A bridge to innovation

Oct 24, 2021

Phil Keil

There is a bridge to opportunity that can lead us to a landscape where the change we seek is possible.

It is an exciting time to be a part of this industry although, on a day-to-day basis, it may not feel that way. Indeed, there are plenty of challenges and concerns out there to keep us occupied. People are feeling a lack of purpose combined with high burnout, record high utilization, overwhelming backlog, difficulty recruiting and retaining great people, and an absence of meaningful training/mentoring. That is simply the beginning. Looking at the economy on a macro level, there is cause for concern. Looking at drivers within AEC, there is a lot of optimism. This leads to many of us feeling the need to capture as much as we can before the economy falls off a cliff. If necessity is the mother of invention, these times of uncertainty and pressure are precisely the mix of factors that will allow for a transformation – a bridge to opportunity and innovation if we are willing to seize it.

The goal is to remain solution-oriented, rather than problem-oriented. Transformation generally emerges from an organization or industry at times of chaos, struggle, division, or major change. At the individual contributor level, it will require resilience, emotional intelligence, strength and mercy, confidence and humility, patience, and persistence. Those who remain focused on a just purpose stand to transform the competitive landscape and capture more value in a short timeline than arguably at any other point in history. Research has shown that companies with a high level of purpose outperform the market by 5 percent to 7 percent per year, which is on par with firms that have best-in-class governance and innovation capabilities. My argument would be that it drives innovation capabilities. They also grow faster and have higher profitability. Take a moment to reflect on the compounding effect that can have over time.

One profession I like to look toward when thinking about how labor constraints and pressure have contributed to change is surveying. They’ve faced some of the aforementioned challenges earlier than other parts of our industry. What has resulted is an incredible adaptation and adoption of technology. Zooming out to look at the pandemic period to date, you see a skyrocketing adoption of AI. According to PwC, 52 percent of companies accelerated their AI adoption plans because of the COVID-19 crisis. Eighty-six percent say that AI is becoming a “mainstream technology” at their company in 2021. Harris Poll found that 55 percent of companies reported they accelerated their AI strategy in 2020 and it is only looking like this trend will further accelerate.

AEC is not typically thought of, internal to the industry, as a first adopter of technology and work practices. I believe we are in the middle of a global transformation, however, that will affect just about everything. The opportunity to shake the old narratives is ripe. Many were labeling this “Industry 4.0” prior to the pandemic and my argument would be that the pandemic has only added accelerant to that already burning fire. Industry 4.0 is just a label to represent the fourth industrial revolution that moves us from the first industrial revolution (mechanization through water and steam power) to the mass production and assembly lines of the second, to the fourth industrial revolution that will accelerate the adoption of automation through smart and autonomous systems fueled by data and machine learning. This includes the Internet of Things, the Internet of Systems, 3D printing, AR, and VR, for example.

Looking at the major trends, it can sometimes feel that the individual has little power to make change. I believe the opposite. I think we can empower the individual as we never have before. It allows for decentralized systems and information accessible by all. What this means practically within our companies is that young leaders will have more influence than ever before.

A few things you can do at an individual level to position yourself well to reap the rewards of this transformation include:

  • Keep your word and establish trust
  • Quickly acknowledge where failure has occurred and demand change
  • Anticipate different viewpoints and pushback
  • Know when to be restrained and when to push forward
  • Set the example
  • Understand your team’s emotional needs
  • Refuse to allow dwelling on past failure and disagreement
  • Control your own emotional outbursts
  • Protect your team from blame

There is a bridge filled with opportunity and potential that can lead us from where we are today to a landscape where the change you’ve been seeking is possible. The environment is ripe for transformation. It is up to you to seize the day, work harder, and go farther.

Phil Keil is director of strategy services at Zweig Group. Contact him at pkeil@zweiggroup.com.

Phil Keil will be a speaker at Zweig Group’s 2021 ElevateAEC Conference & Awards Gala in Denver, November 3-5. Click here to learn more or to register for the AEC industry’s top in-person learning and networking event of the year.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.