"Integrity is the essence of everything successful."
- R. Buckminster Fuller
At an Early Age
When we're young, we're informed that telling the truth is very important. This idea is passed on to us at such an early age in our development because our parents, and their parents before them, have recognized the fundamental value that integrity can bring to our lives. When I think about all of the things that have allowed me to succeed in my professional life, the one character trait I hold dearest is my integrity. If you’re going to make something of your design career, here are some things to consider.
Trust is the Foundation of All Relationships
If you can't trust someone, you're far less likely to build a lasting relationship with them. As soon as you have a reason not to trust someone, you will always question who they are and what they do. Honesty is the personal quality that creates and fosters trust. It's not complicated - tell the truth, regardless of what that disclosure entails, and you will build trust with those around you. Now, this doesn't mean embezzle your office's money for years, tell your coworkers, and then expect them to trust you when you pour your heart out to them....no, no, no. It means that you have to be real about everything at work. If you're asked a direct question, give a direct answer.
DON'T HIDE PROJECT RELATED ISSUES
Hiding is just as bad as lying when it comes to the workplace. You have certain rights to protect what goes on in your own personal life, but never hide issues that you discover when you’re at work.
Let’s say for instance that you’re working on a design for a project. At some point just before you’re about to submit final documents to the client, you find that there is an absolutely huge error that you or your team should have caught. The edits to the documents and the cost in added scope you guess are going to significantly impact the project’s schedule and budget. What do you do? Well, you have two options: First, you could just let the issue slide, watch the submission go out the door, and figure it out when someone else figures out that there’s a problem to begin with. I mean, hey, it’s getting late, you’re tired and hell, it’s not your issue – at least it isn’t today. On the other hand, you could talk to someone on your team about the issue – this could be a peer, a project manager, or even a firm partner. You may have to do some extra work to make the fixes, the firm may lose some money on the additional design edits, and the schedule may be pushed out a bit. Which scenario sounds more like the road you would set out on yourself? Well, I hope you’d pick the second option and here’s why.
Designers (especially very early in their careers) may lean towards hiding the issue or at the very least passively ‘forgetting’ to mention it to anyone on the hopes that it gets passed up. The reality here is that a change, no matter how seemingly insignificant, will 9 out of 10 times always be more beneficial to all parties the earlier it is made. Consider this - the edits in the scenario above are not made, the job progresses to construction, a general contractor begins work and …..Whoops! that mistake you found in the drawings was related to a new foundation that needs to be poured, but your foundation plans at the North wall don’t line up at all with your upper floor plans. The contractor pours the footing as it was shown, he goes to build the wall on top and….oh, I guess that really doesn't work - hmm.
But here’s the real kicker – maybe the contractor doesn’t notice the change until later when the walls start to go up and they’ve finished building a concrete block wall on top of your conveniently incorrect footing. They continue to build because everything else seems to be working out. But then it happens – the footing you decided not to tell anyone about is for an elevator shaft. Now the elevator the contractor ordered (with an insanely long lead time to purchase) doesn’t fit in the shaft that he’s built. As far as he can tell, he was building everything the way it was supposed to be according to your drawings. But alas, the elevator just doesn’t fit. Several tens of thousands of dollars, countless hours of overtime, and one too many angry phone calls later, the issues have been fixed through structural magic and the construction can continue. All of this could have been avoided if you simply talked to someone about it. Maybe the scenario above is a bit outlandish, but it COULD happen and it does.
Your employer, clients, and peers will respect you if you're just honest with them. It’s not the easiest of traits to maintain, but it is often the easiest to neglect if you aren’t careful. In the end, if you had chosen the second path and come clean about the error you found in the first place, the design edit could have been made and saved everyone from the unnecessary consequences. Experienced professionals will regularly applaud your honesty because they understand how issues such as this, when left unchecked, can snowball into much larger problems that take 10x the effort to fix (and that’s a scientific fact).
HONESTY BY DESIGN
Only you can develop your own personality traits. You have to actively choose to be the type of person who will go the extra mile to make something right. Consider your life and the way you live it a design opportunity. Create a life for yourself that others wish to emulate and others will respect and follow your lead.
P.S. // Honesty and integrity are the building blocks of your career. Have you ever faced a dilemma that forced you to question your own resolve? Let me know some of your thoughts in the comments below.