I always cringe when the architectural metaphor of a “blueprint” is applied in global development. As in reports like “PEPFAR Blueprint: Creating an AIDS-free Generation.” So static, so centrally planned, so mechanical. Not an image befitting the dynamic system that characterizes so much of work aimed at improving lives and livelihoods in low-income countries (or anywhere else).

So, when I happened to find myself flipping through Matthew Frederick’s 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School (MIT Press, 2007), I did not think it would shed any light on my work. (I was looking through the book only because one of my kids is expressing interest in architecture as a career, and I wanted to understand what the training entailed.)

Then I stumbled on Lesson 29, which counsels architects to adopt a practice that entails (quoting here):

1.Seeking to understand a design problem before chasing after solutions;

2.not force-fitting solutions to old problems onto new problems;

3.removing yourself from prideful investment in your projects and being slow to fall in love with your ideas;

4.making design investigations and decisions holistically (that address several aspects of a design problem at once) rather than sequentially (that finalize one aspect of a solution before investigating the next);

5.making design decisions conditionally – that is, with the awareness that they may or may not work out as you continue toward a final solution;

6.knowing when to change and when to stick with previous decisions;

7.accepting as normal the anxiety that comes from not knowing what to do;

8.working fluidly between concept-scale and detail-scale to see how each informs the other;

9.always asking “What if . . . ?” regardless of how satisfied you are with your solution.”

I ask you: Could there possibly be a better description of the discipline of development?