2021 Emerging Leaders Program: July Session

The emerging leaders class met virtually for our July session to explore governing values of mental models and civic engagement. The morning session, focused on mental models, was moderated by Pete DeLisle. Following the morning session, we held a round table discussion on civic engagement with Ann Yoachim, Ellen Mitchell Kozack and Evan Beattie as panelists.

We began the session with a brief discussion of the elements that play into decision making. Among these elements are our knowledge and skills, the social systems we belong to, our cultural values and behaviors, and our attitude toward a given issue. After breaking out into small groups for a group exercise in decision-making, we returned together to reflect on the hypothetical scenario. Diving further into the topic we then assessed two different mental models that can shape the way we frame a decision.

Model One’s governing values are summarized by the following phrases: “win at all costs”, “always control everything” and “never lose face”. It was acknowledged by many in the class that risk is a necessary component for growth. Without risk there is not a chance to succeed. There is also not an opportunity to fail, thus recognizing and understanding that that failure can be a wonderful teacher. While calculated risks may be advantageous, situations in which a risk is taken without full consideration of the potential implications can lead to dangerous consequences. Decision-making that operates out of a Model One framework may be made prematurely out of a desire to control the outcome. The decision-maker may also ignore or downplay critical data to maintain a positive reputation. These motivations expose entire systems to potential failure. While the consequences of such decisions may only manifest in hindsight, some examples of the potential dangers of Model One reasoning include the Challenger explosion, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the building collapse at the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans, and the recent condo collapse in Florida where many lost their lives in the rubble. As architects, our role is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. Given this charge, we should be cautious when approaching a situation through Model One thinking.

Model Two’s governing values are encapsulated by three different tendencies: “open and honest dialogue”, “free and informed choice”, and “advocacy with continuing inquiry”. The Model Two mentality, by contrast to Model One, is open-ended and open to additional dialogue. Team members are encouraged to bring their concerns to the forefront. This form of continual inquiry and discussion can help inform a well-reasoned final decision. While Model Two can minimize some of the risk of Model One, it does expose a decision-maker to the possibility of losing control of the outcome, as others are given the opportunity to provide their honest input. Further, an open dialogue can, in some cases, lead to the discovery of uncomfortable or inconvenient information. While learning this new information may not be easy to accept, the information may be important for making a sound decision. Another risk of Model Two thinking is the possibility of losing face if the new information uncovered negates the validity of a former decision. On multi-disciplinary project teams, a consultant may bring a concern from their realm of expertise that might complicate the resolution to a design problem. With sufficient data and information, however, a well-informed decision can be made by a project leader as to how to move the project forward.

In the afternoon the class held a panel discussion on civic engagement. The three panelists were Evan Beattie of GFF, Ellen Mitchell of Leo A Daly, and Ann Yoachim of the Albert and Tina Small Center for Collaborative Design. Insight was provided on topics of sustainability, new urbanism, and public interest design. When working in areas of civic engagement, we talked about the importance of establishing clear goals and timelines to maintain trust within a community as well as the responsibility of design professionals to allow each voice to be heard, no matter how passionate an individual may be either for or against a particular issue. Panelists emphasized how social impact and climate impact are intertwined and advocated for getting involved in local neighborhood associations and councils to engage and influence local issues. The panelists also discussed the business case for public-interest design and how public-interest design programs can be a successful way to help a firm recruit new talent.

Following the panel discussion, we held a short presentation session to share or class project updates with our class members in San Antonio. The San Antonio ELP class also had the chance to share their class project, which includes a design solution for a local grocery store and the development of activity packets for grade-schoolers to expose them to the architecture and design profession. The Dallas group presented their 50% progress update to Camp Summit on Saturday, July 24th where each of the four teams (Camper Cabins, Welcome Center, Landscape Path and Wayfinding) received feedback to incorporate into the final design proposal.