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The construction industry reminds me very much of today’s school system! Both are broken and there doesn’t seem to be much attention on building learning capability. Our teachers and leaders are not able to focus on teaching people to think. Instead, like teaching to the test, leaders are too focused on teaching people in good Taylorist fashion to blindly follow predetermined steps created by “managers”. These teachers and leaders are incentivized to meet standard testing or productivity goals.

The majority of these goals have been in place far too long without being challenged. Leaders are driving the need to meet specific goals without stepping back to understand the why, e.g., how those goals contribute to the success of their organization and the value it delivers. Leaders must help teams develop the capability to develop capabilities. Construction Superintendents act as Teachers who instruct their class on what to learn or do without regard to the why or finding value within the worker or student. This method is only engaging a worker’s body with no regard to their mind, i.e., a tool to be used instead of a team member who can advance the success of the organization.

Our industry must focus on building a system that values, engages and empowers thinking at all levels. The intention of this blog is to help you focus on developing 3 thinking capabilities:

  • Pause and Reflect
  • Transitioning from Comfort to Growth Zone
  • Productive Experiential Learning, i.e Learning by doing.

“I don’t care how you get it done, just GET IT DONE!” is an incorrect phrase that we commonly hear in the construction industry. The industry’s focus on productivity is misplaced. Yes, productivity is important but not at the expense of developing another person’s ability to improve. Only when our industry has the ability to pause and reflect on the why and how, will we learn how to make more happen in the future.

For instance, I suggest you and your workers spend 4 hours every Friday learning and/or innovating better ways to increase throughput, your learning investment creates compounding interest. The team may have lost 4 hours of production but a simple improvement that quickens the process by 1 hour will pay dividends over the lifetime of said operation. This is a simple return on investment calculation.

Now, imagine that compounding every week for the life of a project. If you think about it, the Navy seal teams debriefs after each mission, NFL teams watch their game recap in slow motion to reflect on how to improve. These people have figured out that only training the body and doing repetition will not lead to improvement without a period of reflection and critical thinking.

I recently attended an Elevate Construction IST’s boot camp with Langston Construction. I was blown away by the amount of time that went into creating the right environment to get the team outside their comfort zone! I realized, from that camp and my recent search to better develop other’s capability, that we need leaders who can get people outside their comfort zone to experience their learning zone. And we need leaders that can take people further outside their learning zone to experience their growth zone[1]. Environments, behaviors and engaging the 5 senses help people transition from the comfort zone to the growth zone and allow one to retain more information than otherwise able.

Thinking is the driver behind capability development. Leaders have to create environments and encourage behaviors that influence the outcome of our situation. Thoughts become vision, vision becomes words, words become a plan and a plan becomes reality. The energy spreads from thinking to doing through this typical value stream. We think and learn at every stage of development to manifest ideas into the world. According to Beauvallet et al., TPS really stands for Thinking Production System [2]. This means that we must think as we produce. Therefore, we must encourage more, in the field, productive experiential learning.

If we do a Parade of Trades exercise, let’s involve the actual trade partners, facilitate the whole team’s reflection on the exercise and how they will put that learning into action. If we are learning about Takt planning, have the team create a Takt plan for the specific project the team is focused on. When we are able to engage teams on such an intimate level, the learning explodes. The questions are more specific and come with much more interest and energy. Concepts and tools become much more relatable and easier to understand as teams learn to create lean based on the project’s needs. As Dean Reed stated in a LCB webinar recently, lean must be created not implemented.

I leave y’all (South Carolina speak) with this challenge: Teach the people who work with you on a daily basis to think. Every day, intentionally ask a minimum of 10 questions to learn from your surroundings. Be transparent about what you are doing. If you do not like the answers that you are receiving, then change your questions. We learn when we pause and reflect on how we got to where we are. This also allows us to understand if we are content or happy with the current results. If not, make a modification and try it again. When we get on a rhythm or beat of doing this, it becomes natural, and we yearn for improvement!


1. Oliver, P. (2020) “How to Leave Your Comfort Zone and Enter Your ‘Growth Zone’,” November 20 Available at:

2. Beauvallet, G. (2006). The thinking production system. Reflections.

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Adam began his career in the construction industry as a plumber's helper and then as a red-line architect’s helper while attending the University of South Florida. Over the past 20 years, he has steadily advanced his career and has held a variety of roles within the industry. Adam has successfully completed more than $1.5 billion in pre-construction and construction services for a diverse group of industries, including: healthcare, higher education, industrial, life science, retail, and hospitality. Most projects (~$1B) were in life sciences and high-tech laboratory construction for clients.

A highly technical builder, Adam excels in efficiency, action, visual communication, and continuous improvement using Lean principles. He serves on several community boards, including Skilled Trades Alliance (, kidSney (, National Kidney Foundation (, RECAB (Regional Education Center for Advisory Board - Greenville, SC) and SC Career Kids ( Adam is proud to continue his service to the construction industry through his coaching business Construction ACHE Solutions.