I recently witnessed something rather extraordinary: a gathering of design professionals representing the wide spectrum of the built environment, architecture, construction, financing, even government, all sitting around tables, pencils is hand, collaboratively working on a common design problem. Not some abstract design problem, but the future development of an entire city block in downtown Denver.
The room was alive with collaboration. Ideas were flowing, sometimes challenged, sometimes confirmed, but never brushed aside. Having recently seen a presentation on the working methods of Ideo, I recognized the power of such fervor, I believed in what could come out of such collaboration. I felt like I was in a graduate design studio again.
But I wasn’t in a design studio and these were certainly not graduate students. This was a group of people who were at the top of their game: CEOs of major development companies, owners of successful design firms, people who have a hand in most of the work that happens in and around our fair city. When I was describing this to my wife she asked a perfectly valid question, “Why would these people, who in some instances might compete against one another for work, now come together and share ideas?” I had to think about that one.
Why did these very important people take time out of their busy schedule, giving free ideas and advice, for someone else’s project? I mean, the drinks and food afterward were amazing, but something deeper must have brought them out on a busy weekday afternoon. In talking with the principals of my own firm they describe a sense of community, friendship, camaraderie, and a shared love of the city. They shared with me a very special insight: business, even at the highest levels, is still ultimately conducted on a very personal level.
These were, after all, a group of individuals who had a past together; they could see the big picture, so to speak. These people were willing to share their time and expertise out of respect, not necessarily for any one member, or even the collective group, but of a shared ideal- the shared ideal of good work. The shared excitement of seeing good projects come to life. Each participant had a different set of skills to bring to the table, complimentary insights that collectively built, one upon the other, to a set of five concepts, each greater than the possibilities of one individual discipline, let alone one individual designer.
As I watched this all unfold, I couldn’t help but feel rejuvenated by the energy in the room. Trace paper was literally piling up. The steady hum of conversation was ever-present, the occasional burst of laughter proved that the process was working. People felt comfortable. Not only with one another, but with their own abilities, their own presence. The work produced was beautiful. Although the impetus was not to produce pretty pictures but valid ideas, the drawings that came out of this workshop have the same energy embodied in them as I felt on that wonderful afternoon.
I can’t help but think that I will draw from this rich experience for many years to come.