The Downsides of Being An Architect Versus A Builder

Do you want to be an architect...or a builder? A strategist/advisor or a skilled craftsperson who makes things happen?

It's a serious mistake to think one is better than another. The first is probably thought of more highly by your clients, but the second is thought of more highly by your peers...and it's what you went to school for. The first might be more highly compensated, but this is not a value choice in the truest sense of that word (as in moral value).

I talked about this a lot in an earlier article about the "Two Rooms" model. When writing that book, I didn't think that the image of two rooms was that forceful, but I keep hearing that it resonates with people.

I want to take a slightly different approach to talking about what it's like to be a strategist (architect) or implementer (builder). See if you can relate to the downsides.

Downsides of Being an Architect

  • Every builder whines under his breath about how unrealistic and unnecessarily complicated your ideas are. The builder is an architect-wannabe that always has the right answers.
  • No matter how good your ideas are, someone else can screw them up in just a few days. And you'll probably catch heck for providing a lame analysis when the problem was really how the plan was executed and not the plan itself.
  • You can't stand behind any "doing" that you can point to. Instead, you're standing in front of an executive board room, naked, with just your ideas. And your best ideas can't even be preplanned, but come to you in the moment as you are reacting in real life. As I said about this in various speaking engagements, it's like diving into an empty concrete pool...and inventing water on the way down.
  • You'll have to be a whole letter better at sales. Everything you do is a non-fungible token. A lot of people won't understand it, the results won't show up for ages, and you'll just have to go to sleep knowing you did good work that day.
  • You have to keep finding architectural gigs because they don't stretch into forever like a timeshare or a whole-life insurance policy. There's no convenient MRR—just a lot of starting and stopping, and thus a lot of selling.

Downsides of Being a Builder

  • You get called in after a lot of the decisions have already been made.
  • You get called in after all the earlier people pissed away time against a deadline that won't move.
  • They used their favorite architect in a no-bid scenario, but even after using you for 6 years straight, they still occasionally insist on bidding out contracts like this.
  • At the ribbon cutting ceremony, you'll be in the back, over to the side, when they take the picture. And everyone will ask: "Who designed that?" and not "Who built that?"


Maybe you want to do both, instead? That's definitely an option, but:

  • Your positioning can only be built on the first.
  • If they want the second, it needs to be totally optional, with no pressure from you.
  • There will be very little pricing premium opportunity on that second room stuff, and that's where 75% of your staffing sits.

A lot of big decisions ahead, right? This stuff is good to think about.

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