Trends and changes: Can the construction industry understand and adapt to the pace of innovation and millennial generation’s values?

92’s Geremy Gutsche speaks to the Canadian Construction Association

By Mark Buckshon

Canadian Design and Construction Report staff writer

When‘s Geremy Gutsche and members of the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) travelled to San Antonio, TX in March for the association’s annual national conference, they landed in a city steeped in tradition and history (the Alamo), combined with cutting-edge innovation and entrepreneurial initiative.

The association also captured the balance between tradition and innovation by selecting Gutsche to be the keynote speaker, where he shared examples (and warning stories) of businesses that had been at the top of the pack, but quickly failed because of innovations and technological changes that seemed unimaginable a few years earlier.

In his books and materials, he cites the well-known examples of Kodak, which developed the digital camera, Blockbuster Video (which could have purchased Netflix for a relative pittance), and Smith-Corona, which had the opportunity to enter the computer business but instead decided to focus on saving money by relocating its manufacturing to Mexico – as it developed a then-impressive electronic typewriter with characteristics of a modern computer laptop. (If you look for Smith-Corona now, you’ll discover a business that sells thermal paper rolls – its legacy typewriter repair business has been hived off to another organization.)

But what about the construction industry?

In an interview, Gutsche said successful people and teams are victim to three traps.

“The traps are that we become complacent, we lose that hunger we had when we were first out of school,” he said. “We become repetitive. We do what happened before instead of trying something new, and we become very protective of our ideas.

“We assume we’re correct, we create fortunes, we attribute our fortune to that idea, and we’re not really as open to whatever the next generation or the next customer has to say.”

Then, how can the construction industry deal with these challenges? He said the challenge relate to the integration of projects and initiatives – where, for example, for a hospital, the “RFP is not just for a building; its actually to create patient care at a much different level.”

“I think that the question you needed to ask yourself is what exactly is it that you’re trying to do,” he told an interviewer. “Are you building a building? Are you paving a road? Or are you solving a different need?

“The more you push yourself, there are critical questions you can ask that would lead you to better understand how your construction business could evolve.”

Gutsche added: “The other huge trend that’s going to be impacting construction is the generational shift as we go and shift the power of control from boomers to millennials.”

“Millenials aren’t motivated by money,” he said. “They’re not motivated by putting in a career of decades of effort into one company. They’re motivated by completing, by feeling a sense of belonging, by feeling as if they’re in charge and running their own projects.

“This is something that scares off a lot of the engineering in more traditional companies that I’ve worked with, but the other way to think about it is the attributes of a millennial are very similar to the attributes of an entrepreneur. By reengineering how yo motivate that new group, you can actually benefit from a group of hungry minds that wants to help you adapt.”

Of course, putting these words into action can take some effort and, as Gutsche indicates in other materials, no one can really predict the future. The key is to be able to capture the trends – and the examples on his website may seem a bit different from the challenges most architectural, engineering and construction businesses encounter in their day-to-day operations.

However, some AEC businesses certainly “get it” – for example, the trend to green and energy-efficient construction. In Ottawa, Jonathan Westeinde built Windmill Developments as a pioneer in environmentally-responsible development. A few years later, dozens of contractors proudly proclaimed they could handle co-ordinate LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) projects, but they were catching up, not leading.

More recently, Ottawa architect CSV has started pioneering with Passive House construction techniques – achieving extreme energy efficiency without excessively complex systems and processes in the construction. Is this work ahead-of-the-curve?

On the other extreme, several general contractors have been complaining about bundling and the impossibility of competing against well-funded international competitors as job sizes and financing complications grow larger and increasingly sophisticated. How can they adapt when the barriers for bidding/seem to be growing at an exponential rate? Some are leading with Integrated Project Development (IPD); others are capturing new trends such as 3D printing and virtual reality modeling, and of course, Building Information Modeling (BIM). But when do you go with the flow, hold back, or decide to take a leap into leadership?

“People don’t realize it, but here we are experiencing history’s highest rate of change, and yet we don’t learn about chaos in schools,” Gutche said in the interview posted on the CCA website. “We are actually approaching the world with a brain that’s evolved from 10,000 years of evolution, and all of that leads to a series of traps, traps that block successful people in particular from adapting.

“I’d like to say that 10,000 years of evolution as farmers means that we farm our opportunity, and once you find what you’re successful at, your career, your occupation, your go-to way to run a project, then you repeat and optimize whatever led to last year’s harvest, and that’s helped us feed ourselves for 10,000 years, but actually in at time period of change, there are a lot of pitfalls to that.”

Gutsche (and the CCA) provided a link to background material from his presentation at the CCA conference at (It isn’t a secret when it is posted on a public website, of course.)

Mark Buckshon is president of the Construction News and Report Group of Companies, which publishes Canadian Design and Construction Report. You can read his daily blog at or email him at


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