I have always wanted to do my best for my customers, and generally, that includes doing the best for their customers. This is most readily achieved by placing oneself in the shoes of our customers and figuring out exactly what it is they need. Sometimes we do this well, but most often we are not doing this enough, but sometimes I find cases where people do this really really well. The following story is the story of a highly gifted architect named Paul R Williams.
Paul Revere Williams was a highly gifted architect and designed houses for legends such as Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball. He was born in 1894 in Memphis and by the age of 25 he had won an architectural competition and three years late at the age of 28, he had opened his own office. He had gained a reputation for being an outstanding draughtsman which was largely the reason for his success. This level of success was outstanding for a young black man to achieve in the 1920s in the USA. The levels of racism were high, Jim Crow laws were still in place and the civil rights advances of the 60s were still decades away.
To help himself he worked out a way he could fulfil the needs of his clients while also finding a route around some of the prejudice and discrimination he was up against. One of the ways this prejudice manifested was in some clients wanting to not sit next to him to work on designs in consultation. They wanted the calibre of work Williams could offer but were not prepared to treat him as an equal. Williams was not only a remarkable draughtsman but also a remarkable thinker so he thought his way around the problem and taught himself to draw upside down. This way he could sit across the desk from clients and still render his drawings for them in consultations.
Now, I do have to ask myself the question of do we sometimes go too far in trying to please our customers and clients? I have some kind of dissonance here. On the one hand, I am incredibly impressed with the solution Williams found and the dedication he had to implement it. I am also conscious of the time and world he lived in which may have not allowed any other solution which also impresses me that he had such an empathic way of seeing from his customers point of view. This can teach us a lot about placing ourselves in the shoes of our customers and clients. But, I am also askance that he even had to. See, my initial thinking is that problems are solved when you attack the right problem, but I can see that there are other ways of alleviating a problem by thinking around it and you affect the things you have control over.
The picture in the header shows the Saks of Fifth Avenue building in Beverly Hills designed by Paul R. Williams.