Definition from Dictionary.com:
bricolage/ [bree-kuh–lahzh, brik-uh-]
noun, plural bricolages / [bree-kuh–lah-zhiz, lahzh] bricolage.
1. a construction made of whatever materials are at hand; something created from a variety of available things.
2. (in literature) a piece created from diverse resources.
3. (in art) a piece of makeshift handiwork.
4. the use of multiple, diverse research methods.
Earlier this year we had a dozen detectives from a variety of local law enforcement branches over to our office. They had come for a quick training and strategy session on how to best deploy some of the 3d Imaging equipment that theyve amassed over the last few years. During the training a detective was being coached through capturing a mock accident scene. In the middle of the event he asked a legitimate question to one of our team members. So what do you do when you cant record the target or scene with the technology? Our teammate looked at him with an honestly confused expression on her face and said I dont get it, you always find a way to record the target. The answer amazed me and I realized just how well our team has been developed.
It wasnt until a few weeks later that I was able to describe this mentality and ability with a term: bricoleur.
The term was introduced to me during a presentation at a Vistage meeting. Vistage is a national group with local chapters comprised of business owners, leaders and executives. It exists with the purpose of developing better leadership skills and qualities through peer advisory groups and executive coaching. One of the benefits of this group is exposure to a variety of speakers that focus on business and personal development in some form or another. The presenter for this session came from an impressive military background and championed the skill of bricolage as an imperative trait for success in business and combat. If youre having a hard time wrapping your head around this as a skill, just think about the King of Bricoleurs: MacGyver.
Heres how it works for us:
Out in the field our teams constantly use their heads to invent creative solutions. Thats apparent by looking in our equipment locker and noting all the custom brackets, targets, mounts and knick knacks that are now standard operating equipment. Id venture to say that we have more custom solutions for our equipment than store bought. Theres only one rule that I make sure everyone knows and follows do not compromise safety (of equipment and personnel) or quality.
The office isnt void of bricolage either. Theres a reason we run over 30 different software platforms and its because the team is encouraged to explore new approaches to our workflow. If you can put together a compelling proposal that includes a new software to increase our effectiveness, we run a demo. If it looks like there is a good chance that were going to see tangible results, we buy it and task the team member with development and utilization scenarios. Sometimes it works out and becomes everyday software. Sometimes it gets shelved. Every time it makes us better than we were before.
Having a team of confident Bricoleurs can also strengthen the operating capacity of a company when key decision makers arent available. In a recent project we were tasked with producing a Revit model from scan data, which didnt seem too unusual. It was an intense industrial facility but weve executed this type of project before and so we started down the path. It just happened that I was also heading out of town for a rare vacation that would put me out of contact with the office for a week. As I was leaving the office we found out that the client wanted a level of Revit model that far exceeded anything done in the past. I wasnt sure if we could even produce it without committing months of resources and redundant modeling tasks.
Like most managers I wanted to be in the game, but I knew my wife would have my head if I didnt get to the airport pronto. In my absence the team chased down potential software platforms, experimented with new workflows and came up with a solution that might put us over budget, but would accomplish the goal. When I got back we refined it a bit and put the plan in motion. It worked flawlessly and in fact, empowered us with a new Revit capability that allows us to produce models at an incredible rate with amazing functionality.
Pay attention, bricolage as a trait is all around you. Its easy to cultivate if you trust your team and put together some guidelines. If you dont have faith in your team this might just seem like letting the inmates run the asylum but I doubt youll have to worry about it for very long, companies with leaders that embrace bricolage are growing fast.