At any given point in time there is a ratio of Knowledge, Resources, Skill-Sets and Customs (KRSC) that combine to provide a potential optimum for life.   

For example, go back 10,000 years. Despite lacking written historical records and formal systems like algebra, our early ancestors had significant operational knowledge of their everyday environment. Myths passed down through oral tradition helped them make sense of their world and their place in it. To survive and thrive, they developed useful technical skills and functional social structures. Their cultural resources were limited, but they made the most of them.  

Over time, their skills, tools, languages and concepts became more complex and more nuanced. The relative simplicity of these early communities allowed individuals and groups to successfully initiate positive incremental changes within the context of an enduring KRSC. In Ancient Egypt, for example—a much more recent civilization—the patterns of everyday life and the reigning KRSC remained relatively unchanged for millennia. Further, in the deeper past, the world was large enough, and communication primitive enough, that rival KRSC’s remained geographically and philosophically separate from each other. For the most part, communities could continue to live out their established historical patterns without disruption. They could remain, shall we say, “blissfully ignorant” of other options.   

Today, it’s a different story. Both the world and the competing KRSC’s are constantly changing. Changes come at us at an increasingly rapid rate and require technical sophistication and large-scale collaboration to successfully implement. The technological, economic, political and social interconnection between communities make it impossible to simply ignore or sidestep dominant KRSC’s. 

In our world, transitions between old and new KRSC’s happen frequently. An established KRSC is often intimately understood by a community as an organizing principle for the relationships between individuals and groups. In this sense, it enjoys the advantages of familiarity and stability. However, a new KRSC may offer unprecedented capabilities for enhancing different aspects of daily living and decision-making.  Forward-thinking individuals may quickly recognize the benefits of the new structure and push for change. More conservative folks may be unwilling or incapable of making these changes for various reasons (physical, philosophical, economic, political, etc.). People in positions of privilege may resist change for the sake of self-interest even if they recognize the broader benefits of the new KRSC.  

For these reasons, the time of transition can often be a time of sharp division and toxic conflict. Then again, it can also be a time of visionary opportunity. New KRSC’s provide new options and forms of organization that may revitalize the status quo.  Strong, capable leadership can help guide the transition to the new KRSC and optimize its structure for the overall benefit of the community.  

Building is currently in a time of transition. A new ratio of Knowledge, Resources, Skill-Sets, and Customs is emerging and is putting pressure on the historically dominant KRSC. The new KRSC is powered by emergent technology, new forms of collaboration and communication, advances in material science, and a rising generation of “digital natives” with unique skills and values. Traditional approaches to building—and the people heavily invested in these approaches—are holding on for dear life. But there is an opportunity cost in clinging to the status quo and ignoring the upside of change. In this sense, “Ignorance is not bliss.” 

Building is not alone. This same challenge is faced by most industries and services within our society. What makes building unique is that we have missed most of the serious changes over the past half century. Historically, this resistance to change has been a frustration for many of us. But, in truth, it may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.  

As we work on developing the right balance for a new KRSC and the solutions it provides to the Building Industry, we may draw upon the experience of other industries who have gone before us. A short list of areas to focus on should include, how other industries developed and implemented; 

  • Standard data structures 
  • Standard file templates and workflows that provide seamless data sharing across the entire business cycle 
  • Development of standard modules. (In building, Construction Assembly Modules (CAM)) 
  • Development of material procurement chains capable of producing modules at large scale 
  • Development of standard product types that fulfill market needs. 
  • Proactive assessment of the impact on our current and future building workforce 

Shining a light on the stories will offer us an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and emulate their successes.