How do you measure the success of a project? Five critical factors come to mind: profit, design quality, client satisfaction, technical quality, and sustainability. But there’s another factor that’s just as important and often overlooked: Fun. Did project team members have fun during the delivery of the project?
Why is having fun important? It’s not unusual for team members to spend two or more years on a project. That can be a large portion of a person’s professional life. With so much time invested, no one wants to look back and say, “What an awful experience that was.”
When we talk about team members having “fun,” we usually think it means, did the team members enjoy working together? Did they spend time socializing? Did they settle arguments amicably? Did they laugh? If the answer to these questions is no, then most likely the team didn’t have fun. But there’s a deeper, less obvious, but perhaps more important element to having fun.
Architects are many things, but above all else, we are problem solvers. No matter what our role is on a project, we are repeatedly faced with problems that need solving. And, under the right circumstances, solving problems is fun.
The next time you see a young child playing alone, pay attention to his or her face. You will most likely see looks of intense concentration, but you probably won’t see a lot of smiles or hear much laughter. For children, play can be serious business.
And for us adults, that’s still the case. Most people enjoy solving puzzles. Crossword, puzzles, Sudoku, jigsaw puzzles, riddles, and mystery stories are popular because solving them is challenging but entertaining. But when was the last time you heard anyone laugh while solving Sudoku? Solving puzzles requires a concerted mental effort. Puzzles are serious business and hard work, but why do they delight?
To answer this, we need some science. The human brain is wired to seek patterns in our surroundings. When the patterns are incomplete, when things don’t make sense, and when problems are unresolved, the brain becomes stressed. Completing the pattern and solving the problem relieves that stress. When we are faced with a tough problem, our usual approach is to hack away at all the most likely options, which more often than not is hardly the best way to solve tough problems. We need to see the problem from different angles and look for unlikely solutions (in other words, that time-tested phrase “thinking out of the box”). It requires us to look outside the present facts in order for a suddenly obvious solution to arise. All the elements of the pattern miraculously fall into place. Cognitive scientists call this the “aha!” experience. We endure the mental anguish of solving problems because the “aha” experience is so deeply satisfying.
For problem solving to be fun, certain circumstances need to be met. First, the problem needs to be solvable. If a problem is impossible, then the effort to solve it will not result, not in an “aha!” experience, but in frustration. But most problems are solvable when looked at in the right way. To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, must be the solution.
Second, the problem can’t be too easy. If the solution is immediately obvious, then solving it is not fun. However, the solution may not be obvious to other team members, and by giving it to them to solve, you let them have a chance for an “aha!” experience.
And third, certain conditions must be met to allow you to creatively solve problems, as described by comedian John Cleese in this perceptive and funny lecture from 1991. Whenever Cleese says “be creative,” substitute “solve problems.”
When we talk about team members having “fun,” yes, we mean their enjoying working together and laughing. But we also mean giving team members the opportunity to have the “aha!” experience, to solve tough problems that will have a meaningful effect on the project’s success. And that also means creating the right conditions for solving problems.
Of course, not everything we do at work can be considered fun (that is why it’s called “work,” after all). Sometimes we have to perform tasks that neither challenge our minds nor make us laugh. But if there are enough problems to solve in architecture that do challenge us, then when we look back on the project, we will be able to say, “That project was fun!”
With that spirit of fun in mind, try solving this crossword puzzle:
Perkins+Will Legends by Bill Schmalz
|1||Not happy||1||What marketers do|
|4||Dog’s nemesis||2||Building measurement|
|7||Trig. function||3||Formerly by hand|
|13||Make a mistake||5||Expressions of approval|
|14||Doctors’ organization||6||White powder|
|15||Khan’s first name||7||It seals bottles|
|16||Flowery necklace||8||S-shaped molding|
|18||Bugs’s voice||10||21st state resident|
|19||One of them is sweet||11||Was visible|
|20||Side sheltered from wind||12||Cigar smoker|
|25||South African province||23||Enthusiasm|
|26||Sign of injury||24||Goofball|
|27||Water outlets||27||Religious book|
|31||Neck rope||29||What Dan Brown writes|
|34||Currier’s partner||30||Orange seed|
|36||China’s capital, formerly||33||Suez country|
|38||Precious bodily fluid for plants||36||Bowling target|
|39||Metallic element||38||Most impudent|
|41||Deadly||42||What physicians do|
|44||Heavenly instrument||44||Henrietta Lacks cell|
|46||What you do in a marathon||47||iPad, for one|
|47||Belief||49||Fortune teller tool|
|48||When rabbits lay eggs||50||Latin sweet|
|51||Perkins+Will legend||52||Music Man state|
|57||Total, combining form||53||Back|
|58||Before||54||Beauty killed him|
|59||Unit of length equal to 45 inches||55||Periods of time|
|60||Bones (archaic)||56||Roarke’s creator|
|63||High or low card|
|64||Type of bread|
|67||To soak flax|
Click here for the answers!