If ‘only the paranoid survive,’ what does it take to thrive?

“Sooner or later, something fundamental in your business world will change.” The late Andrew Grove (1936-2016), Co-founder of tech giant Intel Corp., lived by these words.

June 27, 2016 |
David Barista

Intel Co-founders (l. to r.): Andrew Grove, Robert Noyce, and Gordon Moore. Photo: Wikimedia Commons   

“Sooner or later, something fundamental in your business world will change.” The late Andrew Grove (1936-2016), Co-founder of tech giant Intel Corp., lived by these words. Grove, of course, would have known better than just about anyone, having thrived for decades in the cutthroat world of tech in Silicon Valley.

Grove, who along with Gordon Moore (of Moore’s Law fame) and Robert Noyce (nicknamed “The Mayor of Silicon Valley” for his business prowess) co-founded Intel in 1968, believed strongly in the value of paranoia. He was constantly on the lookout for what he called “strategic inflection points”—those moments of elemental change in a business environment that, if ignored, could mark the beginning of a downward spiral for a company or organization. It could be a technological advancement, a new competitor, a trade agreement, a tariff—anything that could lead to full-scale changes in the way business is conducted.

AEC firms, and their clients, are scrambling to keep up in this era of rapid technological and business change. They’re in a race to innovate.

In his seminal 1996 business leadership book, Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company and Career, Grove called these fundamental changes “deadly when unattended to,” and believed that companies could never fully recover from a downward slide. Hence his paranoia.

But Grove also acknowledged the incredible opportunities offered to the players who were adept at navigating a changing business ecosystem. As an example, he pointed to the flood of low-cost memory chip products from Japan in the 1980s. This inflection point was so overwhelming for Intel, it forced the company—which, at that time, was nearly a billion-dollar enterprise—completely out of the memory production business and into the fledging field of microprocessors. Can you imagine walking away from an established market worth hundreds of millions of dollars in favor of the unknown?

In many respects, Grove’s state of paranoia has permeated the AEC market, and for good reason. Technological advancements—BIM/VDC, computational design, virtual reality, reality capture—are changing the way firms perform work. Startups like Airbnb and WeWork are turning their clients’ business models upside down. Economic and policy shifts are placing intense pressure on major real estate sectors, including healthcare (Affordable Care Act) and higher education (student loan crisis). And the lagging affects of the Great Recession continue to place budget stresses on building segments.

AEC firms, and their clients, are scrambling to keep up in this era of rapid technological and business change. They’re in a race to innovate.

This state of mind was evident during an AEC technology panel discussion I participated in a few months ago. One of the panelists, a digital design leader at a major architecture giant, wowed the audience with a laundry list of jaw-dropping tech innovations the firm was either using regularly, piloting, or researching—game engines, beacons, computational design, drones mounted with 3D laser scanners, to name a few.

What struck me most was what he said next. He admitted that almost on a daily basis he has deep anxiety about his firm not doing enough to stay ahead. It is something that keeps him—and his colleagues—up at night. I thought to myself, Wow, if this guy feels this way, I can’t imagine what the tech laggards are feeling?

To thrive in today’s turbulent market, AEC professionals must think and act like those early Silicon Valley pioneers: maintain a level of paranoia and be ready and willing to pivot on a dime when a strategic inflection point hits.

David Barista | BD+C Editors
Building Design+Construction
Editorial Director

David Barista is Editorial Director of Building Design+Construction and BDCnetwork.com, properties that combined reach more than 100,000 commercial building professionals, including architects, engineers, contractors, and building owners. David has covered the U.S. construction industry for more than a decade, previously serving as Editor-in-Chief of BD+C, Professional Builder, Custom Builder, and HousingZone.com. He has won numerous editorial awards, including six Jesse H. Neal Awards and multiple honors from the Construction Writers Association and the American Society of Business Publication Editors.

Email: dbarista@sgcmail.com

Related Blogs

Suffolk Smart Lab in New York City, 2019 Giants 300 Report, 3 ‘Giant’ AEC market trends for 2019-2020  Photo: J. Michael Worthington, Jr., courtesy Suffolk Construction

The rise of data and data tools, like the Suffolk Smart Lab in New York City (pictured), is leading to more research projects among AEC firms. Photo: J. Michael Worthington, Jr., courtesy Suffolk Construction


August 15, 2019 | Giants 300 | BD+C Editors

We’re starting to see a shift toward custom research, thanks in part to the influx of data, data tools, and...

Amenities war no more? Research report explores multifamily market

The skylit 75-foot, three-lane lap pool at Hub, a 54-story rental tower of 750 apartments (150 affordable) in Brooklyn, N.Y., designed by Dattner Architects. Photo: Evan Joseph, courtesy Dattner Architects

July 31, 2019 | Multifamily Housing | BD+C Editors

Multifamily developers show no signs of pulling back on specialty spaces and unique offerings in an effort...

Annual mortgage payment plus property tax per average square foot of housing in US cities.

Source: World Business Chicago

April 30, 2018 | Multifamily Housing | BD+C EditorsRobert Cassidy

It's inaccurate to focus on property taxes as a percentage of home value without acknowledging the actual c...

MIT’s Simmons Hall, designed by Steven Holl

MIT’s Simmons Hall, designed by Steven Holl

January 05, 2018 | Big Data | BD+C EditorsDavid Barista, Editorial Director

At a time when research- and data-based methods are playing a larger role in architecture, there remains a...

Illustration: Pixabay

December 30, 2016 | Building Team | BD+C Editors

Women AEC professionals need you to take action. 

Lissette Méndez-Boyer (left) and Natalya Shimanovskaya work on their FABRICation project at Beyer Blinder Belle’s New York office. Photo courtesy BBB

September 06, 2016 | AEC Tech | BD+C Editors

AEC firms are taking a page from the tech industry, by infusing a deep commitment to innovation and disrupt...

Photo: Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Corey Lewis , U.S. Navy, via Wikimedia Commons; photo filter via BeFunky.com

May 31, 2016 | AEC Tech | BD+C Editors

As buildings become increasingly connected, opportunistic hackers have countless avenues into a building’s...

Lexus RX 450h self-driving car. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

May 09, 2016 | AEC Tech | BD+C Editors

Despite popular belief, the country is not in a great age of technological and digital innovation, at least...

Deep Learning + AI: How machines are becoming master problem solvers

The world’s top Go player Lee Sedol puts the first stone against Google’s artificial intelligence program AlphaGo during the third match of the Google DeepMind Challenge match in Seoul, South Korea. Photo: Reuters/Google/Yonhap

March 31, 2016 | AEC Tech | BD+C Editors

Besides revolutionary changes to the world’s workforce, artificial intelligence could have a profound impac...

Yotel, New York City. Photo: JasonParis, flickr creative commons

March 09, 2016 | Hotel Facilities | BD+C EditorsRobert Cassidy, Executive Editor

Hotels are going for a new minimalist look to attract younger guests, but some older business travelers don...

Overlay Init