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Friday, November 20, 2009

The amateur scientist (that's us) and why we make bad technology choices - BIM and an actual conversation about Revit

So, I'm reading this blog post and it made me think of you. Yes, you, on the other side of the internet cable.  We're actually directly connected somehow.  I'm sitting here writing this and you're sitting there reading it.  It's pretty cool and oh, by the way, you have some food in your teeth.

Anyway, we're irrational creatures. We're shaped by our parents, our surroundings, our peers and many more variables.  You've decided to not move into BIM because of something you've seen or read or heard.  Read the post below and rethink your future technology decisions and what they're based on.  Is your software an expense or an investment?

After my CSI e-SPECS demonstration Tuesday evening, I was outside talking to the principal of an architecture firm of 26 people.  His firm had done one small tenant improvement project with Revit, but nothing else in the 3 years they had owned it. He loved what he saw and wanted me to come into his office.  They've been using another reseller so I was very skeptical of going in and wasting my time with them.

Here's our conversation

I wish Glen were here to see this.

  • Who's Glen? (thinking maybe he was another partner/decision maker/technical maverick.)

Glen is our IT guy. He's doing a Revit presentation for us tomorrow at the office and I'd love for you to attend at lunchtime.

  • I wish I could but I have SiteOps training and they're flying in for two days, but I can visit any other time.

Are you sure you can't come?

  • Yes, sorry.  Why aren't you using Revit full time.

Glen makes those decisions.

  • You mean the indecision? How long have you had Revit

3 years.

  • Why don't you tell Glen that you want to use Revit.  You've delegated all of the software and hardware decisions to him because you're not comfortable with the technology?

Yes, he's very forward thinking and has done a great job for us. Why do you look so skeptical?

  • Because Glen won't let you swithc and I thik that's bullshit.  If he was forward thinking, you'd have been using Revit for 3 years.  It's easier for you to have delgated the technology decision to him, but you had the responsibility to research his direction. 

Well, Glen wants to fully know it before he deploys it to the staff.

  • I think he's just being controlling and doesn't want to lose control and I've seen this so many times before.  He's costing you money because of lost productivity and the need for extra staff. If he hasn't switched by now, he never will.  It's too late for him.

You're right but he makes those decisions.

  • But you own the firm.  Shouldn't you be making those decisions?

Are you sure you can't come in tomorrow?  I'd like to have lunch with you and my other partner. 

  • I wish I could, but lets do it at the end of the week.

Ok, call me.

That was a real conversation.  I've had this thought that as architects and designers, you have to make a million decisions. When you're working with AutoCAD, there are even more decisions because every line you draw on the screen has to be painfully moved on every sheet if you have to make changes later in the process.  Every line, circle and arc has to be thought out and decisions today affect so many others tomorrow and on the construction site that it must be overwhelming.

Thus, the easy thing to do is put off decisions on everything else, like changing to more modern and really automated software like Revit.  It's such a shame that if you only turned that indecsion into action then you'd be so much happier with design and modeling decisions and not worrying about line drafting, layer, line color and line weight decisions.

Think about it.  Are you spending more time deciding on what to build or what line weight to make it?  That's sad.

Now, for the original blog post that led to this rant.
Repost: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/11/the-amateur-scientist-thats-us.html
Many people buy a car (probably their single biggest discretionary purchase) based on slamming a door, kicking a tire and judging the handshake of a salesperson.
We choose a surgeon based on the carpeting in his office and a politician by his hair cut.
During the first week of swine flu vaccines in New York, most parents (more than half!) chose to keep their kids out of the program.

Interviewed parents said things like, "I'm not sure it's safe," and "I wanted to see if it affected other kids..."

No mention of longitudinal studies or long-term side effects. No science at all, really, just rumors and hunches and gut instincts.

This gut-instinct approach served people well for hundreds of thousands of years, but it's pretty clear that it doesn't work in a complex world. Eating salmon at a wedding feels 'safe' because we always have, but of course any professional scientist will tell you that farmed salmon is an ecological disaster. You can't see the problem, so you ignore it.

Audiophiles spend thousands of dollars rewiring the electrical lines in their house with .99999% pure copper, ignoring the fact that the power from the street is in the same old cables. Adding decimal points to our irrationality doesn't change much.

The problem with being an amateur scientist is precisely the reason that marketers relish the opportunity to sell to us, the amateurs: we make stupid decisions, easily manipulated by those who might choose to do the manipulation (on their behalf or on ours).

The news here is not that people are irrational, giving too much credence to the dramatic and the local and the short-term (that's not news), but that people have added a veneer of scientific rationality to their irrational decisions. Armed with Zagats or internet data or some rumor off Snopes, we act as though now we're supremely rational choicemakers.

This is one of the problems with breast cancer screening. It appears to give information, really good information, but in practice, it doesn't. Since the information is vivid, we give it too much credence.
The challenge for people trying to market vaccines or highlight long-term side effects of various consumer choices is that it's much easier to spread a story about exploding cars or hair falling out than it is to spread a story of 'nothing bad happens' or 'no one got the swine flu and died' or 'three years from now, this section of ocean will be dead.' We prefer the vivid anecdote to the dry and statistically useful fact, which in a complex world, is to our detriment.

PS if I was marketing the swine flu vaccine, I'd name it after a kid who died last season and put her picture on the release form. Alas, teaching amateurs like us to be real scientists is going to take a while.

Posted by Seth Godin on November 20, 2009


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