Innovation, Part 2: Top 10 Outrageous Ideas for the Construction Industry

February 19, 2015


“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein



Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” quote is usually taken out of context.  By “fittest”, he didn’t mean the strongest.  He meant the one who could adapt.  Those are the ones who survive.

The movie, Moneyball, is a great reminder of this concept.  It is the tale of someone who truly thought about how to do things differently.  Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, wanted to “change the game” of baseball by abandoning the traditional scouting process and use statistical analyses and to find the “right” players to attain the correct number of runs to attain the correct number of wins to attain a playoff slot.  And it worked quite well.  The Athletics won 20 in a row, setting a new baseball record.  There is a downside to the story.  They never won any championships, but they consistently have good teams even though their budgets are 40% less than some other big league team’s budgets.  The ROI on this approach is undeniable.

So how do we think differently about the construction business?  I have a few ideas.  Many of these are not my concepts.  There are companies who do these things already.  But can we find a way to adapt these ideas to this industry and our business?

Here are my top 10 crazy ideas for the construction industry:

10.  Make every employee do anything other than work for one hour a day.  It can be anything from surfing the web to rollerblading.  This gives them some downtime and clears their head for thinking in innovative ways.  Your employees will be more creative, less stressed, and more satisfied.

9.  Put in nap/recharge rooms for employees so that they can restore themselves throughout the day.  There is study after study that shows that this improves the bottom line and the health of your employees.

8.  Let employees bring pets and/or children to work.

7.  Create a ROWE (Results Oriented Work Environment).  Let employees set their own work hours and also self direct as to what they want to work on.  You can set work goals, but not tell them how or when they need to be done.

6.  Collaborate with each other (throughout the industry, even competitors) on best practices for marketing, purchasing, procurement, delivery, etc.  Help each other and share the rewards.  Come from a place of abundance that there is enough work for everyone.

5.  Find as many ways as possible to create a positive emotional experience internally and externally.  Have fun.  Laugh.  Do office chair races, have games in the office.  Give people a sense of purpose.  Your employees should have a blast every single day!

4.  Take the risk.  We are all so risk averse in the industry, it stifles creativity and innovation.  Let it all hang out and innovate like nobody’s business.  Reward it, cultivate it, revel in it.  Don’t condemn ideas that didn’t work.  Go to the next one.  Edison found 999 ways that a light bulb didn’t work before he came up with one that did.

3.  Give employees as much time off as humanly possible during the workweek and for vacation.  Let it be one of your main incentives.

2.  Put some love in everything that you do.  It’s not that serious!  Spread love inside and outside of the company.

1.  Re-brand your company and fill it with spirit.  What does your brand say to your clients?  If you are like most contractors and engineers, it says, “trustworthy”, “reliable”, “stable”, “ethical” and probably a list of very nice words.  First of all, MOST contractor’s and engineer’s brands convey these things.  But these words are a bit stuffy.  Look at most commercials on television for a variety of products and services.  All of them are filled with positive emotions:  Coke:  Open Happiness.  Love:  It’s what makes a Suburu a Suburu.  Harley Davidson doesn’t sell motorcycles.  They sell freedom and independence.  We have really missed the boat in this industry.  The company who figures out how to brand themselves with fun, love, great times, humor, innovation, and creativity will slay the competition.

Owners are starved for this type of approach to building.  Owners will choose you because they like you, trust you, and respect you.  In that order.  You may be saying that it’s all about low price.  But there is a backlash of the low bid mentality.  The only ones making money are the lawyers.  And according to Herb Kelleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, those intangibles of spirit are not only a moral imperative, but they are much harder for your competition to replicate.

You may dismiss these ideas.  You may think they are ridiculous.  You may say that there is no way to do any of these in the construction business, especially on projects.  But I can tell you this:  The companies who figure these things out and actually implement these kinds of radical changes and find new ways of working  will dominate the industry.  It may not be the ideas listed above.  You will likely have to adapt and change them to fit company culture and industry standards.  But I can tell you that those who continue to limp along with ideas and concepts that are hundreds, perhaps thousands of years old, are doomed.


What Lies Ahead: How Leaders Can Seize Opportunities by Focusing on the Future

December 6, 2012

Future Shock:

futureThink about the future of construction.  What if you could build a 6 story building in 24 hours and assemble it with a minimally skilled work force?  How about a 15 story hotel in six days?  How about a 30 story hotel in just six days?  What if there was a 3D copier that copied large architectural elements without any form-work for use on buildings?  What if a brick paving machine eliminated the need for paving masons? What if industrial robots built walls and eliminated the need for brick masons?  What if you could construct a building that had net zero energy usage?  What if I told you that all of these “what ifs” are realities today?

Imagine a future where contracting has changed so drastically, that you don’t even recognize it as contracting.  Imagine a future where there are no retail buildings, no education buildings, no banks, no bookstores, no music stores, no malls, and no commercial offices.  Imagine buildings that don’t even look like conventional buildings.  Imagine mega-structures, sustainable communities, mile high buildings, and construction methods that can only be dreamed about today.  Imagine a completely different process of procuring, executing, and delivering work.  Fasten your seat belts.  It will be like nothing you have ever seen.

Ch ch ch ch changes . . .

Our society is transforming itself.  Much of what happens during the day is virtual.  This trend will continue and accelerate.  There are fewer face to face meetings.  There will a declining need for office space, retail space, movie houses, warehouses, schools, prisons (due to a decline in inmate populations), and dormitories.  Our virtual world will affect construction like never before.  People will do most of their business online from shopping to banking.  They will work from home and go to school via the internet.

And as those project opportunities decline, others will be growing. Some areas to look for are data centers and other support for these virtual worlds, package delivery and pickup locations, hospitals and healthcare facilities for our aging population, senior living facilities for the baby boomer retirees, and more entertainment venues including sports arenas, casinos, leisure destinations, and hotels. There will be a focus on adapting the home for virtual work and play.  There will be a focus on smaller, customized manufacturing facilities.  You will also be repairing our crumbling infrastructure and transportation services that will include more roads and bridges, more airport and rail work, more port work, and water and waste water projects from treatment to distribution.

Look for more prefabrication, modular construction, 3D copiers that can replicate large, architectural elements, machines that can build projects, paperless projects, instant buildings, and innovative construction methods that cut the time of construction by up to 90%.  Virtual simulators will be able to build the entire project virtually and you will be able to literally “walk” through the project before it has begun.  You will see more dimensions added to BIM so that technology will be able to build the entire building and identify all issues before anything happens on a site.

The estimating process will become so automated that everyone will be pricing the exact same thing. There will be more focus on energy efficiency, sustainable buildings and communities, integrated design, minimizing waste, and net zero use buildings that use no outside utilities.  There will be more collaboration and alliances among all stakeholders in the industry from owners to architects to designers to contractors to subcontractors to vendors and suppliers.  Big companies are already swallowing up smaller companies, and projects are getting bigger and bigger.  More and more of these large projects will be bid with strategic teams utilizing different sets of expertise along with local presence.

There will be more creative ways to finance projects, more creative delivery methods, more innovative construction methods, and more creative ways to make buildings last longer and be more efficient.

How can you solve these future issues?

It is a fact.  Things are changing and changing fast.  Contractors are all looking toward the future.  There is a lot of talk about “the new normal”.  What do you need to know to prepare for the future of contracting?  What areas do you need to focus on now to be competitive in this brave new contracting world?  How will you lead your company into this future?

Currently, the industry focuses on how to improve traditional construction processes and methodologies to try and squeeze out a few more dollars to the bottom line from the traditional bid, build, and deliver method.  You look at productivity.  You look at the workforce and do our best to attract and train more skilled workers, lamenting the fact that there are no more skilled tradesmen.  You look at technology.  But you are looking at all of these problems through the lens of traditional construction processes.  Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Contractors have a ton of knowledge and expertise, but their focus is on that narrow window of bidding, building, and turning over a project. Think for a moment about the entire construction process from the idea in the owner’s head until the end of the life of that project. We are in the information and knowledge age, but most contractors fail to capitalize on that knowledge and information that they possess.

The contractor of the future will address the entire construction process.  He will be extremely adaptable, knowledgeable, and tech savvy.  He will focus on education and the latest methods of construction and building maintenance.  He will be able to work virtually literally from anywhere in the world. He will understand the global nature of construction and be able to see that big picture.  He will embrace diversity and find ways to bring more women and minorities into the workforce.

The contractor of the future will learn creative ways to finance and launch projects, going beyond traditional bank loans and Public Private Partnerships.  He will learn to monetize this vast knowledge that contributes value to the entire construction process.  He will be a true master builder that knows every aspect of a project from start to finish.  The contractor that comes out on top will be the one that can add the most value to this process.  Pricing will become irrelevant.

Are you ready for all of these changes?  It will take strong leadership and a willingness to change.  All stakeholders in the construction process must take a look at these trends and educate themselves and their workers on how to capitalize on them. They must work on the skills they will need for the future including being an expert on creative financing, cutting edge technology, the latest construction methodologies, effective and seamless facilities maintenance, world class education, and relationships, alliances and collaboration.

Construction leaders who serve on AGC Georgia’s Board of Directors are working together to answer some of these questions, study new trends and contemplate a different future. Efforts to better understand the contractor of the future are critical to ensure AGC Georgia stays relevant to the changing needs of its membership and a changing construction landscape. Equally important are the implications of these changes for your company. Are you looking toward the future?


This article was written by Brent Darnell and published as a feature article in Georgia Construction Today, Fourth Quarter 2012. For more information about this publication or the Georgia AGC, please click here. For more information about Brent Darnell, owner of Brent Darnell International, visit:

The Experience Economy: Part 2

April 17, 2012

I talked last time about the experience economy or creating a positive emotional experience instead of a transaction.  This is vital for your business’s success.  What experience are you creating?  How do people feel when they walk into your office?  First impressions are vital.  Of course, you can create those first impressions face-to-face, but many folks’ first impression of you and the company is your outgoing voice mail.  Have everyone get a partner and call each other’s voice mail and tell them what their first impression is.  I have called several voice mails, and sometimes, it’s just a number.  I don’t even know the company or the person I am trying to reach.  It’s uncomfortable.  Instruct everyone to have a warm, genuine, outgoing message that conveys connection.  Have them stand up and smile when they are saying it.  Many of the outgoing messages I hear are monotone and boring.  Most don’t even say their name or the company name.  Ask yourself, “What would they want to hear in order to make them want to do business with us?”  Is it a fun place to be and work?  Or is it boring and serious?  You may want to have some guidelines on this so it is fairly consistent.

I would recommend that everyone go through the 12 steps to great relationships (previous blogs) so that you have some tools to use to truly work toward creating a positive emotional experience.  And everyone needs to be involved in this process.  One or two people can create a negative impression that may be hard to overcome.

Of course, you must ask yourself, how do we act when our competition is doing this as well?  The answer is take it to the next level.  What is the next level?  What comes after creating a positive emotional experience?  The answer is transformation.  Can you offer clients a transformational experience, one that actually makes their life better at work or at home?  How do you do this?  Offer classes for them.  Buy them inspirational books and send them inspirational blogs, photos, videos, and articles.  Offer to help them to overcome whatever it is that is keeping them up nights.

When you do this, your competition isn’t even up for consideration and you will have more business than you need.

What an Honor! Top 25 Newsmaker in Engineering News Record for 2011

January 29, 2012

ENR's Top 25 Newsmakers of 2011

I have recently been named as one of the top 25 Newsmakers for 2011 by Engineering News Record (ENR) magazine.  This is the largestl publication for the construction industry, and I am humbled and honored to be on the list with 24 very distinguished honorees.  I want to thank my wife, Andrea, who now is my partner in these leadership programs.  Also, Kate Cannon, my EI mentor.  Also, to all of the companies and participants who have embraced this work with emotional intelligence, I give my sincere thanks.  I have learned much more from you than you have learned from these programs.

My mission statement is to help transform the construction/engineering industry.  We must find a different way of working.  The industry cannot sustain itself with this present business model and culture.  It is my fervent hope that we can find a better way to work together, to be more collaborative, to strive to bring the human element into everything we do.  And, as a result, my gut feeling tells me that the business end of that equation will create much more profit for all concerned.

Here is an excerpt from my book, The People Profit Connection, written specifically for the construction industry.  I think it sums it up pretty well:

“If companies begin to realize that people are their most precious resource, if they are willing to take a chance and use this incredible tool called emotional intelligence, they will begin to hire the right people, nurture them, promote their personal development, give them direction for their careers, plan for succession, decrease turnover rates, and increase retention. In addition, this will facilitate increased customer service, teamwork, and productivity. In turn, accidents, stress, and burnout will decrease. Their employees will be healthier, happier, and more productive. Companies that embrace this work will improve the industry image so that young people will flock to our ranks, and our sons and daughters will carry on this proud tradition of contracting. What’s the alternative? If we let things continue as they are, the industry may be in trouble. Our inaction could cripple construction, but our focus on people will lead us to lasting solutions.”

See the article from Engineering News Record here:

The Relationship Age

October 4, 2011

Pay attention.  We are coming to the end of the Information Age and have  now entered the Age of Relationships.  The signs are everywhere.  It permeates every industry.  It is part of the globalization of everything from business to governments to resources to weather to our very survival.  The younger generations were raised with collaboration and that sense of being interconnected.  Relationships give you motivation, inspiration, ideas, and encouragement.  Yet, in many industries, including the construction industry, this is something we have yet to embrace.  Perhaps it is because of the technical nature of the industry.  Perhaps it is because of the typical emotional intelligence profile of the people in the industry.  Empirically, relationships are not our best thing.  Every single group I have ever worked with over the past 12 years have the same profile.  The three lowest scores on the EQi are ALWAYS emotional self-awareness, empathy, and interpersonal relationships.  The three highest scores are ALWAYS assertiveness, independence, and self-regard.  This is a recipe for relationship disaster.  No wonder it’s such a hard business.

It’s time that we tackle these tough people issues and embrace these collaborative concepts.  Focusing on relationships is no longer touchy-feely.  Neuroscience is verifying many of these concepts of connection from a physiological standpoint.  We all have mirror neurons in our brains that mirror the emotions of the person sitting across from us.  They light up and connect us together whether we are aware of it or not.  We can no longer ignore these interpersonal connections.

In South Africa, they have a philosophy called Ubuntu.  It is a sense of being connected to everyone else on the planet.  When two people greet each other, the first person says, “I see you.”  The second person responds by saying, “I am here.”  There is real significance in that exchange.  Without the acknowledgement from the first person, the second person doesn’t even exist.  Imagine the power of that if you walked down the hallway and was pre-occupied with something and didn’t greet the other person.  What you would be saying is that they don’t exist.  I believe that this philosophy prevented South Africa from devolving into a bloody civil war after apartheid ended.  The black South Africans merely moved on and embraced the end of apartheid without retribution, without punishing the whites.  It is because they feel so interconnected.  They believe that if they harm someone else, they are harming themselves.

Can we move toward this sense of being connected?  Can we embrace this new way of collaborating?  Can we change the industry for the better by focusing on people and relationships?  Time will tell.  As Ben Franklin said, “We must hang together or we shall surely hang separately.”

Emotional Intelligence and Project Success

September 30, 2011

Okay, by now most of you know that emotional intelligence is my thing.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not the ONLY thing.  I’m not a hammer looking for a nail in everything that I see.  There are other things that make people and projects successful.  Things like technical knowledge, education, experience, creativity, innovation, and a resourceful project team among many others.  All I am saying is that we have become so automated with how we market, bid or negotiate, budget, schedule, and build that this people thing seems to be the only thing left that can be dramatically improved.  It’s the final frontier.  And ask yourself a question:  Are most problems on a project process related or people related?  Everyone knows the answer to that one.  Even safety, quality, and productivity have much more to do with relationships and motivation than some technical procedure that someone doesn’t follow.

Most contractors and engineers have the same reputation, the same brand identity, and the same marketing.  They are reliable, responsible, technically excellent, and they can execute a project like nobody’s business.  But it seems to me that everyone is bringing that to the table.  Contractors get the same vendor and subcontractor and material prices so there is no competitive advantage there.  So what is your competitive advantage?  It’s your people.  Period.  And it’s not their technical expertise or experience.  That is an expectation.  That is the price of entry.  What owners are looking for are people who can create great relationships, who are easy to work with, who create a sense of team.  And many of the owners want the process to be more fun and engaging.  Life’s too short.

If you are focused on the numbers, reducing margins and overhead, looking for technical solutions for a competitive advantage, then you may be looking in the wrong place.  Owners will choose you because they like you, trust you, and respect you.  In that order.  If they don’t like you, you will never get to the trust and respect part.  I know what some of you are thinking.  It’s all about the low bidder.  That has been true of late, but there will soon be a backlash from that.  Defaulting subcontractors and contractors, rising material prices, high risk, and low margins make everyone fight for every nickel.  And many of these projects are ending up in court.  The lawyers will be the only ones making money on those projects.

If you want to know more, I will be speaking on this topic at the National CURT Conference coming up November 7-9 in Chandler Arizona.

And every single attendee will receive the second edition of my book, The People Profit Connection absolutely free.  You can also download the second edition from my website as well as the audio book.  The third edition is also out if you are interested.  I hope to see you there.  If you read this and come to the CURT Conference and mention this blog, I will send you the PDF version of the third edition of The People Profit Connection for free.




The Future of Learning-Part One (This is a series of blogs on how we learn)

August 31, 2011

In 2007, companies spent $127 BILLION dollars on training.  What is the purpose of training?  Either to impart a particular technical skill or to create a change in behavior. Technical training success is easy to gauge.  You either can perform the skill or not.  Unfortunately, most of the training designed to create behavioral change fails to accomplish this goal.

Did you know that up to 90% of learning and 100% of the application of that learning takes place outside of the classroom?  Think about that for a minute.  That explains the “three ring binder” syndrome.  We go to a training session and are excited about the many changes we will make.  Then, we get back to our work and our daily lives, and that enthusiasm falls by the wayside.  So we put the binder a shelf.  A year goes by until we need the binder.  So we take the contents and inserts out of the binder and throw them away.  Does this sound familiar? We’ve all done it.

The future of learning will be self paced with ample opportunities to access the learning whenever and whenever you want.  You will be able to create connections that will allow you to learn at your own pace and utilize the learning techniques that work for you.  We will have learning via social networks, via our phones, and via the internet.  Learning will take place in groups and everyone will help each other to learn.  Learners will have accountability built into the learning and mentors to help them to understand and apply all of that great information out there.  That is why all of our programs are a year in duration.  We have found that the changes in behavior due to the application of the learning BEGINS around the four to five month mark.  And this learning environment is filled with continual follow-up, daily application, daily reflection, ample accountability, and is reinforced continually by informal learning methods such as weekly emails, blogs, chat rooms, videos, and other media.

It comes as no surprise that we don’t ever create any behavioral changes in a weekend seminar!  With this continuous learning model, these behavioral changes are pretty solid by the seven to eight month mark, and we give it a few more months just to be sure and to let any slower paced folks catch up.  And it doesn’t end there.  We have reunions each year and check in with some evaluations followed by a 1/2 day session where we check in with what has changed, where are you going now, and what will you need to get there.  The participants then create new plans going forward for that next year.  It is vital to check in because people will revert back to old behaviors, especially during stressful times.  And can you think of any more stressful times than now?

Check out the following videos that illustrate these points.

TED Talk by Salman Kahn:


Also, take a look at our take on traditional learning and how we have changed that paradigm with the Total Leadership Program: