…. that unlocks the door to the future.

If Henry Ford had asked the people what they’d wanted him to build, chances are they would have asked for “a faster horse that eats and shits less,” and if he’d tried to accomplish that feat, he would have failed.

What Mr. Ford had in mind was so utterly unhorse-like that most folks could not even conceive of it, let alone comprehend how to incorporate the new “it” into their lives. After all, they had a horse, what more could they possibly need — other than one that was faster and that shit less.

So, what was the key that unlocked the door to Mr. Ford’s Model A? He was not the first to build automobiles. He was not the first to build something on an assembly line. There was nothing revolutionary about the internal combustion engine by the time he cranked out his Model A.

The key that unlocked the future of automobile travel was the ability to experience automobile travel.

For that to be possible, however, several elements had to converge, and fast:

  • The cars had to be affordable. Mr. Ford accomplished this with his assembly line manufacturing method.
  • His own workers had to be able to afford them. Again, Mr. Ford stepped up and paid his workers a wage that made owning one of the automobiles they’d helped to build an attractive possibility.
  • Adequate roads, suitable for car travel, where needed. This took some time given how governments work, but even the existing infrastructure allowed for some experience, which meant that those who risked buying cars could use them.
  • Petrol stations had to be built, supplied and manned. This became a business opportunity that would one day transform all four corners of the busy intersections of your average city.
  • Trained mechanics – not blacksmiths — were needed to repair those automobiles when they broke down. And break they did. Plenty, in the early years.

Only when these essential elements were in place could people begin to experience automobile travel and its benefits. Up to then, a car was an unaffordable nuisance or a pleasure, depending on your point of view. But once people experienced the freedom of automobile travel, especially its efficiency and convenience, they never looked at their old nag in the same way again.

The same story could be told about almost any advancement: the internet, cellular phones, the camera, the Gutenberg press…. Given civilization’s track record with adapting to inventions, it’s a safe bet to say that we’ll see the same patterns with future innovations.

But let’s be frank. If a future invention hit us in the face today we wouldn’t recognize it as inventive. Not because we’re anti-future, but because we don’t have access to the opportunity of experiencing what that invention could deliver.

Fair enough, you say. What does that have to do with the interior design-build construction industry?

Everything, because the chance to experience projected change is key.

*

The design-build process as it’s been done over the past 70-plus years is flawed. Everybody knows it, although few are willing to admit it, let alone talk openly about it. There’s resistance to embracing change — not because smart, hard-working people are stubborn but because they’ve been schooled in a system that has fallen short of making the quantum leaps necessary for the industry to re-invent itself. This is not surprising, really. Re-invention rarely comes from within. There is no logical or linear connection between a horse and an automobile. Look at Uber v. Taxi cabs, Airbnb v. hotels, Trivago and Expedia v. travel agents, and, my favourite, email v. Canada Post.

If you’ve ever seen a set of architectural drawings, you’ll know that each drawing in the set represents a layer of the building process. One drawing for interior walls, one for electrical, one for the ceiling, one for the furniture and so on. The mental gymnastics required to convert any one of these layers into a 3D model in your head is already an impressive feat let alone converting a whole set of architectural drawings into a realistic mental model. That’s almost beyond comprehension.

The complexity is closely tied to a model for organizing and sorting each specification of the construction process in the CSI (Construction Specification Institute) Master Format. This format has 50 Divisions and hundreds of Sections. Every little thing that goes into an interior build-out goes into its own little box. Electrical in this box, Carpet in this box, Paint in this box, Doors in this box. You get the idea.

It’s a system. It’s complicated. Filled with languages that only a few people have mastered. The system is also convoluted. If I offered you a solution that spanned say, 4 Divisions and 15 Sections, you’d have nowhere to put it. This would be the equivalent of me trying to sell Mr. Ford Oats to fuel his Model A.

Let’s posit for a moment that the current design-build process is the horse – a very complicated horse — and that something new is going to, by its very nature, be un-horse like.

In other words, these are incompatible systems. Trying to make them work together is likely to end up looking like a horse with a custom harness for towing a Model A.

Look at all the industries around us that are being reinvented. What do you see? I see new ways of doing things that are user-friendly, understandable, transparent. Gone are the days when those industries were shrouded in mystery, when we needed experts just to navigate: from travel agents and the postal service to a cab company that would get us safely from A to B in a new city.

Today’s design-build industry is not friendly. It’s not easy to navigate or grasp by most folks’ standards, and it’s certainly not transparent.

That can only mean one thing. It’s time for a paradigm shift.

I promised you one key that would unlock the future of the interior design-build construction industry. That key is VR.

VR (Virtual Reality) is a universal visual language that everyone can understand because it incorporates all the construction elements on one platform. VR provides the user with spatial awareness of their future surroundings, which means the user has the power to make changes and to grant approval without the need for an intermediary expert.

VR, in other words, allows all stakeholders in a project to experience the build before it’s built.

To make this VR experience possible, several elements have had to come together:

  • Software and hardware powerful and affordable enough to render the VR experience (ICE)
  • Sufficient AI (artificial intelligence) to enable the conversion of data into VR
  • A manufacturing process that makes the realization of VR a reality
  • Trained technicians and designers who are capable of using these new tools to create interiors that could not have been conceived of just a few short years ago.

As with many revolutions, some trades and skills won’t translate to the new model. Given the leaps that civilization has seen over the centuries, that’s not a news flash, is it? The good news is that we will learn to adapt.

We adapt because, in the long run, we all want things that are easy to navigate, understandable and transparent. In fact, we’ve been demanding that of every other industry — why not construction?

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