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Post It Note Moonlighting

As I think back over my architectural career, I have trouble thinking of a single issue that’s universally held as close to blasphemy in our profession as moonlighting. Well, maybe McMansions or vinyl siding, but for the sake of argument, let’s stick to practice issues, not design topics.

Anti-moonlighting policies and attitudes run rampant through firms small and large.

You’ve probably heard this before, but a former Chair of the AIA’s Practice Management Advisory Group famously said:

“If a person wants to do their own work, they should start a firm and struggle and starve. If they use a title block or any kind of materials from the office, it poses a risk to the firm.”

(You can Google the quote if you really want to know whether or not you work for the former Chair.)

It’s the type of statement that also sets anti-moonlighting up as one of the most ironic attitudes in our profession.

I once worked for an architect who had a black and white moonlighting policy: NO MOONLIGHTING. The irony was, he started the firm after having been fired by his previous employer for … that’s right, moonlighting.

To paraphrase the philosopher Slim Shady:

May I have your attention please?

Will the Architect who’s never moonlighted please stand up?

I repeat, will the architect who’s never moonlighted please stand up?

We’re going to have a problem here …

Risk management, conflicts of interest and pay rates aside, I have no interest in debating whether architectural employees should be allowed to take on side projects.

I’d rather debate whether architectural employees should be ENCOURAGED to moonlight.

When I’m consulting with architects and architectural firms, I like to present examples from outside the profession; applicable lessons from different industries. To that end, consider innovations and growth in tech and manufacturing sectors that have reportedly come from “moonlighting” employees.

Do me a favor, stop reading for a minute. Look around your desk and count the number of Post-It notes you’re using. I did it. I counted 7,386 Post-It’s in use in my work area.

Post-It Notes are a product invented by 3M scientist Art Fry during his “15 percent time.”

3M, Google, Hewlett-Packard and others in tech and manufacturing sectors offer their employees time, mentorship, even money to work on their own projects; to “think outside the box” … to moonlight.

Every example of these programs I could find talks about the time and resources they’ve devoted (and they’re extensive), but also the successes and innovations. Gmail and Google Earth are on those lists. Another common theme in these success stories is: support.

Apparently, in order for encouraged moonlighting programs like 3M’s 15 Percent or Google’s 20 Percent programs or HP’s, Hewlett-Packard Labs to succeed, the programs, the employees and the innovations have to be supported. Sounds simple right? It’s actually a warning that this is not the type of program that we can give lip service to or where we can just “set it and forget it.”

Since you’re not likely to jump into this type of program and take it likely, I’d like to leave you with a few inspirational thoughts to ponder:

  • What if one of your employees’ side projects helped them realized something that improved the workflow in your office?

  • What if one of your employees’ explorations led to an improved flashing detail?

  • What if supporting “moonlighting” improved your employee retention?

I understand our attitudes about moonlighting have been engrained through generations of our architectural brethren. I understand that there are risks, responsibilities and compensation issues involved. I even understand that by pulling back the veil of mystery and deception, you may remove the excitement of moonlighting for some employees.

I’m simply asking you to consider the possibility that our profession may benefit (in a variety of ways) by openly supporting moonlighting programs in our firms.

What do you think? Could you ever support or even encourage your employees to take on side projects?

In case you haven’t noticed, there is a group of my friends from the architectural community that gets together every month to ‘talk’ about architecture.

We call this conversation #ArchiTalks. It’s pretty simple, really. Every month, someone picks a topic and we all wax poetic (more or less) on the subject.

You can find a complete list of everyone participating in this month’s #ArchiTalks conversation below.

Did you miss last month’s articles? My latest contribution was “Mentors, Millennials and the Boomer Cliff.”

This month, the #ArchiTalks conversation centers around: “Moonlighting”

Please take the time to take in the rest of the #ArchiTalks conversation:

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti): moonlighting more than an 80s sitcom

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC): Moon(lighting) changes with the seasons

Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect): hustle and grind: #architalks

Michael Riscica AIA – Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX): Moonlighting for Young Architects

Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@BuildingsRCool): Architects do it All Night Long

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz): Starlight, moonlight – tick tock

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum): Is Moonlighting Worth It? Probably Not, But We All Try.

Kyu Young Kim – J&K Atelier (@sokokyu): Dancing in the Moonlight

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign): The Howling

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey): Moonlighting: or Why I Kept My Dayjob.

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark): Architalks 28 Moonlighting

Gabriela Baierle-Atwood (@gabrielabaierle): On Moonlighting

Ilaria Marani – Creative Aptitude (@creaptitude): There is no moolighting. It’s a jungle!

Jane Vorbrodt – Kuno Architecture (@janevorbrodt): Crafted Moonlighting

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson): Should Architects Moonlight?

Collier Ward – One More Story (@BuildingContent): Moonlighting

Tim Ung – Journey of an Architect (@timothy_ung): An Alternative to Moonlighting as a Young Architect

About Jeff Echols

Jeff Echols is the creative Storyteller for Award-Winning architecture firms and the Social Media Campaign Manager for industry professionals. He is a graduate of Ball State University with over 20 years’ experience in the marketing departments of firms ranging from three to three thousand employees.

Jeff spends countless hours studying, developing and implementing strategies for insuring marketing success for Architects and other business owners in the online arena. He documents the good, the bad and the ugly in Social Media at Architect of the Internet and speaks about Conquering Social Media in venues ranging from the Board Room to the Convention Stage.

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