Follow the mushrooms!

August 11, 2010

A colleague told me about a chap he met on a recent flight to London. "He told me he had a mushroom farm near Birmingham," said my friend. "So I asked how business was, and he said fantastic."

Curious, my friend asked why, and the farmer told him this story:

"I'd been in mushrooms for years — a nice, steady business, but not much growth, pardon the pun," said the farmer. "So I hired a consultant to look at my operations, and his advice was: Follow the mushrooms.

" 'What does that mean?' I asked. And the consultant said it meant precisely that. Follow the mushrooms.

"The next day, when the truck came to pick up my mushrooms, I got in and went to the local market. They unloaded my mushrooms, and the first thing they did was wash them. Then they sliced them. Then they packaged them.

"So I asked the manager: 'If I sent you my mushrooms washed and sliced and packaged, would you buy more of them?' Indeed he would, he said. And in no time, I doubled my business."

Whether your profession is growing fungi or designing and building structures, it's good to see how the product is used and what's important to the customer.

This point was brought home by a study conducted for this magazine and RICS, a 110,000-member international real estate research institute, on the attitudes of pharmaceutical and biotech researchers toward their laboratories (see p. 53).

Over the last decade, designers of life-science labs have, largely at the urging of their clients, tended to put great emphasis on aesthetics — features like gigantic atriums running the height of the building, fancy meeting rooms and libraries, and other amenities that were meant to reinforce the company or institution's prestige. The rationale given by management was that it was necessary to attract top scientists to these firms or institutions.

Our survey, however, revealed that scientists themselves care about much more mundane issues: the quality of their scientific equipment, the technical resources to enable them to do their work, safety in the lab, adequate space in which to perform research.

At the same time, scientists perceived their own managements to be interested primarily in cost issues. Scientists saw themselves and their management as having relatively little interest in "aesthetic quality of design."

This set of "attitudinal disconnects" underscores the need for Building Teams, whether they're building a biotech lab or a high-rise office building or a country church, to make greater efforts to understand the essential needs of all the clients who are using the building, not just those who are signing the check.

Follow the mushrooms. It could change your whole way of doing business.

For complete results of the BD&C/RICS Laboratory Facilities Research Study, go to


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