Architects and designers are trained to think visually, communicate graphically and find innovative solutions to design challenges. That’s it, pure and simple. The process by which a firm accomplishes these objectives is not unique. Information gathered during programming forms the basis for design alternatives resulting in a final scheme to be documented and built. Read a stack of proposals and you will see that firms approach projects more or less the same way, with similar objectives, phases and tasks, which is why the obsession to differentiate leads to hollow marketing claims that are stale and predictable. Since when did listening to a client become a unique attribute? Is a firm’s commitment to customer service, albeit genuine, truly a differentiator? In the digital economy have flashy websites replaced the simple promise to deliver? The need to stand out in a competitive landscape is rooted in the belief that clients value and hire us if we have something unique to offer. Ask any business owner and she will tell you that the true value proposition of a service provider is its human capital and the brilliance and synergy that occur when a team of professionals invests its experience, knowledge and passion into a single inspired vision.
What matters is how a firm’s culture inspires people to innovate, perform and achieve excellence for its own sake. In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, author Daniel Pink argues that human motivation is largely intrinsic, and that motivation is not rewards driven but derived from the basic human need for three factors: autonomy, mastery and purpose.
The theory of intrinsic motivation teaches us that we are most creative when we are self-directed, engaged, furthering our skills, undistracted by extrinsic rewards and contributing to something larger than ourselves. Autonomy, mastery and a sense of purpose inspire us to strive for excellence in everything we do. Autonomy leads to engagement which empowers us to act with volition and choice and enables us to be better conceptual thinkers with greater levels of psychological well-being. Mastery is a mindset that requires engagement and allows us to understand that our abilities are infinitely improvable. A sense of purpose is our connection with our community, our society and our fellow man. These are the values that lead to fulfillment, elevate our human spirit and empower us to be our best. Excellence is its own reward whether it differentiates us or not.
Autonomy — Our desire to be self-directed, which increases engagement over compliance.
Mastery — Our urge to acquire better skills and improve constantly.
Purpose — Our need to be part of something that has meaning and importance. A business that focuses exclusively on profits will invariably decline due to poor staff retention and customer service.
Research conducted at MIT and other universities indicate higher compensation improves performance for tasks requiring basic, mechanical skills applied to linear problems with single answers. For tasks involving cognitive skills, decision-making, creativity, and higher-order thinking, material rewards often lead to lower performance over the long term by replacing intrinsic motivation with extrinsic factors like compensation and status.