Posted in Design in Mind on July 1, 2015 11:34 am EDT

Death by a Thousand Cuts, and the Ones Who Survive

Consider the way a major negative change that happens slowly, in many unnoticed increments, is not perceived as objectionable. Lisa Masteller discusses the journey of a business and the important issues that can make it or break it.









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TAGS: blog, business, design, education, opinion,


By Lisa Masteller

Suppose I were to walk into your office right now, in what moment would I most likely find you?

Would it be shaking hands with a new client?

Going over finalized master prints to begin a new build?

Maybe you're back to square one, having just completed a job, trying to fill the calendar -- only to realize "we really need to know how better to market the company"?

Or perhaps, you're in the midst of "putting out another fire" while on site?

Well, hopefully this discussion can encourage you wherever you are in the process.


As a team, we set out on this grand design. Formulating our time and energy into each page of the blueprints. From watching the initial erecting of the steel frame, we make our trek through the grime and sweat, as we sheet-rock our way to the finish line. We fight hard both in the board room and on site to ensure that those elements are done right. Somehow, before too long, we find ourselves at the eleventh hour eagerly anticipating showing off our "baby," spit-shining that thing like it's our own.

The past couple of weeks are spent burning the midnight oil to make sure that when the grand opening has arrived, everything we can possibly think of has been looked at in all different ways, [and that] each item has found its rightful place. The feeling of accomplishment, both as a team and as an individual, couldn't be more of a spiritual payoff. When all is done and the cleaning supplies have been put away, we finally take a moment to breathe.

As we scan over the landscape of the building, we pause to reflect on the limitless amount of effort, talent, hours and fast food runs it took to get here. In an Ebenezer sort of way, we lay it before God to be used for His purpose and glory and for our good. Hopefully building up the Body of Christ for generations to come.


With most builds, we dance between "the sweet within the struggle," resolving to finish well for all involved. However, what if things do go South? What happens when you have THAT client, who is so demanding, your blood pressure spikes and all you want to do is politely look them in the face and say, "You're driving [me] to drink." Is it really them? Are there other dynamics in play that we must attune ourselves to? Maybe we need to modify our process, or learn to be better communicators. How do we maintain our mission?

Here are a few "incremental negative" examples in which, if you're not careful, the project begins to suffer. Assessing the situation before it gets out of hand is all a part of the job.


Upon an initial meeting, you can usually determine whether personality clashes are going to be too much of a dynamic for the proximity of working well together. When you sense this happening, it's good to go back to your mission statement and your values initiated by your company. Can I provide what we promise to deliver in this type of atmosphere? Can I work effectively in spite of some "rub"? Rather than spinning towards the guard rails, be honest with yourself and make the decision in which the energy expelled isn't worth your time and theirs. Unfortunately, there will be times where it's better to embrace the "Run, Don't Walk" method. Like a frog in a boiling pot, you won't notice the heat at first until it's too late. This is where it can be incrementally deadly to your business.


I know we're not realtors but WHERE we communicate and WHEN we communicate need not be taken lightly. If we choose to take the time to spell out some boundaries we might save ourselves from potential drama.

We've all seen it. Sitting down at a relaxing meal with your friends enjoying some good food and conversation, when all of a sudden out of nowhere, you're completely sidetracked by a loud, dramatic volley of $!@&?!/ going on. Chewing on your food and looking unamused you find yourself getting sideswiped by the ranting that s being projected for the whole room to hear. More times than none, I've witnessed this where there is only one person carrying the conversation by phone, if not more than speaking in person. So the next time the GC is gruff, or the order came in the wrong color, approach it head on. Since there are people most likely within ear shot, remember you are setting the tone for the duration of the project. Showing respect and [consideration of] where we choose to have those conversations [will take us far].

The tone and atmosphere you put off can, over time, incrementally season your project or give a bad taste to those working close to you.


Thanks to HGTV, we live in a world where people have been taught that what we do can be done for much less. I have to admit, in some cases this can be true. Although being resourceful is a part of our job, we must align our design to the scale of the budget and work to see how far we can get within those parameters. This may mean we have to scale back on what we promise to deliver, and if there is room to increase the budget we can do "x,y and z."

Hearing our clients' concerns and disappointments can be crushing. Just like a show, they don't see the 15- to 30-person crew off camera working through the night to finish the install, before the big "reveal." Another aspect that drives their allotted budget is product placement. Companies are "buying slots" and staging their product within the segment, in order for that show to get more "backing" or money. Unfortunately, that is never advertised. Only producers and the financial manager are aware of that increment. All to say that off-camera crew and product placement weren't advertised as part of the total budget. This, in-turn, left the viewer misinformed of a totally different reality.

Talk about "Pixie Dust." I have scoured and scoured the isles of many a store only to come up short. They simply haven't invented a magical solution to the money tree.

In this industry, who doesn't want to only build those designs that have an unlimited amount of money?

Every client we meet and work [with] comes with a set budget and parameters to that budget. I have worked with clients who start anywhere from $200 to $25 million. The funny thing is that our process is somewhat the same in spite of the budget at hand.  continued >>