Why you need to get back on the horse

2 May, 2018

Emerging practices are intuitively aware of the importance of brand and reputation but they become easily knocked back if they don’t win a pitch or a client defects to a rival.

An architect I met the other day admitted he’d become depressed after throwing himself into a project only to be beaten at the final hurdle.

He told me that it had taken him two months before he could “get back on the horse”. All the euphoria he felt being on such an important shortlist evaporated, along with the energy he’d put in preparing for the final interview

This feeling is not uncommon.

Rejection is a dirty secret among architects and failures are often hidden and sometimes a source of shame. The result is that many architects, especially young ones, have unrealistic expectations.

But even established practices have to deal with rejection on a regular basis. Sometimes they start to see it as personal failure and are then caught in a syndrome of perfectionism and low output or else they become reckless and take risks in order to win work.

At the very extreme the practice can start to unravel completely believing that its losing streak is permanent. It never is.

But it’s also true that clients have become so intolerant of experimentation and architects have become so afraid to fail that they become reluctant to try new things.

I asked this architect if being on such a starry shortlist hadn’t generated publicity which he otherwise wouldn’t have had. He replied that the organisers had concentrated on promoting the winner ignoring the rest of them although this wasn’t part of “ the deal”.

But this always happens.

The PR opportunity is when you make the shortlist not when you lose because an organisation, regardless of size, needs to big up the winner so its choice is seen by the outside world as decisive (although it rarely is).

I’ve no doubt this particular architect will become  successful because he’s pushing at the very limits early in his career and does not seem about to give up.

Before she was a global superstar Zaha Hadid is example of someone who always had great self-belief and took risks that often led to rejection- remember the Cardiff Bay opera house competition? – but perhaps her biggest quality was perseverance.

In his book Bounce, Matthew Syed, a table tennis champion, gives the example of elite figure skaters that regularly attempt jumps beyond their ability.

They are also the ones who have the most falls  but unlike those who don’t push their limits and don’t fall as often, they always achieve their potential. The same is true in architecture, I think.

How to deal with rejection.

  • Don’t take rejection personally. Clients can sniff failure at several paces.
  • Develop trust in your own judgment about the value and quality of your work.
  • Think of others. Losing is not just demoralising for you, it effects everyone in the practice so you need to make them feel that all the effort they have put in has been worth it.
  • Let go. You think your design is the best. But it wasn’t the one that was chosen. Don’t let it haunt you for months or even years to come.
  • Don’t bad mouth the winner.Losing gracefully is an art that none of us are very good at.
  • Remember that while rejection is unpleasant it’s simply a little speed bump on the road to success.