Nov 11, 2013
THEME: Point of View

Finding the Fun in Delivering Projects

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
10 Belief   4 Hitchcock appearances
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
17 Pasture   9 Arch designer
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
21 Perkins+Will legend   22 Steals
25 South African province   23 Enthusiasm
26 Sign of injury   24 Goofball
27 Water outlets   27 Religious book
30 Good score   28 Vines
31 Neck rope    29 What Dan Brown writes
34 Currier’s partner   30 Orange seed
35 Martini ingredient   32 Trap
36 China’s capital, formerly   33 Suez country
37 Music direction   35 Woman
38 Precious bodily fluid for plants   36 Bowling target
39 Metallic element   38 Most impudent
40 Speak   39 Color
41 Deadly   42 What physicians do
43 Container   43 Street edges
44 Heavenly instrument   44 Henrietta Lacks cell
45 Many curves   46 Cure
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
50 Dried legume   55 Question
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
61 Wonder      
62 Grass      
63 High or low card      
64 Type of bread      
65 Bituminous liquid      
66 ADA-required phone      
67 To soak flax      
68 Harvard school      

Click here for the answers!

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