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Which comes first: form or function?

Oct 02, 2022


A few years back, my wife and I built a house. (Or, at least, we paid people to design and build a house for us!)

Every building project invariably gives rise to a number of stories (no pun intended), and our own experience was no exception. 

We were inspecting the build early on, and as I walked through the area that would be the kitchen, I noticed a big pipe of electrical wires sticking out of the wall directly above the location for the sink. Naturally, I was curious to know what the wires were for, and the builder explained they were for the air conditioning unit.

“What, here?” I asked. 

To which the builder replied, “Yes. As per the drawings.”

“But why here?” I wondered. “Right in our face? Above the sink? Where washing the dishes is going to be like standing in a gale force arctic wind… and quite possibly the cause of facial frostbite.”

A quick call to the architect brought the comedy of errors into its full glory. 

The decision to locate the air conditioning in that particular spot was because they wanted the unit to be concealed behind a kind of cupboard. One that would lift up and down, so that the unit would be out of view when not in use. Okay, but why here? Because, according to the architect, it was the best place for an oversized cupboard that would fit in with the rest of the kitchen cabinetry, from an aesthetic point of view. My head still spinning, I asked, "But do you agree that this will make using the sink a pretty unpleasant experience?"

To which the architect replied, "A small price to pay to keep the aesthetics of the room in tact."

And there you have it. The Comedy of Form over Function. 

Now while that particular story may be set on a building project, I suspect the underlying issue is all pervasive. All too often, form takes precedence over function

Meetings where people are frogmarched through packed agendas that somehow lack a feeling of achievement.

Presentations that feel like a deck of slides in search of a point.

Conversations that are full of talk but empty of direction.

Task lists that overflow with activity but don’t feel meaningful. 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve come into 2022 with a heightened appetite to focus on stuff that matters. 

Or perhaps you might say, my appetite has always been there – but what’s shifted is my tolerance for stuff that lacks purpose.

What about you? What about your team?

How about we make this the year where we consciously put function before form, at every turn.

Before you dive into anything – be that a conversation, a project, a task, a mouthful – how about we pause for purpose

Start with why.

What do we want from this?

Why are we doing this?

Why do we need this?

Why do we care?

Does anyone care?

This is a great way to break the habits that keep us on autopilot. But I reckon it’s also the single most important thing you can do to build truly engaged teams. To take the time to fiercely align around purpose before you become distracted by process. 

So pause… for purpose. On purpose. 

(Oh, and if you’re wondering about the air conditioning saga, I know you’ll sleep a lot better knowing we did resolve it. We found an even better spot for it. Above the pantry. Right out of our faces. 😁  )




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