Appreciation in Three Parts

Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I appreciate having the chance to share my thoughts with you.

…now… rewind.

A meaningful, heartfelt apology has three parts: acknowledgment, remorse, and restitution. You can find various sources online to check out how that works. It’s certainly good to know and use.

While driving with my wife, I wondered out loud whether there is also a formula behind showing thanks. I think there is.

The use of “thank you” is typically a courtesy, an acknowledgment. It’s made more meaningful when it includes recognition of the act to which you are responding. This forms a fairly complete interaction with someone: Action -> Thank You -> You’re Welcome! Done, complete, and everyone continues with their day.

When appropriate, courtesy and recognition set the stage for appreciation. Appreciation spans the gamut from making someone feel happy that their actions are useful, to expressing gratitude and insight that leaves someone speechless and perhaps teary-eyed.

When you take the time to express appreciation, you stop and take the time to see someone… and to tell them they have been seen. I believe that it is human nature to want to be seen, to be visible to those around us. We do kind things for one another for the sake of being kind, but also because these interactions validate our existence and we feel good.

When we are courteous, give acknowledgment, and show appreciation… we tell people that we see them and they have done something of merit. We have taken the time to invest in them and build them up.

Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I really and truly do appreciate having the chance to share my thoughts with you.

About the Author: Peter Briggs is a landscape architect who has an ongoing preoccupation with the business of design. For more bio information, please see:

Our Commitments

We recently quantified what we have learned from our clients and how our clients have changed us. These discussions led us to identify what we need to do as a firm to ensure we are always growing and serving our clients better. We are calling these “Our Commitments”:

Accountability: Develop clearly defined expectations, roles, and responsibilities, founded within clear communication and explicit schedules.

Problem Identification: Identify and define root issues to ensure we are targeting the correct problem (and thus developing appropriate solutions).

Decision Making: Provide expert information to our clients for decision making.

Consistency: Develop measurable success criteria to guide and evaluate the solutions that we deliver.

Innovation: Emphasize the importance of innovation to the development process, delivered instruments of service, and built products.

Momentum: As the sum of all of the above, our critical commitment to our client is to partner with them to maintain momentum. Our highest level of success with our clients is when a project moves at a smooth pace, where all partners are enabled to work at their highest level of expertise.

Within our firm, the discussion and effort to develop these provided internal rewards. It was a valuable discussion to identify the good we have done and how to make it better… and how to make lemonade out of the lemons we have sometimes been handed (or inadvertently grown). We share these with you to perhaps use in your own growth and improvement discussions.

About the Author: Peter Briggs is a landscape architect who has an ongoing preoccupation with the business of design. For more bio information, please see:

What is the desired outcome?

We have all learned lessons through uncomfortable situations. In our digital world, email is likely the ‘unintentional’ culprit of many of these situations. Either through it’s inability to convey the full intent behind what we are trying to say, or the ease with which the ‘send’ button can be hit without taking the proper time to mull something over.

From a strange interaction with someone years ago, I came to the realization that emails without question marks don’t need to be answered. Just because we receive an email doesn’t mean we have to respond. In this situation, it was someone ranting… and while the situation was an odd one… I eventually clued in to the fact that it was a monologue in search of an audience. Any response would fuel the monologue… and it’s not a monologue that I needed.

A recent interaction where the communication attempt was poor on my part, reiterated the importance of understanding how an outcome relates to what you are communicating. In other words, asking myself intentionally, “What is my desired outcome?” The recipient clued me in that I had written an email with no true recognition of what I wanted to get out of it… or what I was offering. The intent behind it was honest, but the email failed in that it was open to interpretation. It should likely never have been an email in the first place(!), but in what I sent… there were no question marks. There was no interaction. It was me sending an email that was functionally useless because I didn’t think about the desired outcome. The unfortunate thing is that when you do that, you burden the recipient with something they really don’t need, want, or really know what to do with.

So it was a fail on my part.

  • Was it intended to make me feel better? Maybe? I don’t think so… but it did result in a more complex situation that didn’t feel good. So, actually feeling worse. And, it also spread the virus of not feeling good to someone else who certainly didn’t invite that in.
  • Was it intended to state something? Perhaps. That might be the only real reason to send an email without a question? Just sending an email that states something? Seems kind of weird though in this context.
  • Was it a bad attempt at working through something? That might be closer. It was about something quite complex to me… where I was having trouble processing it and didn’t even know where to start with spoken words. But… then it’s just the wrong choice. That’s what phone calls are for.

None of this changes the ‘reason’ behind the email, but it did mean that I likely lost all ability to receive validation of the concern and moving to the most important follow-up steps of clarification, and seeing what the shared outcome would be. When I spoke with the person after, I realized that I had created a wall that would likely not come down easily. So, not only do I have the complexity that I was seeking to address, I added the feeling of messing up. Without a pathway for closure. The unfortunate part is that there was a good intent, one founded in truly having wanted to build value.

Is there a silver lining? Well… getting a solid reminder about good communication. And, it’s certainly led to me trying to understand the situation that led up to it. It’s provided some good insights… and is a moment to grow on…

Thanks for reading. Hiding within the personal therapy are the two take-home messages of: “interaction should have question marks” and the importance of asking “what is the desired outcome?” The later is a great question for almost everything we plan and do, at all levels.


About the Author: Peter Briggs is a landscape architect who has a current preoccupation with the business of design. For more bio information, please see:

Cultural Design: Is This My Story to Tell?

This 1916 image of Frances Densmore and Blackfoot leader Mountain Chief listening to a cylinder recording has become a symbol of the early songcatcher era.

As a landscape architect, I subscribe to the idea that within our designs we are trying to convey stories. At the beginning of any effort, one of the most important questions is, “Whose story am I trying to tell?”. More important than that question is, “Is this story mine to tell?”.

For many of our designs, we are creating new stories based within the typical site programming of clients needs and wants, function, aesthetics, and the design elements that contribute to comfort and enjoyment. We are telling a story that we are creating on our own, or creating new with our clients.

The origin and ownership of stories comes to the forefront when we look to culture and tradition for elements to incorporate into our designs.

As designers, we get inspiration from all of the sources around us, and get truly excited with taking what we see and incorporating it into what we do. We might treat the whole world as a design sourcebook. The difficulty is determining whether there is any meaning behind what we see and draw from, and whether our use or adaptation of it is appropriate. Appropriate. Is it our story to tell?

From Wikipedia: “Cultural appropriation is the adoption of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. Cultural appropriation, often framed as cultural misappropriation, is sometimes portrayed as harmful and is claimed to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture. Often unavoidable when multiple cultures come together, cultural appropriation can include using other cultures’ traditions, food, fashion, symbols, technology, language, and cultural songs without permission. According to critics of the practice, cultural (mis)appropriation differs from acculturation, assimilation, or cultural exchange in that the “appropriation” or “misappropriation” refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner: elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressly stated wishes of representatives of the originating culture.”

If a story isn’t ours to tell, our telling of it will most likely have mistakes and not be true to form. If a story isn’t ours, then we either need to get permission to tell it (and the training to do so) or we work with the owner of the story to tell it with them… or ideally, assist them in telling their story within our medium (landscape and site). Within our expertise as design professionals… our success is facilitating stories to be heard in new ways.

Is this my story to tell?

**Below are some examples of some of the work we have done with our clients. I think our success in this is at the end of the day, our clients see themselves and their stories. We’re successful when we overhear our clients telling people what it is and what it means, if not stating proudly that it was their idea.**

Dena’ina Health and Wellness Center – A privacy screen based on a quillwork pattern

Dena’ina Health and Wellness Center – A cultural calendar and representation of tribal values translated from sketches into granite

Yakutat Community Playground – Clan artwork used to create a play fence representing the six local clans. They also show moiety, and history of arrival in the Yakutat area on their backs.

Yakutat Community Playground – Culture and tradition aren’t just historical, the play equipment shows current community activities such as hunting (and reading on a panel not shown)

Yakutat Community Playground – A swing with images of the ships that visit and call Yakutat home.

Sitka SeaWalk – Brick pavers and formline patterns developed with local partners to reflect the local community and Tlingit culture.

Note: The image I use at the beginning of this blog post with Frances Densmore and Mountain Chief also made me question whether “this photo is mine to use”. Other than proper usage, I thought that it might reflect colonialism or be in negative contrast to what I’m trying to say in this post. She was functionally an ethnomusicologist, and in the face of the damage of colonialism, these kinds of efforts did assist in preserving much information that might have otherwise been lost. As a designer, I’m hoping that I’m not in the same situation of trying to be helpful in the face of cultural destruction. I hope that I can assist the stabilization and growth that seems to be occurring, until there are Alaska Native landscape architects. I very much like the analogy of the “rising tide” that the Kenaitze Indian Tribe uses. Until then, I’m generally slightly uncomfortable in my role as the middle-aged white guy who is trying to listen and be of service. I think that discomfort is necessary. It means I’m paying attention.

Feeling Relevant is Important

Sokol exercises in year 1924

A part of the human condition is a desire to feel needed. The reality is that in most of our interactions, we won’t be needed… but we can be relevant. And our relevancy doesn’t need to me immediate, there is a similar benefit to thinking we can be relevant in the future.

When I interact with people, I ask enough questions to start to get a feeling for how I might be relevant to someone, and how they might be relevant to me. At a party, this could be as simple as trying to find the subject area that they love to talk about. They feel relevant through an area of their knowledge. If I’m flexible or clever enough (or they are), we find the way that our interests intersect and then we can both be relevant. I may not be a model train enthusiast, but I am interested in the modeling of landscapes. We become relevant to each other and provide mutual value.

Professionally, the people that actively try to understand my relevancy (value) create a bridge to me. I can see when people expend the effort to understand how I might help them in the present or the future, and it’s a natural inclination for us to then try to do the same for them. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. This person is filed in my brain as someone I’d like to work with.

In comparison, it is very obvious when people take no interest in you. I might find them to be interesting, and the conversation might be great, but it’s typically one-sided. I take knowledge value away from it, but I rarely take away anything more. This person doesn’t get filed in my brain as someone I’d like to work with.

It doesn’t take much effort to invest someone with a feeling of being relevant, now or in the future. At the worst you might just walk away with an excellent conversation. I like good conversations.

Awesome Leadership Development. Seriously.

I was just at the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) Pacific Northwest Regional Conference in Anchorage (my town). I’ve attended our local chapter events, and gone to a national SMPS event before.

If you haven’t been to an SMPS event, or your peers or employees haven’t… you need to.

As a technical professional (landscape architect), most of the professional development opportunities targeted at me are… well… technical. That was perfect for much of my career to date, but it doesn’t fully match the new skills that I need as I’ve transitioned into leadership and business. When that happens, us technical types typically learn through trial and error, being mentored (perhaps), reading books and talking to people.

If you want to shortcut that shotgun approach to absorbing business development and leadership training, go to SMPS. Seriously, go to SMPS! You will be surrounded by people whose goal is to develop business and people within the architecture, engineering and construction sectors. Even if you go once, you’ll find that most every session offers you something to temper your own thinking or provide you with new avenues to consider and follow.

Like any professional growth avenue, you’ll see immediate high return on investment for your exposure and knowledge. Over time, it will decrease as you begin to focus on specific needs within your professional development. Then, if not before, you need to get your staff to attend! While they might not be leaders, exposing them to this information will help you lead. It stands a strong chance of developing shared communication and semantics. If they have some comprehension of development and leadership strategies, then they may be more open to work within those ideas and at least understand what you might be trying to do.

This is not a paid advertisement. I’ve found great professional value in what SMPS offers, and I think that any A/E/C professional will find the same value. Especially if you are at a place in your career where you are in (or entering) the world of business development and leadership. I’m surprised that more technical types don’t attend their events.

At a minimum… going to one of these will help you understand your marketing and business development people, and how you can enable them to be better at what they do. And… they’re part of your front line for business success. If they are more successful, you are too.

Lastly… it’s fun. They seem to be great people who realize that relationships, networks and friends are not only key to business, but key to enjoying our time on this planet. Just be warned that if you aren’t in bed by 10:00pm, you might not get to bed. (and to be honest, I’m in bed by 10:00… I just hear the stories the next day. The stories make me feel tired. But, I also wish I had stayed up.)


About the Author: Peter Briggs is a landscape architect who has a current preoccupation with the business of design. For more bio information, please see:

The Sudoku of Site Design

Grading plan and sudoku comparison by Kristina Zalite

Grading plan and sudoku comparison by Kristina Zalite

A friend posted a grading plan on facebook and commented: “If you love sudoku and you are wanting a creative career, consider landscape architecture because site grading is real-life sudoku (with real life consequences).”

If you’ve played sudoku (or created grading plans), that’s about the best comparison I’ve seen. It also underlies how reliant on three dimensional problem solving landscape architecture is. You know where you’re starting (bottom of a hill), you know your destination (top of a hill), and you either brute force your way through solutions (trying different combinations until it works) or you have developed strategies that reduce (but don’t eliminate) the variations that you use.

This will resonate with anyone who has ever done a grading plan, and even more-so for those grading plans where you have multiple starting and ending points and you need to connect them to meet accessibility needs. For those of you that haven’t done this exercise… imagine a three dimensional sudoku game. It’s not a 3×3 grid, but a 3x3x3 grid. That’s what we’re solving on a complicated site. [ED: I’m also hoping you take a bit of pity on us… this stuff can boggle the mind.]

You also have to keep track of your solution iterations, and make tough choices on which ones are better than others as you assemble them into a cohesive plan. Balancing access, constructability, cost, aesthetics and client opinion… and what the architect is pushing for to blend with their thoughts, and the civil engineer is pushing for in their approach. Imagine playing sudoku where you have the pen, but it’s a bunch of people around you telling you how to do it.

So… landscape architecture is about aesthetics and design, but it also involves us trying to find the simplest and most graceful solution to complex puzzles under the pressure of countless variables that should be considered. When most people think of what we do, they think of planting plans. The reality is that math and strategic problem solving and client/team management are likely closer to our reality.

[ED: I love brilliant flashes of the obvious and things that help me understand (and describe) my world better. Thank you Kristina for this lovely revelation.]


About the Author: Peter Briggs is a landscape architect who has a current preoccupation with the business of design. For more bio information, please see:

“Thank You” as a Part of Your Brand

image  Thomas Leuthard cropped from original

image Thomas Leuthard cropped from original

Feeling Good About Ourselves

When was the last time that you received a hand-written note or card, where the sentiment was crafted by someone other than Hallmark? When was the last time that someone stopped to offer genuine thanks for something you did?

We often don’t remember the power of taking a few minutes of time to reach out to someone to thank them, compliment them, or otherwise add value to their lives.

When we take the time to reach out, we have the opportunity to reinforce the good that we see. When you are thanked for something you’ve done, you are more likely to do it again.

Building Your Brand

You want to be the person who is known as thoughtful. Your company/department should be remembered as having thoughtful staff. Instituting a ‘culture of thanks’ takes a little effort and support. By doing this, you reinforce your brand and create a positive atmosphere surrounding how people perceive you.

Case Study

We decided that we wanted to celebrate thanking people, make it was easy as we could, and to integrate it closely into our brand.

  • Step 1: What form would it take?
    • We like getting thank you cards, so we decided that having thank you cards on hand would be great.
  • Step 2: How does it reinforce our brand?
    • We are designers, so we wanted our card to emphasize our personality and ability:
      • Brand: With a raven as our logo, we already had a strong visual identity that we could draw upon.
      • Story: One of the reasons we chose our logo was that many cultures have stories revolving around Raven.
      • Approach: We wanted the card to be interactive so that not only would they get a thank you, they would spend a little time experiencing our card.
  • Step 3: A card.
    • Our card comes to you in a square envelope (with lots of stamps… more on that later).
    • You open it, and there is a round card  with a grommet in the center. It spins!
    • You notice that when you spin it, it shows you a word in a language that isn’t English and tells you what the language is.
    • You spin it some more, and you see that they’re mostly Native Alaskan languages, with some other languages commonly spoken in Alaska as well.
    • When you get to ‘English’, you see that the word is ‘Raven’
    • When you turn the card over, there’s a message from one of us to you.
  • Step 4: The psychology.
    • We hope that you are happy we’ve reached out to you to say something.
      • We’re trying to build and reinforce a relationship with you. We value you.
    • We hope that you see the card as something cool, and because it has a purpose/value, something you might keep.
      • You may show it to others, and expose them to our brand.
  • Step 5: Implementation
    • We have cards, envelopes and postage handy at all times.
    • We encourage staff to send these cards whenever they have an interaction that would benefit from a thank you.
    • We remind people that this includes all people, from the CAD tech who sent us a file to the Principal we had lunch with.
    • We keep a record of to whom they’ve been sent.
    • We also have Corvus Design Stickers, so we usually put one in the envelope. Everyone likes stickers, or knows someone young who does.
  • Step 6: Lessons Learned
    • We’re super excited when we go into an office and see our card on a cubicle wall. Success!
    • There are people we’d like to thank more than once, and this card would have minimal impact a second time. So, worked with a photographer to do a set of cards with winter, spring, summer and fall photos of ravens. Now we have the option of five fresh cards to send to any given person.
    • As an interesting “unintentional consequence”, we chose square envelopes because they are cool, and are perfect for a round card. Little did we know that the postal service charges $0.21 extra for square envelopes for special handling.
    • There are so many good times to earnestly thank someone. It’s a meaningful exercise for us to stop, and think about who we’d like to thank.

The Card

It’s hard to convey the card in a photo since it’s interactive, but here it is along with the sticker we include, and our branded USB drive. The USB drive is also a bottle opener, which aligns with our desire that people interact with our freebies. It’s also fun to hand to someone and say, “It holds memory… but helps you forget.”

Corvus Design Circular Raven Card, Bottle Opener USB Drive, and Logo Sticker

Corvus Design Circular Raven Card, Bottle Opener USB Drive, and Logo Sticker

What Value Will You Leave Behind?


This might be the best interview question to ask someone: if you leave us, what value will you have left behind? People move on to bigger and better things, and at some point will leave your company. The true test of how good an employee was is what value they created in your company, and successfully left behind for the company to use.

Interview advice always includes researching an employer and showing interest in them. Taking this a step further is showing a company that you have the initiative to not only do your job, but to make your employer better. It’s an active realization that companies don’t just need workers, they need people who understand the company’s mission and want to take it someplace. Employee initiative builds on the foundation of a business plan, and begins to create a place that is not just the owner’s vision… but a collective vision.

If the right employees are hired, and they are actively engaged in building such value, a real benefit is that they will be less likely to leave a company (except for bigger and better things). It creates a collective agreement that all parties are invested in one another. ‘Collective’ is an important part of that statement. It leads to the fact that the question that started this post has an equally important question the potential hire must ask: How does your company enable employees to build long-term value within it?

It’s a partnership.


About the Author: Peter Briggs is a landscape architect who has a current preoccupation with the business of design. For more bio information, please see:

Free Energy For All


I’m fascinated by the concept of think tanks. I have this vision of one of those sci-fi war rooms with glass partitions that people draw and write on to illustrate their ideas for how to stop that asteroid from destroying the earth. It’s a room of highly (dys)functional people (the ‘dys’ part for Hollywood effect… and some reality likely). All of the stereotypical movie characters are there: thinker, firebrand, action guy, lone wolf, leader, genius, wisdom. There are sparks, conflict and… alignment (usually based in an achieved grudging respect). It’s a boiling pot of intersection chaos that slowly takes form and aligns with more and more clarity. Brainstorm.

My wife asked me what my dream job would be. My response was to be with a group of people operating at their highest level of expertise. The intent of this is to work at that tension point where you have a room brimming with skill and experience, and you can achieve the cold fusion of ideas from the future.

Talking about cold fusion… where do you get your energy?

Batteries on Samsung phones have been combusting. Things might look normal, but then a bunch of protons and neutrons get excited and can’t control themselves. Boom. Burnout. The goal for a battery is to have controlled chemical reactions that release energy as needed, not less than nor more than what you need. When the battery gets low, it gets plugged in and replenished. Eventually it wears down for that graceful slide into being replaced.

We all need to have an idea about how our batteries work. How much energy can they produce? How sustainably? What peak demand can we exert on them? How do we recharge them?

I asked a friend the other night where he gets his energy from. He spoke for a while, and I needed to laugh since I realized that his response was effectively “cold fusion”. His energy comes from ideas and the opportunities that have not yet materialized. His energy comes from future possibility. He’s drawing from the future to power the present.

How do you draw from the future? The future exists purely as an idea. In order to draw from that energy, you need to be a broker or participant in the realm of ideas. There are some among us that are visionaries who have a direct connection to this, but for the majority of us… the energy that the future provides requires a chemical reaction in the present.

A chemical reaction requires something precipitating change. My friend has placed himself in a position where he has access to people and the ideas that they bring. Another way to look at this is that change occurs when two things intersect. When we optimize our ability to harness intersections, then we can begin to direct and manage change, and the intellectual result is the ability to harness ideas.

So, he harvests the energy of ideas. Conscious or subconscious, he’s not fully drawing power from the land of the future. He’s tending a farm of potential intersections where each collision creates sparks. His excitement and drive come from a knowledge that some of these sparks can then be grown into something more. His energy comes from interacting with people who also align themselves with ideas and the potential for change. It’s a bit vampiric feeding on this energy created by those around you, but… we all find our ways to contribute. Or, just get to be lucky to be along for the ride?

Where do I get my energy? Some intrinsic instinct to try to make sparks.


About the Author: Peter Briggs is a landscape architect who has a current preoccupation with the business of design. For more bio information, please see: