Why It’s So Hard to Innovate in the Construction Industry
Career reflections from a self-taught construction coder turned COO.
In the 1990s, my parents brought home our family’s first PC and loaded up AOL. Remember the days of dial-up? My brother and I were ecstatic.
From there, one of my best friends introduced me to Netscape and Geocities where I learned how to write basic HTML. This both kindled and satisfied my curious nature as a doer, a tinkerer. It gave me something to interact with while learning. It gave me something to break in the spirit of understanding it, and then learn how to fix it. I’d found my niche.
As someone who never learned well from books—much to the dismay of many around me—a master’s degree was not in the cards. Instead, I built upon my interest in technology. I took my self-taught coding skills and applied them to Excel and MS Access VBA to make a name for myself within a large construction company. I took my database skills, learned about ODBC connections, and learned how to simplify data for reporting and knowledge. When a shiny new software needed to be rolled out, I was always first in line to get my hands on it.
Technology turned out to be the north star I needed to excel in school, and ultimately, in my career.
This isn’t to say it’s been a clear path, though. When my tech-hungry graduate mindset met corporate America, I consistently found myself recalibrating how to maneuver my skills and ideas through the corporate bureaucracy. I was able to test ideas—as long as it was done on a small scale and under the radar of corporate approval.
Don’t get me wrong. I may still be learning how to be a COO, but I understand the value of policies and procedures. They make an organization more effective and protect it from risk and damage. Unfortunately, they can also limit the ability to try new things and software without consulting the committee. Years of legacy investments and compounding decisions tend to make large corporations inefficient. By the time ideas get through the pipeline, technology has advanced and new ideas have come along.
The Future of Technology is Now
Preparing graduates for a work environment that isn’t equipped to embrace their ideas is a problematic paradox in the corporate world, and the construction industry is no exception. Critical thinking and problem-solving are encouraged when we’re in school. Then we’re indoctrinated into a world where we’re told: “This is how it’s done.” This is compounding on other circumstances that have resulted in consistent trends of an aging workforce. The average age of workers in construction in the United States is around 43, and industrial market segments are even higher at age 46-47. The younger workforce isn’t biting.
Meanwhile, the demand for technology skills in construction is increasing. One example is the gradual migration to a building information management (BIM) model for quantity surveying. BIM flips the crux of the profession from reading drawings and doing take-offs to database skills and comprehension. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the adoption of technology, including drones, augmented reality, and virtual reality. This is not a time to fumble over the way things have been done. It’s time to embrace innovation in this new frontier of normal.
Let’s Break Stuff
When I reflect on my foundation in technology, I can see that it’s helped me realize the value of embracing those critical thinking and disruptive qualities I had reeled in earlier in my career. It also gave me the courage to set off on a new venture with my friends and peers. Today we have the opportunity to reshape how creativity and innovation fit into the corporate machine. Our fearless pursuit of innovation is what makes us unique and we intend to nurture it by investing in people and passion initiatives.
Build a better world, build better people, enjoy what you do. These are the core values we operate on. This is at the heart of why we founded Nexus PMG, and this is why we’re internally forming Nexus Labs.
Nexus Labs is a new initiative for employee innovation. It’s a space for our team to pursue their ideas because room to experiment creates enjoyment. It’s a dynamic environment where failure is seen as a stepping stone toward a breakthrough. We need breakthroughs to build a better, more resilient world.
My only fear with company growth is that we fall into the same routine that inspired us to branch out on our own. My greatest hope is that we prove that systems and processes can adapt to be more nimble, and technology can efficiently integrate into the corporate world. And, of course, I can’t wait to collaborate with people, hear their ideas, and break stuff together.
I’m always looking to connect with others and hear what they are working on. Outside of this internal initiative, I’m sharing my technology learnings with construction professionals and software developers interested in fighting construction waste. Join us in the Construction Coders group on LinkedIn to collaborate.