Mentees, not manatees

I was recently fortunate enough to find myself invited to a webinar/workshop where I was introduced as an “expert” and mentor. Now I’m fairly happy for people to call me whatever they like, so long as it’s not too rude, but expert is not something I have ever felt comfortable with. When it comes to the niche world of BIM there are, in my honest opinion, rather too many “experts” around. After all, not everyone can be an expert in their field, surely? Where are all the “enthusiastic journeymen” or even “keen amateurs”? In fact, the term is so overused as to be in danger of becoming rather meaningless. It has become like the “Celtic arm ring” tattoo equivalent, that looked great in Bali in the 90’s when no one else had one, but is so mainstream these days that it can be more of a talking point NOT to have a tattoo.

Arm ring tattoos: so passé.

So if we are not to introduce all knowledgeable BIM peeps as “experts”, then what should we be introducing them as instead? Well, here is a suggestion; although it is only a suggestion. How about we just do away with all the guff about how “Mr So-and-so was the first person in the world to export an NWC file”, or “Ms Blah-de-blah is frequently invited to perform parlour tricks to government ministers” and let the audience judge the value of the content for themselves? Why? Because it is my considered opinion, having sat through a few of these things in my time, that the true “experts” of any given BIM situation spend far too much of their time attempting to unravel the Gordian Knots they frequently confront on their projects that they simply haven’t the time to fanny about with putting fancy Powerpoint slideshows together. You are as likely to find genuine expertise in the audience at such events as on the stage talking about it.

So back to where I started with this. A webinar thing. What with the COVID-19 apocalypse, the industry, which previously comprised of a calendar filled with copious networking events, seminars, lectures and summits, culminating in the “Burning Man festival of BIM” that was Autodesk University with its annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas, was completely wiped out. If there was any silver lining to this great, black cloud of the pandemic, it is that far fewer people have been subjected to the merry-go-round of unrepresentative award ceremonies, snake oil salesmen soapbox events and theory lacking in practical application that has been a feature of the growth of BIM. Many senior IT/CAD/BIM/digital whatever saleswankers have been prevented from attending their annual get togethers on the company Dime. And, guess what? Has the push for BIM upskilling and usage fallen behind globally by a whole year? I guess we will know for certain as 2021 progresses, but something tells me that this whole experience, as painful as it has been for so many people due to furloughs and staff cuts, it should have become abundantly clear that the parasitical relationship between software vendors via the preferred vectors of IT/CAD/BIM/digital departments, is not only unhealthy but entirely superfluous to meaningful progression and uptake of BIM throughout the AECO industry.

Something we can all do though, and something that does add value and meaning, both to teacher and pupil, is mentoring. If all of those “enthusiastic journeymen” and “keen amateurs” were to each find a suitable BIM professional mentor to take them under their wing, and those mentees were to go on and do the same once suitably experienced, the whole upskilling and knowledge cock-block that is the most frequent accusation foisted upon BIM advocates as the reason why “Design Department A doesn’t do BIM” would be progressively overcome.

But do remember one thing; it’s mentees, not manatees.