Posts Tagged ‘Knowledge Transfer’

I have been asked the question “What one piece of advice do you wish that you had received as a young professional?” multiple times in recent years.  I struggled with the answer to this question, because I was blessed with several great mentors in my years as a young professional.  The advice I received was sound, and I gained a great deal of technical knowledge in the process.  Clearly their advice helped me to become the professional I am today.

The bit of advice that I was missing from my early mentors was that no one ever told me that TO BE A LEADER IS TO SERVE.  Got that?  To be a leader is to serve others.

It took me years to learn this truth.  As a youngster, I pictured a leader as something of a drill sergeant; telling others what to do and how to do it.  Through the school of hard knocks, I learned that being a leader often means leading by example.  In order to do so, one must lead by doing.

When we chartered the Central Virginia Chapter of CSI in 1990, I was in the midst of raising a family.  During the pre-charter meetings hosted by then Institute Director Byron Dickson, I realized that if I expected an organization that benefits me to exist, I’d better be willing to assume a leadership role, and became the first treasurer of the chapter.

Fast forward about 15-20 years and I watched my three daughters take on leadership roles in the organizations to which they belong.  I did not deliberately teach my children to be leaders, but as they say, your children don’t do as you say, they do as you do.

Somewhere between my misguided high school days of envisioning a leader as a drill sergeant and the time I was participating in CSI leadership, I figured out that in order to lead, I must be willing to work hard and be of service to others.  To this day, that knowledge has served me well.


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With my last post I spoke of the necessity of members of the AEC industry to sweat the small stuff; to consider all of the issues related to putting a project together. This week, I will explore the best way to accomplish this.

We often hear about how graduates from architecture and engineering programs have very little practical/technical knowledge in their field. The complaints seem to be loudest from seasoned professionals such as myself.  In response to this, I concentrate on mentoring young professionals in an effort to pay forward the mentoring I received in the late seventies and early eighties as a young professional just getting into the field.

That said, new graduates and young professionals come armed with the most recent thinking on theoretical issues and solutions to some of the issues we all face. They have so much to offer, that we need to listen to what they have to say.  We need for mentoring to be a two way street, as we can all learn from one another.  Example: the seamless transition of our practice from hand drafting to CAD back in the nineties was made possible by a young professional with knowledge that I didn’t have.  She made it possible in a two week time span to have our electronic drawings look like our hand drafted work.

The best way I know of to make the two-way intentional transfer of knowledge happen is through CSI. In order for the two way exchange of knowledge to take place, we have to make certain that we get the young professionals to our meetings.  The invitation needs to be made on a personal basis, regardless of how the invitation is delivered (face to face, e-mail, social media, or even (gasp) a phone call.  The future of the industry depends on it.

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Today I wrote Field Report #1 for another project. My observations were limited to walking the property lines and ascertaining that the corners were properly marked and that the wetlands on the property were still flagged.  While this isn’t a lot of progress, what it represents is a new project has reached the Construction Phase.  The beginning of a project carries with it a special sort of excitement.  This occurs with each new project, road trip, another year at Construct, and the list goes on.

I also experienced this feeling when I left my first architectural position after three and one half years of working for a difficult boss who happened to be a great mentor. In spite of distancing myself from my mentor, I found myself looking forward to the next step, a four year term running construction operations for a local general contractor.  My time spent as a member of the constructor team became a large part of who I am as an architect and contributed heavily to my technical expertise.

So as I contemplate my new project, I can’t help but think about our younger colleagues whose careers collectively constitute new projects. I feel an obligation to give back to the profession as a mentor to these folks.  After all, there were many people who did the same for me.  So as I observe the beginnings of people’s careers, I share their excitement as they submit Field Report #1 on their careers.  I look forward to intentionally sharing knowledge for years to come.

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I have written multiple times on the transfer of knowledge. Most of the time, I am talking about transferring the knowledge my contemporaries have accumulated over many years of experience, and most people understand the phrase to mean exactly that.  The primary reason for concern with this topic is that if we don’t mentor the next generation(s) the knowledge will eventually be lost forever.

Transfer of knowledge doesn’t just flow from old to young, but the reverse is also true. I believe I would be totally lost if not for the knowledge I have been given by young people.  Often times, as I pointed out in my last post, this occurs during the course of a conversation when something will be said that causes me to connect the dots differently and enables me to look at an issue from a new perspective.  Without this learning, I would still be in the 1970s or ‘80s.  (My staff and daughters constantly tell me that I live in the 70s!).

So here’s the deal: We hire younger people because they bring a lot to the table.  Yes, they are obviously more up to date on technology, but this isn’t my point.  Our younger hires are creative.  They come out of school with fresh ideas and strong opinions.  What they have already learned and the ways that they learn compliments our knowledge.  With them, we are better.  The relationship is mutually beneficial.

So to my younger peers, we the Boomers salute you.  I am not alone in this.  My older friends often acknowledge your contributions, and frequently talk about the rising stars in our midst.  After all, you are the future.

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One of my friends and mentors passed this past week. He was one of those people that whenever we had a casual conversation, I would learn something.

Dick was a retired police officer and an experienced volunteer firefighter. It was from him that I learned much of what I know about how fires behave in buildings and also what extinguishes them.  This has served me well as an architect over the last several years.  I’m not sure if Dick realized that I was learning anything from him or that I consider him a mentor.  It was more about making friendly conversation about topics in which he had a wealth of knowledge and interest.  I will sorely miss the warmth and fellowship of our visits.

With that said, this is very much a reminder that members of my generation need to be focused on transferring the knowledge we have amassed over a lifetime to younger people. Being a mentor involves sharing our knowledge or, better still, sharing the means to acquire the necessary knowledge.  This may be a simple matter of answering a well placed question, or being there (hanging out) when the protégé isn’t aware that a question needs to be asked.

By all means, we should take a younger colleague under our wing and share the resources we have developed over the years. I don’t need to be in younger folks’ shoes.  I was there once.  I am eternally grateful to Dick – and Tom, Sandy, Roxanne, and Sam.  I have learned so much from these five people, that I would not be the architect I am today without their willingness to mentor me.  It is my intent to pass it on to whoever is willing to listen.

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My two favorite subcontractors are Not Me and I Dunno (apologies to Bil Keane).

As a recovering contractor (I built stuff in a previous life), I often had to deal with the conflict between subs resulting from the popular misconception that the organization of construction specifications into divisions and sections dictates their scope of work and division of labor. The classic scenario that illustrates this misconception comes from plumbers and site utility contractors, but is true for other trades as well. Typically, the plumber would extend pipes to a point five feet outside the building. Likewise, the site guy would bring utilities to a point five feet from the building. It seems that neither gave a moment’s thought as to who would actually make the connection, and the general contractor often would get stuck with making the connection at the interface between the work of the two trades. Imagine the chaos that results when there are three trades involved in a single connection (yes I’ve actually seen this happen).

This scenario results in construction delays while the parties involved argue over whose responsibility it is to make the connection. Imagine the chaos also when it comes to getting submittals from these guys when wearing my current hat as an architect. All too often, Paragraph 1.2.2 of AIA A201 is ignored – probably more out of ignorance than anything else.

Now that I’ve complained, let me introduce something positive to the conversation in the form of CSI’s Certified Construction Contract Administrator program. A CCCA brings to the table a working knowledge of contract documents; after all, the CDT is a prerequisite to the certification. CCCAs are particularly knowledgeable in the roles and responsibilities of the various parties to the construction process (as distinguished from the parties to the construction contract). They handle the administration of a construction contract with competence and professionalism. A CCCA is familiar with bidding and negotiation procedures, Division 01, conditions of the construction contract, and can distinguish between construction observation and inspection.

A CCCA has demonstrated his/her knowledge by successfully sitting for a certification exam. The exam is arduous enough that one is unlikely to be successful without a thorough knowledge of the subject matter. The exam is based on the CSI Contract Administrator Practice Guide, Project Delivery Practice Guide, MasterFormat and other CSI formats, construction contracts, and general conditions. The exam is administered during two periods each year lasting approximately a month in the spring and again in the fall. CSI publishes the CCCA Candidate Handbook to facilitate exam preparation and act as a guide for the candidates studies. Information about the CCCA is available at http://csinet.org/Main-Menu-Category/Certification/CCCA .

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Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we Boomers have been turning gray in recent years. That means that there are two and soon to be three defined younger generations in the workforce. As time marches on, we will inevitably pass the world on to folks that are younger, whether through retirement or otherwise. Are we ready for that? Will our businesses and associations survive without us? Therein is where our priorities should lie.

Regardless of the generalizations that have been uttered about younger generations, I have to say that today’s young people are NO DIFFERENT than my contemporaries were at a similar age. Yes, we have different tools with which to deal with life, thanks to today’s technology, but the deep down issues are universal. All generations at any given age share the same hopes and fears.

With that said, as each individual and each subsequent generation enters the workforce, they will inevitably have questions. How else would one learn? The thing is, those of us that have been around for a while need to be willing to mentor and share the knowledge gained from years of experience. If we act appropriately in this regard, those on the receiving end of this intentional transfer of knowledge will be able to avoid our mistakes and create things that were not possible thirty or more years ago.

It is my goal, therefore, to share my technical knowledge with anyone willing to listen, then get out of the way so that I don’t micro-manage how they put the information into practice. That allows me to get great pleasure out of looking over someone’s shoulder and see how much faster they can produce something than I can (but I must confess that I have to remind myself of this).

So I will continue to intentionally mentor, hopefully without being overbearing.  It’s the least I can do to help ensure that what I have learned will not be lost.  After all, young people are the future!

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