Tonight, my wife and I were sitting in our daughter’s room practicing ‘tummy time’ and rolling over. Which she has nailed and now prefers to just roll over all the time! At one point, my wife said, “You are my title chicken nugget.” I then spun off of that and ask, “Are you a spicy nugget? Are you baked or fried? Are you breaded or not breaded? If breaded, is it Penko?” I then had to stop myself because I could have gone on and on. At the moment, I came to a realization that I’m asking those questions because I am specifier, and it’s my job to ask questions. This thought led me to another series of questions:
“In the Architecture Industry, are we asking questions? If so, are we asking the right questions? Are we showing/teaching the younger generations the value of asking questions?”
Questions are important in this industry, sometimes even more important than the answers. However, with smaller project budgets and quicker turn arounds, is it just easier to give the answer, than to sit down and explain the answer? Yes, it is. It’s tough to point fingers at that because we are under such burdening constraints, but I think it’s part of the reason why construction documents are not as good, or complete, as they once were.
There are numerous times within the week, where I get emails for a specification section. Those emails go a little something like this:
“Can I get a specification section for stucco?”
“Can I get a specification section for ceramic tile?”
How many of you see issues with that? Those questions solve about 1% of my questions. Which in reality, the only question it CAN solve, is, “What do you want?”. My responses back are usually question filled, for instance with tile:
“Where is the tile? Full mortar bed or thin set? If full mortar, cleavage membrane? Grout type? If in a wet location, waterproofing membrane needed?”
On and on I can go, as many of you can as well.
The way my firm’s master specifications are built, that gets me a pretty good start if I get answers back for that tile request. I also don’t worry about product selection as our standards are good, so the team gets what they get, unless they tell me otherwise.
I hardly get specification requests which thoroughly explain what is needed. I’m just happy if I get 50% of what I need, or they send me a product data sheet with selections. Most of the time I don’t even get answers to my questions, so I ask for the detail and figure it out in my own. Which takes quite a bit of time, especially if the detail is not telling the correct story.
Questions are everything in the industry. There are times, for example, I’ll reach out to a Senior Architect in our office with a quick question. That quick question turns into an how long conversation with each of us discussing and asking questions about the original question. Sometimes at the end, we don’t have an exact answer, but have a better overall picture. My discussions with this person are great, and the projects are better for it, the master specifications are better for it as well. Not only are questions asked, but the right questions are asked.
The other day, I was in a meeting with our President of Standards and a young Designer who was helping us out. The President of Standards and I were discussing some details at the time, and we had mentioned how great it was for this young Designer to be in this meeting, and how much she will learn from helping us out. This person then chimed in and said she was googling items she didn’t understand or know about to gain knowledge of them. At some points, she even asked some questions. The President of Standards and I both agreed how awesome that was and we kept bringing this person up and what they were doing in future meetings. At one point, even recommending her for additional standards work. We couldn’t give her enough praise because she was taking the initiative by asking questions.
Asking questions isn’t an art, it can be done very easily. It just takes the right mentality. A mentality, that, unfortunately not everyone has. It starts with training and supervisors taking the time to sit down and teach their employees. Sometimes I get emails from production level staff in regards to a submittal. Most times it’s something they don’t understand and want clarification. One, this is great because they are asking the questions, but two, where is the supervisor? The supervisor, I believe, should be mentoring, sitting down with the employee going over the submittal together. I can’t imagine some of products that get approved if the supervisor doesn’t review the submittal with them. It also teaches the young employee very little. There is no positive growth by letting them sink or swim on their own all the time.
Becoming a licensed Architect takes a long time, and it’s built upon learning and asking questions. It’s in the nature of profession, but we have deviated from it. Blame it on the Licensing requirements, the project constraints, the generational gap, etc. It is a multi-level problem, that I hope gets turned around.
Do questions show weakness? In my mind, no. Asking questions shows the ability to learn and the acceptance that you don’t know everything. I believe that somewhere along the line, and this is true for everyone in every job, admitting you don’t know something is taken as a fault, and can potentially cost your job. That mentality should be changed to one of acceptance and where asking questions is okay. We don’t know everything, and we shouldn’t expect others to know everything. What we should expect are the questions.
So let’s get back to asking the questions and maybe, just maybe, some of our construction documents will be better for it.