The Discovery of Managing Fire and Our New Technologies

Can our new emerging technologies of BIM, Cloud Computing, Pervasive Social Media and "always on" communication compare to the importance of early mankind's discovery of how to manage fire?

Some months ago I posted a discussion point on the Integrated Project Delivery R & D discussion board on Linkedin on the topic of BIM metrics and what we could or should be measuring. This was in direct relationship to a blog post here around the same time. As a post it has laid dormant for quite some time. Here is a response I wrote to one of the recent comments on LinkedIn relative to the blog post. This comment goes directly to the points of our new company NoSilos.com and the kind of work I, and my colleagues believe needs to be done in many industries tied to the Built Environment, namely change our minds from one of continuing the pervasive compartmentalization of ideas and data and openly look for ways to bridge gulfs we have taken decades or even centuries to create. It is difficult work. It calls for people to forsake many ideas they have thought are the center of their professional lives and accept our new economic reality has no room for division and hoarding and requires collaboration and sharing to be effective business operators.

I hope you enjoy the response and will leave comments and your thoughts on these ideas. I believe it is imperative we openly discuss these issues if we are to remain relevant to the people we hope to serve and continue to make a livelihood at our chosen profession.

I think you are beginning to see and appreciate the silo's we at NoSilos.com work tirelessly to break down. For many reasons, economics being a major consideration, we have decided not to pursue work in the public sector as a primary effort. It's not that we wouldn't take a commission for the right project or set of circumstances, rather too many procedural barriers exist on both a financial and department levels to allow for much of our work to have any real effect. Too much protectionism of position and power is present to allow for real dismantling of these silos in public sectors at this time. 

Often, I think we would find there are many unexpected opportunities in this sector to take advantage of, but there's no evidence of the desire to change and take advantage of those opportunities. As to the different perspectives of how the change is effected in different levels of organizations based on size, service sector or maturity is important to be aware of in this business of BIM adoption.

You are astute to realize that while a central BIM repository in some format could be beneficial to the long-tail operation, maintenance, and equity preservation of a building or other asset, the people you need to bring together have never thought they would or could participate in a meaningful way. Our new consultancy practice is all about discovering how these kinds of new relationships can be fostered, included and implemented over long periods of time to maximize the real value of any Built Environment Asset. And I'm not limiting this to building, roads, bridges and waterworks or power plants, but including educational facilities, heavy industry and any natural extraction assets in the Oil, Mining, Forestry, and Agriculture domains as well. Not all of them need or can use a BIM solution, but they all require an enhanced communication method and collaborative / multidisciplinary focus to meet the challenges of our new economy.

BIM is only one small tool in the arsenal of technology tools needed to harvest the value of an extended value chain in the Built Environment. But technology by itself isn't a solution, rather a set of tools to shape and manage a new universe of reality possible because of the new technology.

Just as the discovery of how to manage fire became a revolutionary and transformative  technology to early mankind, so BIM and other highly communicative technologies will have impact over time on the Built Environment. We are now at the point we know that fire can be contained and managed. Now how do we harness that new found technology into meaningful and valuable results. 
Remember always that "Collaboration is the Glue of Success." sm

This is a continuing discussion about the Strings of Connections and Links around the changes needed to be considered in the Built Environment.


  1. Andrew, I wrote a couple of thoughts today about ideas, and how they pass between different continents, different industries and different decades. I think it ties together in some way, with the notion of re-using skills obtained in one industry, to benefit in another.

    First, some theoretical background.

    Many commentators speak about a construction 'Industry'.

    Industry I find, is too high a level to use to think about things such as BIM technology and collaboration in a useful way. Industries are hard to move. Usually they don’t move or manage to overcome their own inertia. Normally, what has happened when ‘movement’ finally happens, is that some foreign body has arrived into the environment that creates havoc on some level.

    I.e. Like a virus, a mutation, an un-welcomed species or cultural wave (British punk rock??).

    (Quammen, 2012) is a highly recommended read to expand one’s thoughts on this. The text looks at how modern pandemics really operate, and how the various strands of viruses etc exist dormant in certain species for a long, long time until they somehow ‘spill over’ to a new accelerator host.

    What (Quammen, 2012) describes is the destruction an existing intact habitat by human beings, which leads to the pandemic jumping from the thousands of years old host, to some intermediary, and then to the much larger host, of the human population. (Quammen, 2012) compares it to the pandemic having ‘won the host sweepstakes’, in terms of opportunity for expansion, mutation and multiplication.

    In terms of construction professions, the pandemic of collaboration (and from there, to greater adoption of BIM for instance), will probably be found in one of those ancient rainforests, where it has lied dormant for centuries. When one of those environments becomes disrupted (one of the major professions), the species will spill over and expand outward to the rest of the industry.

    This is essentially what we saw with Lean manufacture, from its emergence of the rubble of the post-WWII Japanese host environment, to its spread into the north American continent (via intermediaries, a few book translations and individual carriers), followed by its spread into mainstream 21st century management culture.

    It jumped from manufacture to construction, and today Lean is now jumping from ‘Construction’ into ‘Design’ in a latest mutation.

    Works Cited
    Quammen, D. (2012). Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic . New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

  2. One interesting pandemic, that had spread outward from construction and the architectural profession from the late 1960s onwards, can be traced back now to international meetings and conferences, such as the one documented in (Moore, 1970).

    The pandemic began in the rainforest environment of the construction industry which was being ripped apart in post WWII America, and it later spread outward finding an intermediary host in the new software industry that was being born in the 1970s. New ideas about how to use programming language, latched on to thinking which had been nurtured in the architectural profession.

    Nowadays, we are likely to see architects who were original hosts of the pandemic, such as Christopher Alexander, Stewart Brand or Nicholas Negroponte, being cited in modern academic writing about software or social networking, and not so much in anything construction related. The ideas and contributions to that ground breaking 1968 conference in Massachusetts, by Frank Duffy, John Chris Jones, Chuck Eastman, Horst Rittel and so on, found the most fertile soil outside of the construction industry.

    What we are witnessing with BIM, is that same pandemic which started in construction in the post war years, and which spent so much of its life outside, is being re-introduced back into construction gradually, in the 2010s.

    The idea I am getting at, is that the pandemic could not sustain itself within construction in the later half of the 20th century. It had to find a better host to survive for those intervening decades. But it is essentially the same set of ideas that were incubated in architecture and construction many years ago, which are now coming back home.

    The same is witnessed with Lean manufacture in Japan nowadays, where plants which became under productive in the last few decades, are re-introducing ideas about Lean organisation (from north America to Japan, rather than the other way around).

    Work cited:
    Moore, G. T. (1970). Emerging Methods in Environmental Design and Planning. Proceedings of the Design Methods group, First International Conference, Cambridge, MA, June 1968. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.