Some ideas are idiotic

Some ideas are, yes, idiotic. Even some that are oft-repeated conventional wisdom.

Wikipedia (05/08/2015 revision) defines “idiot”:

An idiot (…) is someone who acts in a self-defeating or significantly counterproductive way.

An idiotic idea, then, produces self-defeat or significant counterproductivity.

Perhaps I’m an idiot. Or, yes, I am. I’ve acted in self-defeating and counterproductive ways more than once. No doubt. I welcome anyone who tells me and shows me better ways.

This, below, is an idea that I’ve found to be idiotic since I first heard it in 2003. 20 years into this now, I don’t mind calling this idiotic when I see it:


I’ve been writing about why “the demise of drawing” is idiotic since about 2007. And I’ve done actual work on this since 2009 to change software and digital media to make it less self-defeating and counterproductive, less idiotic for people who create and use digital models. That development is based on the simple concept that — like the synchronization of sound into silent film 100 years ago (two very different media, the useful purpose of each mutually amplified in fusion) — drawings and models likewise are mutually interrelated and the appropriate framework for their development is fusion, not replacement of one with the other.

I proposed this to Bentley Systems and led the team that designed and developed the drawing-model fusion that was released in MicroStation finally in May 2012. That work had some effect. I keep some examples here: It’s expanded to software platforms at different companies since then. 8 softwares, that I know of, do automated drawing-model fusion now since we did it at Bentley in 2012: Bentley, Graphisoft (in BIMx Docs, mobile), Dalux, Revizto, working together: Morpholio and Shapr3DSolidworks (since 2015), and now Tekla too.

Nowadays I’m looking for companies who want to pioneer the second generation of this concept. Gen2 is TGN. A developer specification and demo videos are on my website: TGN leapfrogs first gen implementations in two important ways:

  1. cross platform portability of attention-focusing TGN rigs within models of all kinds (share the rigs between apps)
  2. clarity and control improvements of attention-focusing rigs within models

I’m searching for software companies that want to give this a go and develop TGN rigs within their modeling apps and platforms.

It’s about the future of drawing, not its demise:

Why is “the demise of drawing” (the idea) self-defeating and significantly counterproductive?



People used to say, and some still say, “drawings are lines and arcs”, or, “drawings are dumb lines and arcs“.

See, here already is the major problem. That’s not what drawings are. They certainly contain lines and arcs, but it’s not what they are. Functionally. Practically. Conceptually. What drawings actually are, is essential:

Drawings are an expression of the act of attentive focus. An act of interpretive and communicative close study.

Let’s slow down here. Think about this and measure the weight of it.

What is the weight of the expression and documentation of the act of attentive focus?

What is the value of focus? The value of the capacity for focused attention and its communication?

A complex world, and the trouble to figure it out

We live in a complex world, a world that, it so happens, we model in our minds.

Since long before digital models, before computers and software, we model the world. We always have. Mental models, physical models, and digital models…

They are very much alike conceptually.

How are they alike?

Models are environmental, expansive, whole, large and complex, but with gaps. And they’re fuzzy. Our grasp of them has limits, is incomplete, always.

models are fuzzy

This is the way it is. It is not a matter of whether the models are perfect or not, totally complete or not. Look, the world as it is, the real world, is totally complete. Do we grasp it entirely?

In the world as it is, you could say:

“I predict the demise of attentive focus, the demise of the capacity for focus and its use. There is no need for it.”

– a self defeating and significantly counter productive person

Why say such things?

People say this about drawing because they think it’s “dumb lines and arcs” while models are higher order things, the latter replacing the former…

But that mischaracterizes both and misses the point.

  1. Models are environments. They’re not “higher order” than acts of attentive focus
  2. Drawings are a technique and expression of the act of attentive focus

Models and drawings are completely different things. Clearly they are interdependent with each other, but conceptually do they overlap? Not really. So what possible value is there in the idea that one or the other can be discarded, or that one can replace the other?

Such statements are just nonsense, really, words that mean nothing.

A short detour: a little thought exercise... Imagine the world, the real world, the earth, or the solar system if you want. Now, imagine there are no sentient beings within it, not a single soul to perceive and interpret it. No blade of grass, tree, river and fish, no cat, elephant, no person, no sensory equipment, no brain, no focusing of attention within the world. No contemplation. Does the world exist in that case? Sure, I guess. But no one would know it. It's existence would be utterly unknown. Taken to extreme the demise of one is the demise of the other.

The point here is, don't conflate these two entirely different things. The world (or its analog the model) is no successor to and does not replace focus, perception, interpretive equipment, cognition, the means of understanding. "Drawing" is interpretive equipment. It expresses the act of interpretive focus. Understanding of the model (world), is built up through repetitive engagement with an array of these acts of focused attention, within the world. 

What about software development?

When we recognize this distinction and aim better, not at models replacing drawings, but rather we aim software development at the evolution of both:

  • the evolution of model and
  • the evolution of the technique of attentive focus within models

Then we’re making more useful software.

We’ve all seen the scope of effort and money poured into the evolution of modeling. The evolution of drawing on the other hand has only just begun, the energy put into it a drop in the bucket. So far.

If your goal is to increase model utility and utilization, usefulness and usage, then put significant investment into the development of attention-focusing technique, within models.

Think about what drawings actually ARE, not dumb lines and arcs, but the expression of the imperative that says:

  • Look here and see this.
  • I’m showing you something in a way that helps you understand (traditional conventions for this are instructive, valuable).
  • I have looked here and reviewed what’s here
  • What should be shown here IS shown here. I affirm it
  • or, look here, something that matters is missing or wrong here. Fix it.

These acts of focus (imperatives) cannot exist in the abstract. They don’t appear in a vacuum. They’re contextualized within a model, within a model mental, digital, or physical.

This is the way we deal with the world, how we deal with complexity. We engage in an interplay between the world (or its models) and articulations of our imperatives and acts of attention within it. Between them, in the interplay, thinking is happening.

We even can say, without being idiotic, that the interplay IS thinking. This, consideration of the whole of an environment (a model), is a consideration played out through repetitive engagement with an array of various acts of attentive focus. Thinking about it, it occurs and even seems reasonable to posit that this interplay between the world (model) and this array of moments or events of focused attention, IS thinking. We can assert this. This interplay literally IS the basic observable dynamic of thought, that leads to effective and useful understanding of complex environments.

What thinking actually is, no one can say. Neither scientists nor philosophers are able to figure it out. Our cognition seems to lie well beyond human ability to grasp. But nevertheless, we at least can say, from observation, there seems to be some kind of back and forth happening, some kind of INTERPLAY, between world, and attentive focus. And in that play, thought happens and understanding grows.

The “demise of drawing” idea is the demise of one pole of this two pole interplay between (1) the world, and (2) our acts of attentive focus through which we interpret it. The ‘demise of drawing’ idea obliterates (2) and therefore hacks away at the root trunk of cognition itself, at worst, and if you say, well, nah, didn’t really mean it, then at best you’re ensuring a premature limit on the effective development of models, a counterproductive and self-defeating limit that suppresses/stunts model use and usefulness.

And we certainly don’t want to do that. Models are too valuable. We need to get the most we can out of them.

What do we need to understand about models, in AEC?

What are we trying to use models for? What are we trying to understand about them?

I made this graph years ago and showed it at a conference in a talk I gave around 2013 or so. I could tell when I did this that people thought I was trotting out (oh no) the Macleamy Curve (again!) which already by then had been shown by so many people at so many conferences for so many years that nobody wanted to see it again and neither did I.

It was so ubiquitous I think it became impossible to show any curve, about anything. without audience aversion: “oh no, not the MacLeamy curve again…”

So, this is not my interpretation of the MacLeamy curve, and has no relation to it whatsoever. In fact I don’t care about the MacLeamy curve anymore. We’re not in 2004 anymore, or Kansas, Toto. Everyone does modeling now. And the point is to get as much understanding out of the model as possible, or as much as is useful.

Useful for what, though, specifically? What are we supposed to understand, about models?

I answer in this graph. And I’ll explain it:

There are 2 curves, blue and red.

The blue curve is the thing you propose, that you design, then build, then operate (see the project phases across the top).

So the blue thing is the engine, the car, the house, the hospital, the tower, bridge, or road, powerplant, dam, whatever…. It’s some thing that doesn’t exist yet. It’s what you propose should exist or will exist, some new reality that doesn’t exist yet.

While you’re trying to figure out what that thing is, what that new reality should be, while you’re designing it, you’re not sure, you change your mind, the idea evolves, you develop the design. So the blue curve starts out (on the left) wobbly. After awhile (months, years, design can go on a long time depending on project scope) it stabilizes, so the blue curve straightens out.

The red curve is actual reality, the world as it IS, which has to be altered to push it toward proposed reality.

During design, the red and blue curves (actual and proposed reality) are at their furthest distance apart. During construction, you (the builders) have to bend actual reality, push on it, to bring it into conformance with proposed reality. So those are the down arrows in the diagram.

So what do you have to understand? What’s the purpose of an INTERPLAY between environment (world, model) and expressions of attentive focus? What are you trying to learn, figure out, understand, do?

  • During design you’re trying to figure out what you’re designing, what you propose to build.
  • During construction, you’re trying to figure out what was proposed, and what you have to do, specifically, to “bend reality toward the proposal.”

If you achieve these things, then you’ve understood the right things.

This is a description of the scope of required understanding. You don’t have to understand ALL things, but specifically these things.

Now check out the third phase, after construction: facility operations and maintenance.

At the end of construction, the red and blue curves meet. Actual reality comes as close as it ever will to proposed reality, and the red curve becomes, “as-built”:

It’s not the end of the story though. As soon as construction is complete, actual reality starts bending again, falling away from proposed reality again. Entropy takes over! Nature has its say and nature says its going to degrade your facility and thus maintenance is required to push back against decay and keep systems in optimal condition in conformance with designed reality. Naturally, if maintenance is not performed, over time the facility will degrade to ruin, which again creates maximum distance between actual and proposed reality. So that’s what the arrows are for during the facility operations phase: maintenance interventions that you have to perform to fight entropy and keep the red curve close enough to the blue curve.

Your attentive focus within your models are oriented to that purpose.

Let’s talk about the limits of modeling. I’ve written about this before, here Like everything else under the sun, models have both scope and limits. Let’s talk more about their limits.

The limits of modeling

You can talk about a variety of different kinds of limits you confront when working with models (digital, physical, or mental), but all of those limits result from two fundamental characteristics:

  1. models are expansive whole things that overload our ability to grasp them other than superficially. We need attention-focusing devices to help us understand them.
  2. models, by themselves, provide no means for affirmation at any particular (focused) location within them, that what should be shown there IS shown there, and that nothing that matters there is missing.

That is to say, the fundamental limits of models have to do with the limits of our ability to understand and have confidence in them. This is not a function of their incompletion or imperfection. Such conditions exist in digital and mental models, but consider the real world as a “model”. The world is totally complete, and perfect. And yet we still confront precisely these two limits to understanding and confidence, and therefore to utility.

Let’s draw a curve plotting extent of project understanding on the Y axis against extent of model completion on the X:


You see the problem? If you’re experienced building models and willing to be honest with yourself, the PAIN represented by this graph resonates with you. You can feel it.

As modeling begins, understanding rises rapidly. Great!

As model completion increases toward the right, gains in understanding slow and then approach a limit (an asymptote). Greater and greater effort put into more and more modeling delivers less and less in terms of understanding the project. The diminishing return, and finally no return, is a function of confrontation with the limits of modeling itself (1 and 2 above).

BIM industry machismo (yeah) can be observed in the determination to continue modeling with negligible gain in understanding. I should emphasize here the extent to which this kind of macho determination is now typical, though anyone who’s been in this business doing this themselves well and truly knows this already. What remains only is the extent to which they’re ready to admit it.

Let’s add the medium of drawing into the graph. Let’s call drawings “devices for looking at models purposefully“. Drawings are expression of the act of focused attention:


Drawing acts in a very energetic way to pull the understanding curve in the positive Y direction toward greater understanding:


We’re gaining two strong positives. Increased understanding (which is kind of the point). And, therefore, increased value derived from our modeling efforts:


We can adjust the slope of the new asymptote line. The angle of course will vary depending on many factors. However it’s the general effect that’s of interest, as well as the mechanism for it. I’ll describe the mechanism of the uplift in understanding.

But first, note that the more we model and draw, the more we understand! There’s a win-win situation. Our understanding still has a limit, but, the more effort we put into study through drawing and modeling, the more our understanding grows. That’s the kind of curve we need, as opposed to the earlier curve where after a certain point quite early, our efforts fail to return gains in understanding.

I add another dashed line, the horizontal dash in red:


This line is important because, for a phase of a project — design, construction, or a blend of concurrent design and construction as is the case sometimes — it indicates where the level of project understanding is sufficient, beyond which further understanding is unnecessary. If anyone balks at such an idea, suffice it to say that, for example, when construction is completed, the construction team reaches a practical limit at which it will no longer continue to invest in further understanding of the project, other than for ancillary purposes. Naturally, the owner will take over investment in understanding the built asset, but this would be represented by a new graph, with, as for the design and construction team, understanding rising through study of models and drawings in tandem, together with direct experience with the real facility.

In any case, in such a scenario, the construction team may (will) cease its knowledge investment at the red line, so modeling and drawing would cease there:


Such is the basic nature of the design, construct, operate lifecycle. And recall the previous graph showing the relationship between actual reality (things as they are) and proposed reality (things as they are designed):

These two sets of graphs are related in the following way. The purpose of drawing and modeling is to gain understanding. And the purpose of understanding is to contribute effectively in the AEC lifecycle — during design to make an appropriate and effective design, during construction to push/bend actual reality toward proposed reality, and during facility operations to keep the facility in optimal working order. It is toward these aims that understanding is directed, and beyond these aims, investment in understanding is ordinarily not funded.

The Mechanism of Understanding

So what is the mechanism of understanding? By what means does drawing pull the modeling curve toward increased understanding? How does it do this?


The answer goes to absolute fundamentals. The activity of thinking is represented by the pink arrows (next image, below). Thought, of course, produces understanding, and thought, it seems, functions through some kind of back and forth ping-ponging between the wider perceptible environment (like a model) and articulating acts of narrowing focus (like drawings). So in the graph below, drawings are developed over time (the green dash, now supplemented for emphasis by the red circles), while models are developed below the blue curve. The mind at work (the pink arrows) bounces back and forth between these and from this action, evidently, thinking happens, and understanding grows. Certainly I am no neuroscientist, and nor would anyone in the science of the study of mind presume to even begin to say how cognition works (it remains an almost total mystery). However, we can observe some of the most basic dynamics of its function: there is wide (environment), and there is narrow (focus, taking a purposeful and closer look). And these are in interplay.


In this interplay, some kind of energy is generated that results in the appearance and development of understanding, and so the blue curve is moved in the positive Y direction, toward greater understanding:


So now in the field of AEC, or in the field of software development for architecture, engineering, and construction, when one talks of jettisoning the medium of drawing in favor of the medium of modeling, then one is denying the basic observable dynamic of the growth of understanding, and hacking at the root of cognition itself. No small error indeed.

Let me give an example, a very nice one in this 35 second film clip recently posted on Linkedin by the film maker Jim Cummings. Here’s the video link.

Take a cue from this, the essence of narrowing focus and taking a closer look:

Screen Shot 2018-11-25 at 5.52.04 PM
film clip posted on Linkedin by Jim Cummings: video link

I mean, we all relate to that (the film, the experience). Viscerally. It goes right to the core of what we do when we understand anything, anywhere. We’re ping-ponging our perceptions between the wider expanse of the environmental whole of a place, and the various articulating acts that we undertake of narrowing focus and taking a closer look at something that matters (see the film). In this back and forth, meaning is formed, understanding grows. We come to know a thing, and a place.

This of course relates directly to AEC media in the sense that the wider environmental whole of a place is the model, while the articulating act of narrowing focus, to take a closer look at something that matters, is an act well and truly embodied in the medium known as “drawing”, which, by the way, has a future, and will evolve.

Note that we don’t understand one without the other. We don’t understand the closer look at the woman giving directions in the cab, without the wider environment of the city within which this narrowed focus finds its subject. And the reverse is true too; we fail to grasp and make sense of the wider environment (of the city in this case) without a continuous series of closer look events that we engage ourselves in. Our mind is drawn to clarifying moments, and orienting views high and low, large and small. The sum of these, within the context of the dynamic interplay between environment and focus – well, that seems to describe, hopefully to some useful extent, the engine of cognition.

the point is made, I think

To lop off and discard the act and technique of attentive focus, a.k.a., “drawing”, THE ACT OF DRAWING OUR ATTENTION TO SOMETHING, SOMEWHERE, is idiotic.


  • It is self-defeating in terms of our desire for increased use and usefulness of models.
  • It is significantly counterproductive to our ability to interact with, interpret, understand, and have confidence in our models.

No Offense!

No offense intended. I’m an idiot in more ways than one. I know I am.


Let’s not discard drawing or predict its demise.

Better idea: recognize it’s role and function, and see to its growth and evolution, fully applied toward the increased use and usefulness of digital models of all kinds

My proposal for the development and evolution of drawing as shareable attention-focusing TGN rigs, portable across all modeling platforms and applications, wherever TGN standard core functions are implemented

TGN developer specification download links, and demo videos are here:

The spec is free and open for anyone’s use. If anyone wants my help designing their implementation, I’m at your service. Give me a call:

Here’s a TGN features table:

And a TGN implementation map. TGN everywhere, with TGN attention-focusing rigs sharable across apps:

More understanding! Less idiocy!

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