Architect learns to stop worrying and love the bomb.


Last year, a bomb went off. I was laid off from my job in January, along with 90 other people. Trust me, that bomb had been ticking for a few years before it blew. So, it seemed like as good a time as any to start my own firm. I’m not the type of person who always wanted his own company. I’ve been perfectly content to work with others for my whole career. In fact, I’ve loved it. And, I miss the support and constant source of inspiration that a great group of Architects provides. Mainly, I miss the free coffee. But, I’m not a reluctant entrepreneur either. I have clear goals, ambition, and a vision for what I want the firm to be. Most importantly, I believe I have the boot-strap-pulling ability to make it happen.  It’s been a rollercoaster of a year. I’ve learned a few things about myself during this grand experiment, and I thought I’d share some of my findings. So, here’s the list of what I’ve learned over the last 15 months:

  • I’m lazy – Turns out, deadlines are your friend. It’s hard to focus on things when you’re your own boss. And, Twitter is a giant distracting shiny thing and I can’t look away. Hey! Follow me @JodyBrownArch
  • I’m a dreamer – Having little to do, leads to a lot of thinking. I think a lot. Seriously, I do it all the time. So much so, it hurts my head. But, that’s what I do. I think.
  • No one cares about Hierarchy – I know a lot about symmetry, hierarchy, datums. The golden rectangle is awesome. The Japanese Ken is an elegant order. I like texture, pattern, color, and light. Most of all, I like contradictions and tension in design. I like a sense of motion. Tenuous balance… And, NO ONE else cares.  Doesn’t mean those things aren’t important. In fact, I couldn’t design without thinking about that stuff. But, keep it to yourself Corbu, You’re boring the party guests.
  • Creativity needs a lot of fuel – Competitions are a glorious waste of time. Do a lot of them. Read blogs. Start a blog. Sketch everyday. Take photographs. Write. Paint. Start another blog. Have a voracious appetite & look at everything. Cruise around on Flickr. Look at Arch Daily, umm… daily. Get an RSS feed for Bldg Blog, and Mammoth. Watch everything Steven Holl does, I mean really watch him, like a stalker in the bushes. Watch American Idol, and cry like a little girl.
  • I like being in charge – Flexible schedules are amazing. Everyone should live this way. I go to the kids school meetings, and Dr. appointments, and walk to meet the school bus. I take breaks to play in the park. I’ve even taken 2 naps this year. I work at night, and on weekends, and early in the morning, and in 2 hour chunks throughout the day. Ok, actually, I work all the time. But, on my own schedule and I set my own priorities. My stress level has gone from critical to calm in 15 months. Now the panic level, is another issue.
  • Starting a business is easy – succeeding is a different story. I always thought the mechanics of starting a company were hard; the legal structure, accounting, taxes, and so on. Turns out, that’s really easy. The hard part is getting the work. I thought I could tell people about myself, my work, my experience, and work would flow in the door. I was wrong about that. The traditional “word of mouth” model for Architects no longer works. You have to redefine the approach. You have to have a clear vision of who you are and go get success. I think success comes from the relentless pursuit of . . . success.
  • Talent isn’t enough – I’m a very good designer. It’s always been easy for me. And, I’ve been successful in my career largely because talented designers are a rare breed. But, running a firm uses an entirely different set of muscles. Like networking, marketing, accounting, and taxes.  I’ve been learning those skills. Don’t get me wrong, I honestly believe my talent and creativity will set me apart from the crowd. But, people don’t hire you because you’re talented. They hire you because you can help them. Later, they’ll rave about you to their friends, because you were so talented.
  • Being yourself is hard – No one believes you should do it. They say you need a “brand” and an elevator speech, and a strategic marketing approach. They are wrong.  Just be yourself.  Focus on what you’re good at, and what you believe in, and what you’re passionate about. Every time you meet someone, tell them your story, and ask them to share their own. That’s the key to making connections and building lasting relationships.
  • Having coffee is a way of life – Get out there and talk to people. Most people don’t know an Architect, and have no idea what Architect’s do. And those few who do know Architects tend to think of us as a necessary evil, just a hoop to jump through to get the project done. Most of us want to change this. Go work it out over a cup of coffee.
  • I’m not alone – I should be a mental case, after the year I’ve had. But, I’m not. In fact, I feel great.  I have an incredible support group. I’ve met dozens of colleagues, fellow designers, and business owners. I’ve built a virtual network on Facebook, LinkedIN, and Twitter. My kids are adorable and my wife is amazing. My cats could take me or leave me. So, remember, you’re on your own out there… Except for all those other people in exactly the same boat as you.

We should get a secret handshake.

Jody { coffee with an architect }

all images from Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb – 1964 Kubrick