Change: The Positive Truth

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Change: based on circumstances, a word that either terrifies or excites. Usually however, it happens with little rippling effect. Like moss on a rock, not noticed yesterday, but today, there it is. For most, change is welcome if we find ourselves in a precarious situation. To get out of trouble, we welcome change, any change, if it improves one’s condition, even if it means appealing to a higher authority for reprieve. In this complicated, fast- paced society in which we live and work, we like things being consistent, as is, normal, or at least somewhat predictable. To use a baseball example, if an umpire choses to call high strikes, call it on both teams. Only when an umpire favors one team, does the situation unravel. The three-tiered structure of the AIA is no different.


Paul W. Welch, Jr., Hon. AIA

On the other hand, if one’s life is good and the equation is balanced, change in any form can be scary. It threatens the status quo, anxiety slowly seeps into the conversation, and resulting uncertainty dominates. Fear of the unknown is undoubtedly, the biggest obstacle to change. If things are bad, any change is welcome. If not, then change can be stressful and resisted, especially in nonprofit organizations where participatory decision making allows for more dissention, especially from those with more to lose: “I’m ok, why am I having to change to help others without similar resources, or the wherewithal to properly navigate the mine field?.” Herein lies the challenges to the AIA.

There is an old, but extraordinary prophetic axiom in public advocacy that if the stakeholders cannot agree on what success looks like, negotiating the details is a useless exercise. In other words, if you want someone in on the landing, then they must be involved in the takeoff. Easy to say, but oftentimes very difficult to accomplish. Frequently, many will agree conceptually in order to avoid appearing obstinate or difficult, only to become so when actual negotiations begin. In AIA’s archives, there reside many good studies and recommendations that, for one reason or another, were never seriously considered nor implemented. Is this the destiny of the Repositioning Initiative – to become dust-laden habitats for spiders and future curiosity seekers?

AIA’s Repositioning Initiative has now arrived on the doorstep of change, and stakeholders are now being asked to trust the outcomes, many of which are being developed In the absence of results, trust is the bridge that moves us beyond fear to hoping and working for a better future. Unfortunately, AIA’s culture is not overly burdened with trust partially because the call for change has been delivered many times with few results. Consequently, we are in danger of allowing cynicism to slowly erode our aspirational efforts of reformation.

If we are truly “One AIA,” Repositioning depends on all of us to not just share the vision, but to also help carry the burden of transformation. No one promised the journey would be easy, but, like most things we do today, what we seek are not for ourselves, but for future generations of architects.

If we fail to trust, if we fail to change, then who will?

“Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”

― William Jennings Bryan


Paul W. Welch Jr., Hon. AIA

Paul W. Welch Jr., Hon. AIA and Executive Vice President of the AIA California Council (AIACC), is the former interim Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Institute of Architects in Washington, D.C.

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  1. avatar
    Ian Merker

    I met with my IDP Mentee recently and we talked about NCARB’s recent change to the six month rule. This rule will be a boon for her, as she is not currently supervised by an architect. There was a great deal of excitement from both of us about positive changes happening in our profession. My mentee is self-employed and struggles with the thought of reentering a firm environment, but as our profession tackles issues of work-life balance and shows innovation in governance, we could see a new paradigm in practice! She may be willing to give the team another try, or become licensed in a non-traditional work environment.

    Change can give us the confidence to try something new and different. The comfort zone increases. If the governance structure of the AIA changes quickly, and not three years from now, we could see a renaissance of leadership in the profession. Can you imagine a Young Architect as President?

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