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A Heist

A heist requires careful planning, skilled teammates and a clear plan. So does a construction project.

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One of my secret desires is to be part of a heist. Not some nasty, snatch-and-grab kind of thing, but a real heist like in the movie “Ocean’s Eleven.” Yes, I know it’s illegal, and I am aware that if caught I would go to prison, which is only right. But it just sounds like so much fun to work with a group of professionals, experts in their trades, as we spend months planning a project and then executing that project to perfection. The monetary payoff would be almost secondary to the thrill of the effort and the satisfaction of the results.

Does that sound like I’m describing more than just a heist? Aren’t those the exact parameters of a well-executed construction project? We plan for months, working to finalize details that can potentially have huge consequences and derail the effort. Workers face harsh conditions that can be dangerous unless we take proper precautions. The satisfaction of getting to the end and looking back across the dancing fountains while Debussy’s “Clair de lune” plays in the background is worth all the planning and aggravation and, sometimes, hurt feelings.

The thing that is most attractive about a heist and a construction project is the chance to work in a team with real experts who bring their knowledge to solve the problems that every planning period faces. We rely on the trade contractors for their experience, and the design team for its inspiration and the general contractor for his professionalism, and all the members of the team for their understanding and best efforts.

During the planning period, and even during construction, we face obstacles as a team that needs to be resolved as a group. No one individual can execute a construction project. Those days are in the past.

When I was in college, I had the motto, “A job done is a job well done.” My thinking was that if I stopped worrying about making everything perfect and just overcame inertia to complete the task, I would be surprised to find out I was generally satisfied with the work.

That’s a great motto for getting a disinterested student through college, but it is an exceptionally poor motto for a construction team. Part of the joy of construction is the imagination necessary to visualize the project, that anticipation of the crux problems and the preparation for the unpreparable surprise.

As a construction team we rely on our experience and expertise to play that game, and we now have a massive number of technological tools to facilitate our work. There is real joy in that.

I always enjoyed the day-to-day part of construction. On any given day, I could get to the end of the work and feel a sense of satisfaction. But to be honest, I also found a drudgery in the construction, especially during those phases when the tasks were the same from one day to the next without relent.

But the end, oh the end, what a feeling of satisfaction it is to look back on something that you did. I have never met a person in the industry, whether it is a high-flying architect or a simple laborer, who hasn’t pointed to a project he or she was involved in and said, “I did that.”

Construction is the best heist movie ever.