Five reasons to be First

In and out of the office, the last nine months have been consumed by talk of innovation, with hundreds of people collaborating and experimenting with ideas and projects to make cities more resilient against climate change.  If the proposed solutions are implemented, it makes a difference to the people who live in those communities.  But why did architects and engineers, policy leaders and planners, landscape architects and scientists, invest so much time and effort in crafting the solutions?  It wasn’t the fee, or the promise of future projects, that guided us.  It was the opportunity to think, to plan, to draw without boundaries… and it was the chance to put in place something that would be a model for the future.  Why does innovation matter?

1. To become the next precedent, and set the standard for future achievement.  Almost nothing is entirely new, and architects are notorious magpies.  We scour images of other projects, scout details of buildings in cities, evaluate programs for new juxtapositions; and always look for precedents.  Innovation is built on the back of what was done before, and we all want to become part of the foundation which is referenced in the years to come.

2. There is some latitude if you fail.  Pioneers are expected to have trials, to navigate unknowns, and handle the inevitable errors.  Failure is painful, but analysis of the circumstances is instructive to others.  If an undertaking is truly innovative there is almost the expectation of failure, so a positive accomplishment is unanticipated, a gift.

3. There are meaningful transformations at stake.  The greatest economic returns accrue to those who come first and stick it out: property development, digital technology, entertainment – in all of these industries the people who came first benefitted most.  At the city scale, low-value neighborhoods  are often at the greatest risk, and with attention and solutions in place, can become the greatest assets.

4. The pursuit of new ideas builds a community of like-minded people who will continue to press for change.  Adaptation doesn’t happen in one go, or with one event.  It needs the capacity to continue, provided by people with the vision and enthusiasm to keep fighting.  The camaraderie, the network, and the energy generated from trying something new is contagious.

5. Every test reminds us of our limits.  Incremental change is healthy and necessary, continuing to press upon what is achievable with current technology.  We all know that this first is never the last.  Advancements in other areas will have collateral effects applicable elsewhere.  The “proof” inherent in these precedents will allow further refinement in the next.  Innovation will continue as long as people strive to explore, transform, fail, change, and reach.