What Baseball Can Teach Us About Integrated Design

While baseball is widely referred to as "America's Pastime", football has been identified as America's most popular sport since 1965. Some people might blame hippies, the Beatles, or Lyndon Baines Johnson for any perceived decline in America society in the decades since, but playing the non-correlation card, let's just assume it's football's fault.

Football is a land war, where success in defined by yardage and by extension, the crossing of a goal line. This is typically done by targeting your team's strengths, playing to the other team's weaknesses, and going to that well again and again. And after sixty minutes, time runs out. There's no clock in baseball, and as the saying goes—the ball will find you. In football, certain positions come with a requirement for continuing sacrifice and the glory of any one player is rooted in what others give up. In baseball, you have a turn. While there're three outs in your half-inning, it is Yoda-esque: you do or do not. Jason Garrett can call DeMarco Murray's number over and over. A baseball manager has to wait eight more hitters before the cleanup hitter comes around again. When your number's called, a batter has to perform—and sometimes that does mean sacrifice, but not often, and even then it's generally a poor percentage play; and when you're in the field, you've got backup, but a fielder has a near sole responsibility to make the play.

That's not a knock on football, it's a great sport even though I've already blamed it for everything back to the grassy knoll and Albert DeSalvo. It's just that baseball is a better metaphor for integrated design.

The AIA defines integrated design as an "approach that integrates people, systems, business structures and practices into a process that collaboratively harnesses the talents and insights of all participants to optimize project results, increase value, reduce waste, and maximize efficiency through all phases of design and construction." Oddly, the engineers draw nifty sketches of the concept. They're circular.

Each discipline, or teammate, has a role to perform. We can't just keep calling the structural engineer's play (sorry Schweitzer!). If one teammate starts to sacrifice their design role, the percentages of overall success begin to fall.

Unfortunately, we still sit in meetings where someone talks of "getting the design disciplines together" to discuss something or leaving certain tasks only on the shoulders of one discipline or the other. That defeats the concept and the brand. First, don't specifically exclude others from the discussion—doesn't mean decisions come down to a vote, but site plans, building layouts, and detailing done in vacuum lead inevitably to some level of unneeded rework. Second, find a moment to speak your mind—maybe the client meeting isn't the right place at all times, but the open workplace lends itself to any and every opportunity to catch a moment with one of your teammates. Maybe last, don't keep calling the same play, whether you're a project manager or intern. Like football or baseball, we have our role, our position, our strengths. But without opportunity for growth at all levels, the team stagnates. Like the Viking offense with Peterson or the Mariners' famous Mario Mendoza*, the continued application of one singular approach or talent does not make a sustainably winning team.

We're all part of the design disciplines. We need to get so many things done, and while the clock runs, it doesn't run out, so take your at bat.

*OK. Mario Mendoza is not famous. And it might be worth an entire post tying him to the "tree." (Not literally.) But Mendoza is a part of the vernacular of Mackenzie management—even Susan drops the Mendoza Line reference now and again (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mendoza_Line). Mendoza was a really good shortstop in the field, who just could never hit. That worked to some extent in the environment of 70s Major League Baseball, but he never extended the branches of his tree ... and the evolution of baseball has made the no-hit, above average
fielder near extinct since about 1985 (see Ryan, Brendan you Mariner fans—the last of those Mohicans). Even if you're exceptional somewhere, you have to be above the line everywhere else, or we're gonna have to talk.