Integrative Process 1: Opportunity

I am preparing to speak this coming week at a Youth Climate Summit where the theme is “Make it Happen”. I started thinking about climate change and our resistance to the goals we must face in this new realm of climate uncertainty. We seem to want to solve our new problems with our old methodologies which are not informed enough to do the job. So what happens when we reframe the problem at hand? What if we started to approach the complexities of climate change as something that is being done FOR us or even WITH us, instead of To us or BECAUSE of us? What happens if we, including all the believers in a superior being and all those who seek to prove a scientific start-point to human existence, approach the challenges of our present and future as an opportunity to learn, grow, adapt and excel?

A new world of potential, that’s what happens. We can ditch the guilt and avoid the limits defined by the perspective of what we used to know and we can choose to amplify the options ahead.

When you have a project, and a problem arises, what do you do? Think for a minute about a design project, or a project at work or at home…what happens when you try to solve a problem?

  • Is the approach to “get back on track”? In reframing our response to problems, and to climate change, as something being done FOR us we can identify not only what we can learn from the problems, but how the problem may, in fact, reveal the inadequacy of the poor solutions we are working so hard to achieve.
  • Is the approach to “get it done on time and on budget”? In reframing our response we can take the time we need to ask if the goals we’ve set are the right goals. Doing the wrong things on time and on budget are often thought of as well-done things, but they are still wrong.
  • Is the approach to shifting blame to a circumstance or to a restriction such as lack of budget or lack of knowledge or lack of focus? This is one of the most dangerous justifications in that it removes all impetus to address the issues. I had a professor who said that anyone can claim creativity when there are no limits, but it is only in a problem with limits that true creativity can be sparked, and exemplary results obtained. In addition, if nothing is in your control, why bother? I would rather accept the responsibility as mine, and engage my team in the excitement of discovery and potential for great success.

If you limit problem solving in your work to bringing the work back up to the status quo, you have missed an opportunity. If you identify clear principles for the work and there is global buy-in from the team, every problem can be used as a trampoline for additional achievement.

Need an example? Here’s a very simple one from my experience with our first home, a mobile home on 11.83 acres of land in Petersburgh, NY. I had designed a new house for the property, and step one was to identify some pine trees and cut them down to mill them for finish lumber in the house and to clear space for the construction. A neighbor, who had great experience with felling trees, offered to help us. In short, things went wrong on the 4th tree, and we ended up with a rather significant hole in the roof of our existing abode.

If we had looked at this problem as something for us to simply fix in order to get back on track to the stated goal, we would have patched the hole, blamed the neighbor, and moved on. Instead we asked a few questions such as “is the hole in a good place” and “how can we benefit from this goof” and “how much beer can we get out of our neighbor and for how long”. Okay, that last one is not so serious, but he did feel awful, and when we realized the hole was dead center in our bedroom ceiling and decided to put in a skylight while the opportunity existed, he bought the skylight for us. The mistake that could have just been “fixed” informed us as to what was POSSIBLE.

In an institutional project, a discussion about using valance radiant cooling and heating was providing us the problem of needing to add more to the floor to floor height to accommodate the bunk bed configuration that was normal for that university campus, and clear the valance location. It could have ended up with one of two options, one to add money into the budget to increase the building envelope and use valance radiant, and one to not do so and rely on conventional heating with all of the issues the campus had dealt with in the past. Instead we started asking questions, looking at this problem with the powerful connotation of “opportunity”. We reminded the team of the principles and goals for the project, discovering none of them led to bunk beds being a “must”. We discussed the ins and outs of using single beds instead of bunk beds in this dorm and the campus started to get excited about making this a differentiator for that residence hall that could appeal to seniors and grad students. A problem became an opportunity for greater achievement including greater occupant satisfaction.

What changes when we embrace the notion that Climate Change is being done FOR us?

This is one of the aspects of integrative process that appeals to me the most, and makes the concept most valuable. It’s a rather simple, yet difficult, change of perspective. How can this problem be used as a spur for optimal effect? How can this “no” inform the “yes”? How can this obstacle make the design reach an even better solution?

Welcome to Integrative Process,


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