Air guitars, architects & business

Performing air guitar on radio may sound like madness but this weekend on Saturday Live on Radio 4 Zac Monro, the ‘celebrity’ architect (and double world air guitar champion), did exactly that. Intrigued? You can watch it to get the full effect – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04y013d

Following this tour de force Zac was interviewed about his more conventional work in social architecture. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08j99r3 (starts at 48th minute). The link between the built environment and culture and behaviours has been well explored, even Winston Churchill got in the act, his comment that ‘We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us’ coming when opining on how the post-war reconstruction of the House of Commons should be completed.

In his interview with the Saturday Live team, Zac Monro explained how an architect, within the constraints of rules and regulations, acts as the captain of a ship. He sets the vision, draws many parts together and tellingly asks (in Zac’s words) ‘what is our humanity’?   The built environment that the architect creates reflects and impacts our humanity (or culture) and the way that we behave, and at its worst can contribute to anti-social behaviour and crime.

Business leadership can benefit from similar insights. A CEO or leader sets the vision and provides clear focus for lots of different operations and functions. They should also set the desired cultural and behavioural expectations. The CEO and their leadership team are crucially responsible for ensuring everything is aligned. This means that behaviours or culture (the soft elements that make an organisation function) and the external factors (processes, office layout, reward systems etc) must work together to deliver the vision and strategy.

In practical terms this can mean that trying to transform an existing organisation into, for example, a dynamic, innovative company is unlikely to happen when the structures and approval processes are so bureaucratic and hierarchical that innovation is stifled. This dysfunction is picked up rapidly and old behaviours settle back in, leading to yet another failed initiative.

The message is clear whether you are an architect or a CEO. First work out what you are trying to do, recognise the interdependence of the physical and cultural environment, and then make sure you align them. After that you can relax and get out your air guitar….

Richard Charrington

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