picking out guiding principles

image from philippe timmerman design with bird and bamboo

Picking out an actual “guiding principle” from a transcript is difficult. A guiding principle is a sub-conscious philosophy that guides how a person makes a decision. When you look at a transcript, the words “I believe,” “I think,” or “my philosophy” sometimes trick you into thinking that you’re looking at a guiding principle. But this is not always the case. Here is a perfect example. It’s a page from an architecture firm’s web brochure. The page is titled “Our philosophy.”Philosophy statement of the architecture firm Philiippe Timmerman

I’ll take it apart line by line.

  1. “Philippe Timmerman Architectural Designs [the company] is as much about an aesthetic attitude as it is about architecture and design. It is about defining and creating a …” This is an explanation/description of the company’s position in the market.
  2. “… personal lifeworld that bears the watermark of an individual style.” This is a guiding principle (or “philosophy,” as this architecture firm labels it): “Watermark every person’s lifeworld with their individual style.” I’m not entirely sure I understood what a lifeworld is. Nevertheless, it is how the firm makes decisions about watermarking their designs.
  3. “Which is why in every design, every concept, every search for an object or work of art, we strive to recreate that original sense of harmony that resonates through everything we are accustomed to calling ‘beautiful’.” This is an explanation of their process, but you could pull a guiding principle out of it thus: “Recreate a sense of beauty, harmony in each design, concept, and search.” It describes each employee’s intent as he creates his designs.
  4. “This relentless commitment to purity of design implies a similarly meticulous attention to detail.” This is a paragraph joiner–something that references the first paragraph and introduces the new subject.
  5. “We believe that details are more than mere parts but reflections of the whole: the majesty and splendor of an entire palace is contained within a single door handle.” This is a guiding principle, which can be summarized this way: “Believe details (door handle) are reflections of the whole (palace).
  6. “A concept that permeates every corner and every layer of the design and finishing is not a superficial luxury but the natural outcome of a constancy to purpose and a consistency of perspective.” This is also an explanation of their process and a reassurance that the company is constant and consistent. You might be tempted to pull “be constant and consistent” out as a guiding principle, but that’s not how this is written. The intent it to reassure the potential client that the company is serious.
  7. “At [the company], everything begins with the notion of craftsmanship.” This is also an explanation of method.
  8. “We believe in craftsmanship simple because it stands the test of time.” This is a statement of fact: craftsmanship stands the test of time. We [the firm] agree with this fact.
  9. “Knowledge and knowhow, of materials and techniques, form an unconditional but limitless source of inspiration for our designs.” Here is another thought process, summarized like this: “Look for inspiration for designs in my knowledge of materials and techniques.” It explains the reasoning an employee of the company follows when looking for inspiration.
  10. “… designs that encapsulate a personal vision of the here and now, but which also embody an orientation towards the future.” This is a statement of fact that their designs encapsulate this orientation.
  11. “For over time, beautiful objects gain in beauty; houses develop character; furniture a certain patina; and works of art can but strengthen their force of presence.” These are several statements of fact. They may say they “believe in” these SOFs, but what do they do about them? We can’t include this set of phrases in a mental model diagram because there is nothing here that guides a decision. (Note: Often the words “believe in” are a red flag for something that is not really a guiding principle.)
  12. “[The company]’s international design office comprises a team of specialized architects, interior decorators, designers and art historians resulting in a dynamic exchange of ideas and perspectives.” This describes their method, that they exchange ideas among the staff. See the next bit for the real guiding principle.
  13. “… synergies which form the basis of our unique vision on architecture and design.” Well, this is not grammatically correct, but let’s go with the flow. They are stating another thought process here, “Exchange perspectives with my varied peers on staff to gain unique vision.” This should definitely be included in the mental model diagram.
  14. “With an extensive portfolio of creations in countries such as France, Great Britain, Monaco, Italy and the United States, [the company] continues to stamp its mark on interior architecture in ways that are as diverse as our discerning clientele.” This is another reassurance to potential customers, stating that they have an extensive portfolio and discerning clients.
 Tally: Three Guiding Principles
  • “Watermark every person’s lifeworld with their individual style.”
  • “Recreate a sense of beauty, harmony in each design, concept, and search.”
  • “Believe details (door handle) are reflections of the whole (palace).”
Tally: Two Thought Processes
  • “Look for inspiration for designs in my knowledge of materials and techniques.”
  • “Exchange perspectives with our varied staff to gain unique vision.”

Put the pronoun “I” in front of each of those sentences and try them on for size. This statements run through the minds of the employees or partners at this architecture company as they execute design work.

Also note: I use the term “guiding principle” here, but also use the words “belief” and “philosophy” in other places. I mean the same thing by them: something that guides decision-making.