Tracey Mendrek, Executive Vice President

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending an Executives’ Club breakfast featuring well-known Chicago architect Jeanne Gang. While many in the audience expected a speech about architecture and the mechanics of building, Ms. Gang surprised us with a more global view. It was about building, but not in the traditional sense. Her speech included references to how her team at Studio Gang approaches a design, as well as how she has grown and built her own business over many years.

As a cutting-edge designer who is always pushing the limits of architecture, Gang also redefined some words that would more likely end up in Urban Dictionary than Webster’s.

Fluency: Learning the language of your clients

Drift: Embracing the messy process of creativity

The new definition of fluency resonated with me, not in the context of a building structure, but in the context of building personal or professional relationships. With each new client we learn a new language, work stream, culture, vision. These words, whatever their meaning, are key to communicating in a way the client understands and that demonstrates you are learning their jargon. This is a valuable lesson in extending an engagement.

A retooling of the traditional meaning of drift left me thinking of throwing pasta against the wall to see what sticks. We often “drift” when we engage with a client, creatively building a strategy to advance their message or solve their problem. It is all about creating space to see the issue from a different perspective or from a higher level.

We have all stood back and appreciated Chicago’s Aqua Tower and wondered how Gang created that soaring structure, but now we know that her approach is not that different from ours.