In pursuit of the ‘Big Idea’!

What is the best process to produce the Big Idea? Is it more art than science?  Can the application of tools and models bring forth from the chaos, the simple compelling idea? And is this process best enabled by the lone wolf or pack of wolves?

In architecture it’s said that great buildings which capture the zeitgeist of the times come from 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. This  same  principle could also be applied to creating  sustainable business platforms.

In the realisation of architecture, 99% of the time spent on the blood, sweat and tears is involved in influencing others. From convincing a client to be brave, the authorities to be visionary, inspiring collaboration between the right expertises, to develop a solution that is within budget and then be the guardian of its integrity, as it’s executed on site by builders. The real test for architecture is how it’s occupied, used and perceived and it’s legacy for society, if any.  Yet, it’s a slow and ultimately noble process that can create vestibules of permanence that celebrate the passing of time.

So why  would I venture outside my profession as an architect to pursue an MBA? Several reasons, but the main one is, although it is a beautiful profession, staying in business and been able to practice architecture is a huge challenge, especially when the opportunities for architects are diminishing in this ‘new world ‘we find ourselves.

Twelve years ago when I began my journey into architecture, I would never have conceived a need to do an MBA. I probably had no idea what it was or its relevance to my end goal. Architecture was going to provide me with every opportunity that I desired. But in 2007, following two years working in an award winning practice, the reality of the business environment in which architecture was conceived made me re-evaluate my strategy of my goals. I made the decision at that point to take a position with a commercially orientated office , as it had the ability to make money as opposed to the majority of vocational practices. As the alarm bells of the recession began to toll, I realised then that I would need to expose myself to as many experiences as possible, as specialisation in boutique extensions and family houses was not sustainable. Three years later in 2010 the company eventually went into liquidation following a very painful process of redundancies and cost cutting measures.

While experiencing this implosion, I began to realise the relevance of an MBA and the attractiveness of learning the skills to create a business model around a profession which has  a creative output at its core.

Now, eight months into the process, having been absorbed by the MBA, from strategy development, marketing, corporate financial strategy to negotiations, I am now combining my skills as an architect to distil, test and refine business solutions using the combined methodologies of prototyping and business modelling. It turns out this type of thinking is being professed in a new business model generation book . It aims to create disruptive business model Ideas using these visual processes.

Taken in my University studio in Copenhagen, where I used the process of pinning up ideas, to make connections to distill into a concept for a project

During the year I had the opportunity to do a module on entrepreneurship and found the processes learned to be a good match to my skills. The above picture is taken in my University studio in Copenhagen, where I used the process of pinning up ideas, to make connections to distil into a concept for a project. The process of developing a business plan is not so different, where the most important part is the idea and its uniqueness.

My team mate in entrepreneurship Jamie O’Connell is an exceptional problem solver and together we offer a very balanced set of skills to solve business problems. We used a ‘deep dive’ process, coined the ‘secret weapon of innovation’ by the design company IDEO. We used this process to generate a platform around which we created a business plan. The value of teamwork was reinforced by doing the MBA. Although architecture necessitated working with large teams, my training as an architect was very much a solitary journey (see photo). The MBA has made me realise that the balance of passion and teamwork can get things done faster and the product can be greater then the sum of the contributions.

So how do we know if we’ve got a really good Idea? Only time will tell if it’s a great one and if we have the energy and commitment to put in the 99% perspiration to make it work.  But we’re confident and have registered a domain name in anticipation. As for my architectural goals, the ultimate challenge for me will be combining my MBA skills to re-invigorate the noble profession of architecture.

Jamie O’Connell in flow, thrashing out ideas and having a healthy dissatisfaction with the first ones that emerged.

Gemma Ginty