Thursday, September 06, 2007

Wanted: Social Architects

Peter Block nails it.

Near the end of his book The Answer to How Is Yes: Acting on What Matters, Block discusses the dominant organizational archetypes of the engineer, economist and artist. The first two, he asserts, currently dominate industry and its prevalent desire for measurement and results (often in contrast to what is most worth doing at the end of the day). The artist has a tougher time finding his or her way, and often when given power does not always make the best choices for an organization or for themselves.

But Block also refers to the archetype of the architect, a professional who balances practicality and results with aesthetics and beauty. The architect, he writes, begins with the engineer’s question of "what function or use will this serve?”…and once the utilitarian aims are established, moves on to questions of “feeling, ambience, taste and personal values.” The strategy of the architect, Block says, is to “bring the engineer and the artist together.”

What is needed, then, is a rebirth for changing times of the “social architect” motif; an individual who can, as Block puts it, “act on the aesthetics, values and intuition of a situation in the manner of the artist, and also act on the material or concrete aspects of a situation in the manner of the economist-engineer.” The social architect designs “social space” rather than just physical space, giving people room to act on what matters the most while delivering on institutional objectives.

Easier said than done. But Block has given additional language to my ensuing passion for shaping organizational life in a manner where art, business and learning intersect, where persons need no longer feel so subdivided. The engineer, economist and artist, Block adds, must get together to design a social system “where the personal, intimate and subjective qualities of the institution are valued along with the practical, technical and economic objectives.”

Can you think of a better place to work than the confluence of such objectives? This approach transcends industries and fads. The architectural studio is before us, and the drafting equipment and tools are found in our individual strengths, experiences, relational networks and accumulated wisdom.

What opportunities do you currently have to wear the social architect’s hat?

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At 8:46 AM , Blogger Eric said...

Hey John. For me, the artist/designer, I can totally relate to what you're saying. Art adds so much to the business equation, from image and first impressions to defining who we are and what we value. Only by understanding--having a feel for the environment within which we operate--can we surpass our preconceived limits.

The engineer combined with the artist is a powerful force. Building upon, making real, from what we can imagine is the stuff of excellence. It put men on the moon.


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