The Red Polo Shirt

Last Sunday was a sad day. I finally had to throw away my old faithful red polo shirt which had been a good work horse for the last 18 months.

I guess nothing lasts forever and so, when the colour started to fade and the collar started to fray, I knew it was time to say goodbye and put it in the big wheelie bin in the sky. Fear not though, this fashion icon can still open his wardrobe to reveal a ‘Next’ polo shirt in every conceivable colour they sell. All the same style. All the same look. Some even with the price tags on them.


Why? Because it is what I know best. It is what I feel most comfortable in. It is probably the same reason why my dad selects fish and chips, regardless of what other delights the restaurant menu offers. Quite right, why try something different when you know what you’ve always done works?


A big jump from inside my wardrobe and my dad’s culinary exploits to BIM, perhaps not. But let’s park the technology debate for a second, and while we are at it, let’s not get too wound up over the cost barriers to implementation or even the business benefits that BIM brings. Let’s cut to the chase; I would like to talk about ‘change’.


Barack Obama spoke about change in his election campaign. Winston Churchill said: “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” Both Sir Michael Latham and Sir John Egan, in their respective reports, made recommendations to change construction industry practice. However, with human nature and social behaviour being what they are, we often stick to what we know best. And as my dad once told me, “Son, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”


That’s all very well, but would we have put man on the moon if we hadn’t pushed the boundaries? Can you imagine life without the World Wide Web? And would we have had racial equality if Martin Luther King hadn’t ‘had a dream?’


Perhaps I am being a wee bit melodramatic. Some may even say a little naïve. However, the fact remains that to really innovate we need to adapt and change. Change is inevitable and unless you are willing to be open-minded and be open to change, things can become stagnant. I only need to mention Woolworths and HMV as high street brands which demonstrate the constantly changing world that we live in.


BIM is more than just software, rather it’s a combination of technology, process and people. The latter component being a bit of a paradox, i.e. providing an organisation’s biggest asset but possibly creating the greatest barrier to BIM implementation. An organisation provides a wealth of collective knowledge. With knowledge comes power; but, again the paradox, knowledge also brings preconceived ideas about how things should be done or approached. After all we’ve always done it that way, right?


Now, please don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating change for change’s sake. The wheel is round and has been that way for a long time. It has been tried, tested and acknowledged as the best configuration over many generations. However, we are moving into a new digital age and so we need to revaluate how we do things. How do we use technology to process information and how can we use this information efficiently and effectively? Change doesn’t have to be instant, it doesn’t even have to happen overnight, but it will benefit from a timely start. However, I would also caution over rushing into change; hasty implementations often lead to ‘wheels coming off’. We also have to acknowledge that change brings uncertainty and resistance. It is only natural that we can feel threatened by any change whether culturally or within our processes. This resistance is often due to a lack of communication, trust or even understanding, so it’s important that the dialogue is initiated early as to why the change is happening. We need to keep things simple, easy to use and familiar as already BIM into a specialist subject.


When our profession changed from the manual drawing board to Computer Aided Design (CAD) systems, I am sure many Rotring pens were thrown ‘out of the pram’ in anger. The same is true of this current transition from 2D to 3D modelling. On this occasion, it’s the sound of the computer mouse, being slammed down in anger, as we go through a similar learning curve and change process, but more fundamental than that it is a cultural change. Perhaps just to add insult to injury there is a lot of change all happening at once. The RIBA Plan of work has just had its first major overhaul in the last 50 years, we have new classification systems such as Uniclass2 and we are now moving to cloud based storage solutions.


At the Construction Industry Council BIM 2050 launch earlier this year, I presented a graphic that the former chief construction advisor, Paul Morrell, once used called ‘Don’t give a s**t’. The graphic depicts that point in one’s career where we no longer care about developments and innovation as we begin to wind down to retirement. The point he was trying to make, was that the younger generation of construction professionals need to take hold of our profession, because no one else will. On reflection, I think that perhaps I may have been over-generalising here, and a little unfair. While I agree with the point that Morrell was making in the main, some of the most forward-thinking, open-minded and supportive individuals that I have encountered recently, have been those that are at or nearing the end of their professional construction careers.


BIM brings about fear of the unknown as an organisation develops the necessary adjustment to meet objectives. You can hear the gnashing of teeth and the plaintive cries: “What if I am not up to it?” “This is a waste of time!” “What impact will this have?” and “What’s all this costing?” These are all legitimate feelings and concerns and it’s important to recognise the training that staff may require in order to gain confidence.


And we all need training and confidence. Last week I booked out the company pool car to visit a customer. After ‘bunny hopping’ out of our basement car park, stalling the engine and turning the window wipers on instead of the indictors, I managed to get underway. While I know the layout of my own car and can locate all of the buttons instinctively; the company car, although familiar, took a little longer to figure out. By the time I was on the A1 I felt confident in my new surroundings and at one with the car. While there will always be those individuals who can jump into an unfamiliar hire car on holiday and then drive on the other side of the road with ease, some of us need a little more time. As long as we know the fundamentals such as which type of fuel it takes, we can figure out how to tune the audio system to Radio 4 at a later date.


There will always be those companies leading the way at the cutting edge of BIM implementation. Others, however, are at the start of that journey and moving in the right direction. And you never know, I might even be able to go out and purchase a new style of shirt and I might even be able to get dad to try one of those baked potato things with tuna.


By Stefan Mordue