The engineering and computer science world gives us the term kluge. I'd seen the word before, but never really clocked it in until this morning. Samuel Arbesman, scientist in Residence at Lux Capital, writes this about the word kluge:
"[Kluge] refers to something that is convoluted and messy but gets the job done. Think Rube Goldberg contraption meets MacGyver, but without the playfulness. Kluges often have been adapted and constructed over a period of time, with band-aids upon band-aids, serving their function. But woe betide the person who must maintain or fix such as monster."
Arbesman's article, in the Harvard Business Review and entitled, "Why Technologists Should Think Like Biologists," proposes two ideas that I believe housing's leaders will do well to consider. One is this assertion, which clearly applies to this beautiful ecosystem of functional and dysfunctional processes we call housing.
"The systems we build grow and evolve over time, with a messiness and complexity that almost borders on the organic.
Arbesman's accompanying idea contains the so-what moment, and all it takes to bring this thought into housing's real-world challenges is to swap out the words "technologies are" in the passage below, and substitute those two words with "housing practices." Try it now:
"Technologies are enormously complex and have evolved over time. Simply put, if they have a biological quality, perhaps we need to look at how biologists examine living systems, from individual cells and organism all the way up to ecologies. We can examine how biologists examine their own field, querying the world of the organic, and then import some of these ideas into how we understand the world of human-made systems."
I'd like to focus on just one of Arbesman's recommendations for applying biological rigor and mindsets in the chronically challenged world of housing, residential investment, and home and community construction and development. How about it if we look through this lens, for a moment, at housing's massively complex system?
"Focus on small pieces. Biologists don’t try to understand an entire system at once, building the entire web of complex interactions between every species in an ecosystem. Rather, they focus on a pair of species, or a small number of them, and look at how they interact. Through this iterative process — tinkering at the edges of something enormously complex — a picture of the overall behavior of an ecosystem is gained slowly rather than all at once, and the nature of the many interacting pieces of a single organism is constructed."
We could not describe HIVE any better than this. HIVE, in fact, takes its name from a biological system. Housing, like a hive, is a super-organism. A single bee can work and perform a role, but a single bee needs the colony to survive.
When I first mentioned to Lennar ceo Stuart Miller--one of our HIVE deans, and a keynote speaker in our event--that we were doing HIVE, here's what he said.
"Our company, like many, many companies in housing, is doing innovative work on its own, but that won't continue to be enough. We need a way to connect with other organizations, and learn from them, and teach them to work with our innovations, and learn from theirs."
Stuart immediately embraced the idea that even the community's business leaders, like Lennar, can't thrive sustainably in isolation. So, part of the answer to the question, "Who is HIVE?" is this: Stuart Miller.
And that's just the start. This week, we announced the [to-date] line-up of speakers and contributors to the HIVE program. We'll be adding more over the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned for those announcements and updates.
Simply, HIVE is people who work across their silos to make positive changes happen in housing. We're starting with an event in September whose intent is to spark a powerful conversation that could never happen before because that configuration of people--designers, builders, manufacturers, planners, investors, developers, distributors, data specialists, and technology players--never gathered before under one roof.
About five hundred of us who'll be there are intent, not just on ideas about innovation, but on action that will bring positive change to our organizations and our business community. You can get a sense of where we're going with our conversation on our LinkedIn feed, and add to it by joining the HIVE here. If you are an architect, a planner, a builder, a manufacturing company research and development specialist, a real estate investor, a tech product development expert, a data hound, a remodeler, or a logistics and distribution chain and channel specialist, you're part of the HIVE.
And, here's a parting thought from Samuel Arbesman that hits home [i.e. housing]:
Only a recognition of the potential gap between how we think these technologies work and how they actually do can help us be better prepared for failure — but also build better technologies from the outset, with our eyes wide open in the face of the incredibly complicated technologies all around us.