Looking Forward to Monday Morning
A series of essays on business, architecture, and the business of architecture.
Hot Potato
by Daniel Frisch
Posted February 6th, 2020

Most high-functioning executive skills track back to children’s games, in this case, hot potato – the game where a ‘hot’ potato is passed back and forth until the music stops (exactly like musical chairs, but less aerobic). The object is not to be left holding the potato, a perfect analog to the process of collaboration at the heart of residential design. When working with clients, consultants and contractors; drawings and specifications are traded back and forth at a constant rate, and much of the dialog revolves around who is waiting for whom? Who has the potato? After our Monday morning meeting, we often sit together and field the many questions that inevitably come to us over the preceding weekend, deciding who should reply to each specific inquiry.

As a rule, architects court perfection, and in this pursuit, hesitancy emerges as to whether to publish partial information or to prematurely issue documents. It is undeniable that we become frustrated by the often ninety-percent decisions proffered by our clients, as well as by the incomplete submittals by contractors; not to mention oft-lagging work by consultants; that we often forget that “perfect is the enemy of good,” and we (unintentionally, of course) withhold our work product. In an effort to perfect our work, we all too frequently wait until emails are tone-checked, until documents are edited, coordinated, and complete, and until what we have to be communicated will not be subjected to critical review. While this careful approach avoids mistakes and is the epitome of professionalism, it can also materially hinder efficiency. Every day, we work on passing the potato and overcoming our professional desire to hold our cards close. Productive collaboration comes from forthright communication; even when an open kimono approach creates vulnerability. Balancing professionalism with a willingness to share in-process work is a constant yet rewarding challenge.

Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I default to making to-do lists – I can’t help myself. Most of my lists have become catalogs of tasks others need to complete, and while this may annoy, or even embarrass my team, how can I pass the potato? How can I touch a piece of paper only once? How can we make our processes more efficient through better communication and sharing our work product at incremental stages rather than waiting for wholesale completeness? All I can offer as an answer is constant encouragement to share, to communicate, and to publish.

As I lay awake in the middle of the night thinking about this chapter, I realized that this theme applies not just to our work as architects and designers, but also to this ‘book’ that I have been writing for the past three years. With the kind of clarity that can only strike under cover of night, I have decided this post will be my last chapter, at least for a while. This project needs to move into its next phases. No different than a design for a home, I’ve completed the schematics and a bit of the development, and now we need to do the real work – refining and challenging all we have done so far. These writings are just a beginning, and while I have much more to say, I will now share what I have written, and most humbly, to ask for help. In need my collaborators, my friends, and my team to join the battle and help me development what I have built so far. If you have written a book I admire, expect to receive a copy of my writing. If you are friend who wonders why I have seemed unusually busy, even distracted, as of late, here you go. For a bit now, I shall listen to you all, and together, we will make what I have written more dynamic and meaningful. I look forward to the feedback, to the edits, and to what comes next. If you think I hit ‘print’ prematurely, and are not ready for the potato, I’ll pass it along. In the meantime, I look forward to returning to the day-to-day of: “Looking Forward to Monday Morning.”