high returns. Eliminate what isn’t producing results and put more resources into what is working. This may mean cutting out things like the ubiquitous but ineffective full-color brochure your firm has produced annually, or canceling sponsorship of an event that has failed to produce a single client.

It is easy to fall into habit in our jobs. But tough times call for clarity of thought and decisive action – not rote memory and an atitude of, “this is what we’ve always done.” What may have worked in the past may not be effective now. Do what works and provides tangible results. Analyze results. Rinse. Repeat.

Social media, technology, the constant flow of information – sometimes, it is good to disconnect.

Sunset over Vail Valley

Last week, I flew to Denver with my father and then we drove two hours to Edwards, CO. While Colorado’s climate may not be something that I would easily adapt to year-round, the weather was beautiful throughout our stay. Driving to Vail Valley, as the sun was setting, was absolutely amazing. (Just take a look at the picture above – not the best picture, but about as good as I could manage with a cheap point-and-shoot flying down the 70.)

The reason for our trip was to engage in two days of intensive training in Quality Assurance Observation methodology, a rigorous process that aims to improve the quality of construction projects through verification.

I brought my laptop, iPad, Kindle, etc., but except for taking notes and reading on my iPad, I remained offline for the most part. Part of that was unintentional – the internet connection at Riverwalk (where we were staying) was worse than dial-up, even with an ethernet connection.

I found that remaining offline helped to process the fire hose of information that came through the training. Rather than connecting to people through social media, I spent hours on both days engaging with others in person. There is no substitute for face-to-face interaction.

I had a great time in Colorado, but I think I had an even better time because I was able to be fully present and focused on the interactions I had.

Sometimes the best approach in life is to heed the advice of Mr. Leary:

Tune in, Turn on, and Drop out.

Michael McLaughlin compiled a list of books to help keep projects on track:

It’s always startling to read about the high failure rate of projects, whether they are IT projects or some other kind. Some researchers report that project failure rates can be as high as 70%. Fortunately, there are some very smart people thinking about how to help project teams boost their probability of success. Here are four books that I think can help any project leader or team get projects done on-time, within budget, and with the expected results.

Link: Michael McLaughlin

The first test of a consultant: Ethics.

I really had no idea what to expect, going in. In my mind, consulting was about answering business questions through analysis. It was supposed to be Excel sheets and models, sifting through data to discover profit and loss, and helping clients make decisions that would add the most value for themselves, and by extension, society.

It was worrisome to enter a new job without any guarantee that I would be qualified. I assumed BCG would train me, and that as it had been with MIT, intelligence and hard work would prove sufficient. Still, I wondered what I would do if for some reason it turned out that I couldn’t get my head around the analysis? In hindsight, analytical skills should have been the least of my worries.

The first clue that my mental picture of consulting was off came with “training” in Munich. I expected instruction in Excel programming, data analysis, and business theory. Instead, Munich turned out to be little more than a week long social outing with other recently matriculated consultants and analysts within the BCG’s European branches. We donned name tags, shook hands, and drank often. Classes were fluffy, and mostly consisted of discussion of high-level, almost philosophical topics. I got along well — as both an American and a member of the Dubai office, I was doubly foreign and therefore double the curiosity….

Via: The Tech (MIT)