A Citizen Architect’s Perspective

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Author: Britt Lindberg, AIA


pic-2Early in November, the AIA offered me the privilege of attending the bi-annual ‘Emerging Leaders Symposium’ put on by the National Conference of State Legislatures (ncsl.org), held this year in my current hometown of San Jose, CA. I quickly accepted the chance to attend this three-day event – an opportunity to mingle with 47 state legislators from 28 states and Puerto Rico; to see the insides of two key Silicon Valley tech companies; and to learn essential leadership skills applicable to any industry.

From their website, the NCSL is a bipartisan organization ‘committed to the success of all state legislators and staff’, supporting these entities through resources and events that improve their quality and effectiveness; promote policy innovation and communication; and ensure a strong, cohesive voice in the federal system. Not so different from the mission of the AIA in serving its member architects and architects-to-be, the AIA is a Gold Level sponsor of the NCSL Foundation, the NCSL’s non-profit arm, and accordingly received one spot to attend this conference.

Several excellent leadership skills presentations throughout the event focused on many common themes from different angles. A past Florida Senate President spoke of listening more than speaking; always being honest and knowing issues in detail; and always treating others with respect, which would be reciprocated. Current Vermont Speaker of the House spoke of adaptive leadership, and shared a detailed process to define a problem, identify stakeholders, assemble their perspectives, seek partners in formulating a draft solution, obtain feedback, adjust, and implement the final solution.

Another keynote focused on the reality that people make decisions with emotions, not data. Leaders can use this to gain support by telling stories and using empathy to sway people’s hearts with emotion first, then follow up with the data to rationalize your points. Key components to effective vision statements were also discussed, including the need to be concise, aspirational, specific and measurable. We also learned how recent brain research is revealing the myth of multitasking; how chronic stress decreases problem-solving and innovation; how our brains develop based on curiosity; and, good news for architects: the brain relies most heavily on vision (60%), versus a combined 40% for all other senses.

Many insights that stick with me the most, came from a last-day talk on ‘Keys to Successful Negotiation’, by Retired Major General Mark Hamilton. A key negotiator during tense military conflicts around the world, he imparted the crucial importance of always being honest; always listening to all sides and presenting issues in line with their perspective; and always finding common ground on complex issues. Importantly, collaboration and compromise are not dirty words, but our natural way, which should be encouraged. For example, when we make plans with friends, finding a mutually agreeable time for dinner is not a ‘compromise’, it is an agreeable solution. He also shared a very memorable ‘Negotiation Matrix’ that can help one decide to ignore, concede, compete, or collaborate on issues, based on their importance to you, and the importance of your relationship with the other party.

Additional presentations shared interesting parallels between successful business strategies and legislative policy making; and overviews of key online tools available from venue hosts Facebook (to support attendees in effective outreach to their followers), and PayPal (for making financial services more affordable and more available to all consumers and merchants).

There was much to be gained from each of the 10 sessions across three days. As with any conference, there was also much to be gained from the informal conversations beyond the sessions. This was my chance to best meet many of the diverse mix of state legislators and other 29 sponsors in attendance, and speak to them of the AIA’s goals in supporting historic preservation and energy efficiency tax credits; community resilience design that can help mitigate climate change and natural disaster impacts; and the urgent need for more abundant housing and transit-oriented communities; as a few examples.

Most informally, I also enjoyed conversations giving building code guidance toward accessible restrooms design for one legislator’s ancestral city in Mexico; pointing another to their local AIA chapter for referral on architects for their desired home renovation project; and speaking with a sponsor colleague about San Francisco’s Millenium Tower feature that had recently aired on 60 Minutes (which I regretfully have not yet had a chance to see).

Attendance at the Emerging Leaders Symposium was an impactful experience that reinforces the important value that the AIA brings to our profession. Without these chances to be actively engaged and learn from experienced leaders in diverse industries; to advocate for legislative policy on issues important to communities and practice; and to help new colleagues with advice on personal projects; it would be much harder for all architects to design a better world for our clients and communities, as we aim to do with every project, every day.



The AIACC represents the interests of more than 11,000 architects and allied professionals in California. Founded in 1944, The AIACC's mission supports architects in their endeavors to improve the quality of life for all Californians by creating more livable communities, sustainable designs and quality work environments. Today, The AIACC is the largest component of the National AIA organization.

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    Mike Malinowski FAIA

    Thanks Britt for sharing your experiences at this conference! I’m looking forward to seeing your leadership skills in action as you take the steering wheel as AIACC President for next year!

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