We all do it. It seems logical, efficient — at least every industry seems to practice it.
Remember the Lada?
How about the 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster that was ultimately found to be the result of faulty ‘O’ rings sourced through the lowest bid process?
We all have stories about stuff or situations that resulted in disaster or disappointment because of LCD thinking. In fact, many industries, like construction, have perfected the art of using it.
We’ve used LCD thinking for so long, it’s so engrained in the entire process from design to completion, that we’ve eliminated choice from our collective vocabulary.
We’ve blotted out the possibility of even thinking there are other, better ways of doing things, including how to design and build.
The modern automotive industry, for instance, much like construction, has been slow to change its lowest common denominator thinking. Despite all the improvements over the years, cars still use an internal combustion engine to propel themselves. Even if we all went out and bought a Prius, we’d still be 100% dependent on fossil fuels to get around.
Sure, it’s human nature to assume that incremental change is what is best.
But lowest common denominator thinking is robbing us of more than simply time and money.
As a society, we’ve institutionalized lowest common denominator thinking. Many of our industries and institutions, as a process of competitive bidding, actually offer a lowest common denominator specification. As a result, many businesses that could be adding value spend their days scouring websites like MERX and Biddingo, looking for opportunities to bid at the lowest price, all the time hoping they haven’t made an error and praying that someone else has so they can take advantage of that mistake to make a profit at the other party’s expense.
Not only are these businesses not adding any value, they cannot possibly be innovating — other than trying to get the price even lower, and, lest we forget, what they’re trying to get a lower price on is already often the lowest common denominator specification.
What a waste of human creativity and intellect.
The procurement process has become so inflexible that it cannot tolerate new ideas.
Conventional thinking: the notion that without competitive bids the procurement process cannot function — ergo the idea, the innovation, the new product, or, god forbid, the new methodology — cannot be utilized.
In this procurement system, a cure for cancer would never see the light of day. At least not until rival cures could be developed. This, despite the valiant efforts of millions of people donating their time, money and energy to funding research for those cures.
See the impact of this kind of uninspired thinking?
In Architectural design and construction, this system affects all of us directly, in our homes, in healthcare, in our schools and in where we choose to play. Not that we’re always aware of its detrimental effects. Often, we’re simply unaware of options – of what else was possible, and what we might have missed.
Yes, the system is that good at insulating us from true innovation.
So, how do we change this system to one that truly encourages us to use our intellect and creativity to innovate?
Here’s my take on how.
The system, as is, is not going to change. Aside from the lowest common denominator mind-set that it espouses, the system compels us to focus piecemeal, on individual components, rather than holistically, on the bigger picture.
This piecemeal system does not serve us. It serves itself.
When I was a boy, out shopping with my mother, being keen to get as much stuff as I could, I would focus on the deals. You know, kid-think: bigger was better, more was better, and certainly cheaper was best of all. My first lesson in economics was at my mother’s knee. “We’re too poor to spend money on the cheapest,” she’d say. “Less is more, and smaller is often better than bigger.” That was her way of side-stepping the system. I saw firsthand why avoiding lowest common denominator trap thinking was smart — it ensured that the needs of our family were met within its means.
Here’s an idea: Imagine designing and building a home that could adapt to the changes in your life from the time you moved in until you exited (stage left), as opposed to your having to design, build and/or purchase a new home every time your needs changed. The idea doesn’t serve the real estate industry, which makes money every time you buy and sell a home. It doesn’t serve developers, who must continually bulldoze more land to build more and more to stay in business. The idea doesn’t serve the government that taxes your every move. But it is an idea that might serve you, and it’s far better than what our current construction industry is keen to offer.
By the same token, imagine turning a hospital ward into a triage unit, or an empty shell of a building into a functioning school. All in a matter of days.
Too good to be true? Who says so? What exactly is limiting our thinking?
Granted, the system is not going to change fundamentally anytime soon, but it can no longer keep us isolated. Thanks to the internet, we have, at our fingertips, this wonderful democratic system for communicating with each other and for sharing and refining ideas. So, really, there is no limit to the creativity and innovation that can circulate and be put in place, if we only let it.
Let’s be clear: it’s not that we have a resources or financial problem in either industries, institutions or in this country as a whole. What we have is a political problem: a lack both of leadership and the willingness to change.
Maybe so, but it’s all too much to tackle, you say. Then let me leave you with this one last thought. Whenever we pay for something, whether as taxpayers or as individuals, remember, we are not paying only with money. We are paying for it with the hours of our lives we had to spend to earn that money.
We cannot get those hours back.
In other words, what it will take to change the system is the willingness to act. We need to have the courage and conviction to call out “bullshit” when we see it.
When enough people start doing that often enough, things will change. And we won’t be afraid of innovation.