Home 2.0 Blog Archive

Saturday, December 31, 2016


7 New Practices, Perspective & Concentrations from 2016

Unlike 2015, I didn't build any new houses or purchase any new properties in 2016, but it was a significant year in terms of personal and professional growth that I believe will pay big dividends in 2017 and beyond. Below is a rundown of 7 new practices, perspectives and concentrations I've consciously adopted this past year that have helped me make strides in improving myself as well as the projects I'm working on (the Starter Home 2.0 blog, Oakley Home 2.0 @ 3874 Isabella, and Mike Benkert, AIA Architecture + Development website). These practices, perspectives and concentrations might also be worth exploring in your own life if you're looking to try some new things in 2017.

#1: Listening to Podcasts | Something I started doing when performing chores around the house and other mindless activities this year was listening to podcasts, with the Tim Ferriss Podcast being my primary go to. For those unfamiliar with Tim Ferriss, he is a best-selling author that in the past couple years, has effectively become the Oprah of the internet with the #1 ranked business podcast that is focused on interviewing billionaires, icons, and world-class performers to understand, dissect and tease out their tactics, routines, and habits that have helped make each of them successful in their own way. The format of the podcast is a long-form interview often lasting 2+ hours, which really allows for an in-depth discussion with a lot of great insights and takeaways, several of which I have incorporated into my own life. Don't have time to listen to all 200+ Tim Ferriss podcasts? In that case, I highly recommend his new book 'Tools of Titans', which I am reading through now and is essentially the CliffsNotes version of the podcast.

#2: Daily Meditation | This has probably been the biggest game changer for me in terms of new practices I've developed this past year and is a by-product of listening to the Tim Ferriss podcast, which revealed that approximately 80% of the guests had a daily mindfulness/meditation routine they followed, with many recommending the use of the app 'Headspace', which you can try for free for ten days as part of the Take 10 Challenge (a daily series of 10-minute guided meditation exercises). Back in June I figured I might as well give Take 10 a shot and fast forward six months, I am now among those that have a daily mindfulness/meditation routine. The ritual I have developed is after eating breakfast, I head upstairs into my guest bedroom, sit on the floor, turn on the Headspace app on my phone for a 10-15 minute meditation session, and then proceed to get on with the rest of my day. It is hard to put into words all the benefits I have experienced from doing this, but it has definitely made me a lot more 'present' in everything I do, whether working, playing sports, or spending time with friends and family, which has been a true gift for someone who has suffered from serious mind-wandering in the past. 

#3: Discovering the Art & Science of Persuasion | For well over a year, Scott Adams (author, creator of Dilbert, and trained hypnotist / master-persuader) has publicly proclaimed that Donald Trump would become the next President of the United States for no other reason than Trump was the most persuasive person he had ever seen, practicing many of the hypnotist techniques Adams had studied himself. Through a year long series of videos, tweets, book recommendations, and blog posts breaking down what makes Donald Trump the ultimate master-persuader, myself and thousands of other Scott Adams followers received what was effectively a graduate-level course in the Art & Science of Persuasion, an extremely useful skill that most people have no idea how to use, or more importantly, recognize when it is being used on them. Interested in learning about persuasion? I recommend checking out Scott Adams' Blog and reading the books 'Influence' and 'Pre-suasion' by Robert Cialdini. It will change the way you see the world.

#4: Embracing Differentiation | This is a common theme among many of today's top marketing professionals, but I think Seth Godin's book, 'Purple Cow' and Sally Hogshead book, 'Fascinate' drive the point home, that in an over saturated environment, being different is better than being better, so focus on what makes you different. Below is how I described my Competitive Differentiators in my 2016 Architecture Business Plan Competition Entry:
The challenge with providing contemporary new homes in walkable neighborhoods with the flexibility to accommodate growing households is that it requires the redevelopment of scattered-site urban infill lots with complicated building and zoning requirements resulting from a wide range of existing conditions. Many builders and developers shy away from these project types as their business models often rely on larger Greenfield developments and the use of repeatable stock house plans to take advantage of the economies of scale necessary to cover their higher overhead costs. The willingness and ability to effectively design, develop and build on these sites is where Mike Benkert Architecture + Development differentiates itself from other home builders and developers in the region.  
Unlike traditional architecture firms, Mike Benkert Architecture + Development provides a product to the marketplace rather than a service, which effectively eliminates the client and gives the architect the ultimate design authority, with revenues earned per project being significantly higher (and taxed less) than what is typically earned from ordinary architecture fee income. This allows me as the designer to focus on bettering the product from site acquisition all the way through the final project punch-out, with the freedom to make changes throughout the process without a prolonged (and costly) back and forth with the client and contractor. Mike Benkert Architecture + Development projects are defined by their elegant simplicity, material quality, and dynamic flexibility that truly help make the house a home for all residents.
#5: Dropping the Ego | The one thing that disappoints me most about the architectural profession is the negative association the industry has with arrogance, stubbornness and above all, big egos. I've been aware of this unfortunate perception for a while now and as a result, make it a point to go out of my way when working with contractors, engineers, and associates to put those assertions to bed early on, explaining that I know I don't have all the answers, that I am always open to suggestions for improving a project, and that being right is less important to me than ultimately getting things right. That said, reading Ryan Holiday's book, 'Ego is the Enemy' really put into context for me how detrimental the long-term effects of inflated egos can be for even the highest achievers (see Ulysses S. Grant and Howard Hughes) as well as how beneficial dropping the ego using tactics like The Canvas Strategy (implemented by Ben Franklin and Bill Belichick) can be for truly sustaining success.

#6: Focusing on Process | Keeping with the theme of Ryan Holiday books and football coaches, the precursor to 'Ego is the Enemy', titled 'The Obstacle is the Way' makes reference to another powerful concept called Process Thinking, which was popularized by Alabama football coach, Nick Saban, and something I have embraced 100% this past year in just about everything I do. Practitioners of process thinking focus on the present instead of past events or future outcomes, and believe that all actions one takes in life, regardless of how trivial they may seem, affect the desired outcome. For complicated tasks like football games and seasons, that means breaking things down into smaller, more manageable pieces all the way down to individual plays. The average football play lasts only seven seconds so coaches and players using process thinking concentrate only on those seconds, take a rest between plays, then do it all over again. As an architect-developer taking on projects that can span years in duration, the only way not to be completely overwhelmed by the task at hand is to break things down into similar bite-sized concentrations, which demands loving and embracing the process above the outcome. For me that means embracing the months of individual training runs leading up to marathons above the actual marathon, embracing the individual points within a tennis match over the match itself, and embracing the day-to-day building design and coordination efforts above the completed construction project. The irony with Process Thinking, I have found, is that the focus on process over outcome is what ultimately leads to better outcomes. 

#7: Learning by Teaching | One of my favorite things about my job as an architect with SHP Leading Design, a nationally recognized leader in educational design, is that we are constantly learning about learning and the various ways in which students best retain information. Studies like the one behind the Learning Pyramid, show that the two most effective learning methods for retaining information are through teaching others (90% retention rate) and practice by doing (75% retention rate). On the opposite end of the spectrum, traditional lecturing results in a mere 5% retention rate for students with reading being only slightly better at 10%. Applying this in my own life, I realized that for me to continue to grow as a lifelong learner, I needed to start teaching more and have since put that into action on three different fronts. The first being at SHP, where I started an initiative to lead bi-weekly educational site visits to a couple of new schools under construction in Fairfield where I take junior staff and interns on walks through the buildings, discussing various aspects of the design and construction process along the way. The second of my teaching efforts is through Design LAB, where I am tasked with leading 2nd and 3rd graders through a project-based learning program where they learn about design thinking and architecture, and ultimately design and build models of buildings that get displayed at the Downtown Public Library. The personal challenge for me with Design LAB is finding ways of relating complex concepts in a manner that 7,8 and 9-year-old kids can understand, and delivering the material in a style that is compelling and engaging to keep 20+ active children attentive. The final way in which I have been developing my teaching skills is through this Starter Home 2.0 Blog and the Oakley Home 2.0 Video Series, which forces me to internalize the various design, development and construction steps I'm involved with on these building projects and convey the experience in a way that reinforces the key points with relevancy and emotion. It also helps keep my writing, speaking and presentation skills sharp, which I value.

Thanks to everyone who has followed along with the Starter Home 2.0 Blog these past two years. I am looking forward to seeing what 2017 has in store.
2016 Wisdom with Mike and a Wise Old Owl