These randomly scheduled missives will opine on a variety of topics, mostly intended to be germane to design, construction, capital program management, and other related issues.

For shorter trips through the countryside, take a look at our blog, also called Notes from the Road.
Notes from the Road

August 2011
A Beach Read

cavemanThe elusiveness of the mysterious and rarely observed percli is legendary. While they are known to travel amongst us, they have given credence to the hackneyed ‘hiding in plain sight’ adage. Even when captured, they have often escaped — when the guard of their captors has let down, even a little bit.

Those who track this rare breed constitute a very diverse group. Cenchars fit no obvious mold. Some are effusive and ebullient, while others are somber and introspective. They seem to share nothing in common; but, this is an illusion. Quirky and idiosyncratic, they are all smart; and they all engender loyalty and respect from their co-workers and competitors alike.

The exploits of the cenchars, as they pursue even the smallest of the perclis, are the foundation of great story-telling. These tales, too, have a common element — They focus on the personality of the cenchar. The reading is absorbing, while one imagines what it must be like to be that person, or to be part of the cenchars’s inner-circle. Even while not stalking prey, they manage to impact their surroundings with their memorable personalities.

question markWhat the heck am I talking about?

I’m a fan of mystery novels, and have a few favorite authors. Truth be told, my library is dominated by special interest periodicals and these fictional mind-benders. With this public admission, I’ve now lost the ability to surreptitiously protect my secret pleasure. So now, I’ve got a new problem to solve — what’s my new private indulgence? I’m not tellin’ …

In any event, my favorite authors all create memorable characters. I’ll bet yours do as well.

Now re-start at the top. A percli, that elusive entity, is the rarest of the rare: the perfect client. And the cenchar? Well, that person is the charismatic leader of your group — Your central ‘character’.

Does your firm or organization have a Central ‘Character’?

cencharI contend that it must — particularly if it is to succeed. Small groups or organizations will either emulate or, at least, acknowledge a person. Steadfastly dedicated to good work and good deeds, your ‘cenchar’ will invariably have inexplicable quirks or idiosyncrasies: The woman who knows all about engine repair. The numbers guy who can’t remember his own cell phone. The dedicated note-taker who always misplaces the notepad after the meeting.

Honesty, integrity and commitment, however, are inevitable. Also likely is the fidelity of coworkers when these traits dominate. It’s a joy to behold.

How do I find this person?

popeyeYou can’t help but notice them. They usually engender a wry smile in the people fortunate enough to have the encounter.

Perhaps — maybe even without realizing it — you ARE that person. Lucky you. If so, wear the mantle with grace and humility. You’re on a shaky perch, without much reliable advice to refine your image. Most places gravitate to one or two people — nothing unexpected.

If your group seems not to have one, creative endeavors are warranted. Write your own novel. Easier said than done — for sure, and the subject of many management, marketing and business consultants. Beware of lurking Enterprise Resource Planners. They’ll want to help you find your ‘brand’. How painful is that?

Invariably the experts seem to come around to one central theme — be true to you own character.

Popeye had it right — And he only had Olive Oyl and Wimpy to help set him straight.

Eventually the ‘Character’ becomes fictional

Organizations expand and age, and eventually the persona becomes legendary. I contend the management consultancy infatuation with mission statements results from a recognition that people (both insiders as well as outsiders) need something to latch onto. Sadly, the results are often soulless and uninspired rehashes of lofty generic goals and ambitions — no ‘Character’.

The best characters seem very much like real ‘people’. Stodgy, but business-oriented IBM. The quirky child funster of Wham-O. The brown-shirted, hard-working UPS person.

Our industry has many of its own characters, but let’s leave that citation for another time.

Apple Computer, an extraordinary company by any measure, has all bases covered. They’ve got a real central character as well as a legendary fiction in the making. What would Steve Jobs Do? Assuming Apple is still around 50 or 100 years from now, I suspect we’ll all be asking ourselves that.

I challenge you to imagine a major new product introduction without the phantom presence of an outgoing enthusiastic guy in a black mock turtleneck barely able to contain his happiness.

Nature or Nurture?

no durianBoth work for me. Sure, you may be lucky enough to have bred your own — character, that is. But that doesn’t mean you can’t cultivate one. Large oaks from little acorns grow.

Fertilize and prune with care. There is no help if you make the corporate version of durian.

A Cliffhanger Ending

Our erstwhile cenchar classically captures the cagey percli, but often with some open unresolved issues. As we are drawn into the drama, we realize that we can’t wait to hear the next installment of the adventure series. What’s your cenchar up to?

Oh yeah, by the way, beach reads are usually short.

Missed earlier newsletters? Find them here:

May 2011  “NeoLuddite or Technophile?”
March 2011  “Do Your Silos Leak?”
January 2011  “Plan to Live Forever!”
November 2010  “May I Have A Plan, Master?”
September 2010  “How do we choose?”
July 2010  “Good People Behaving Badly”
May 2010  “LEED: LEADing or Dead Weight?”
March 2010  “Why does it cost so much?”
January 2010 “Design/Builders show us your softer side.”
November 2009 “What the Facilities?”
September 2009 “Why Do Architects Make Good Owner’s Reps?”

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