“Patience is not simply the ability to wait. It’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” Joyce Meyer famously once said, stressing the importance of patience, and the meaning of true patience. And there is hardly anything that can be a truer reflection of this saying than the ‘La Sagrada Familia Basilica’, Antoni Gaudi’s architectural marvel in the heart of Barcelona. A structure that has inspired generations of followers.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, La Sagrada Familia is also Barcelona’s most visited tourist attraction. Quite a special feat, especially considering that it remains a work in progress, even after 130 years of work that has gone into building it. And will continue to remain a work in progress for at least another 10 years despite the technological advances deployed in its development.
Like many tourists, I found myself floored, for obvious reasons, by the beauty of Gaudi’s masterpiece – one that stands in a league of its own, even among Gaudi’s elite works that include Parc Guell, Casa Batllo and Casa Mila. The sheer scale of the structure to begin with, combined with the intricate details that have gone into building this massive structure all make for a spectacular viewing. And the fact that this design – something many of us will have a hard time conceiving today – was envisioned by one man all the way back in 1883, was another aspect that not just struck me, but made me ask some more questions about this structure and about Gaudi.
What was Antoni Gaudi all about? What inspired him? And what drove him to the idea of building a structure as prominent as La Sagrada Familia? And how could he plan to design a structure he knew he would never see completed in his lifetime.
Knowing a little more about Gaudi and the history of La Sagrada Familia did a little more than help me find the answers to some of these questions. And soon enough, I had a whole new set of thoughts pouring into my mind. All centered around one question: What can we learn from Antoni Gaudi and his Sagrada Familia?
As beautiful and iconic as it is, La Sagrada Familia is so much more. A source of inspiration for anyone who visits this one-of-its-kind structure. And not just architects and designers, but even for someone like me who works in Advertising, which many would argue with good reason, cannot possibly carry the same distinction of building something as spectacular as La Sagrada Familia. While every visitor can take away something different from this place, here are four thoughts that stuck with me, despite the pleasant distraction offered by the beauty of La Sagrada Familia.
- Dedication to the big idea, with an eye for detail
Antoni Gaudi was only 31 years old when he took over the responsibility to design La Sagrada Familia. And he dedicated the next 40 years of his life to its design, construction and development. Years spent not just conceptualising and visualising what the church would finally look like, or the atmosphere that it would create when completed. But also over the smallest details that make up this marvellous structure. His commitment to La Sagrada Familia’s development saw him constantly switch his attention from a macro vision to the micro details.
What’s interesting here is the fact that even when Gaudi immersed himself in every small detail of his design, he never lost sight of the big picture. Something that’s easier said than done, but at the same time something that is just as important today. Especially today, when it is much easier to lose sight of the big picture while constantly looking at a quick fix. Whether it is to execute the next project, plan your next campaign or scramble to meet the numbers for the next quarter, we quite often, without intending to, lose sight of the big idea while focussing on the details.
Gaudi’s design had me asking myself. “How often do we miss out on the big picture while absorbed in the details? And how often do we miss out the details because of our focus solely on the big picture?” By extension, “Am I always able to switch between these two lines of thought enough to have not lose sight of either one of them?
- Belief and preparation in a long-term vision
Antoni Gaudi was more than aware that this was a project that would go well beyond his years. A project that he would never complete or even see in his lifetime. But Gaudi never let this thought diminish his commitment to La Sagrada. In fact, his belief in his long-term vision allowed him to plan how the next generation of architects could take his work forward after his time.
With enough plans left behind for his successors, Gaudi ensured the continuity of his design. All through simple succession planning that would see his dream one day become a reality.
Succession planning a fairly well understood term today. In fact, most organisations more than acknowledge its importance. Then why do organisations, even the most reputed ones fail at it?
One reason could be that most organisations simply fail to have a succession plan in place, even on paper. And among the ones that do have a plan, most tend to focus on a plan limited to the C-suite, while ignoring other key areas that make up the organisation. Arming your successors for success is another key aspect of succession planning. One that is easily missed out by many. It may take a very good CEO to build a good company. But a better CEO makes sure his successor is more than geared to continue the company’s growth.
When looking to build something that stands the test of time, perhaps Gaudi’s work stands a prime example. Specifically, Gaudi’s approach to how he planned his work.
- Inspiration from everything around you
If you are familiar with Gaudi’s work, you’ll notice that his biggest inspiration, was nature. And we’re not talking about just some pretty flowers or the sight of the sun setting. But everything in nature. That is what Gaudi looked at when working on his designs. The Sagrada Familia is another reflection of how Gaudi took his inspiration from nature. From the interior of the ceiling designed to reflect trees and spires bearing motifs resembling a variety of fruits to turtles supporting its columns, the Sagrada Familia is designed to give its visitors the impression of standing beneath the cover of a forest. And his inspiration from nature is also seen in many of his other works including Casa Mila and Parc Guell.
How often do we find ourselves stranded at one place, simply waiting for ‘an inspiration’? Gaudi’s work is a testament to how simple it really is to find your inspiration. More so today. When we have access to the works and stories of an entire world of people like Gaudi on our fingertips. The answer to finding your true inspiration is not one that is universal. What inspires me may not inspire you. But Gaudi’s work is an example of how simple finding our inspiration can really be. If we only care enough to look.
- Embracing uncertainty
The Sagrada Familia was more than just an architectural design for Gaudi. His aim was to build a church that would engage and hopefully, inspire a lot of generations that followed. And his design was the result of a long trial-and-error process, where he modified his design. With each modification taking him one step closer to his perfect design.
This seems like a process we are all familiar with. Unfortunately, it’s a process that comes with its set of frustrations and disappointments. Start a project. Give it everything you have. Your supervisor doesn’t like the idea. Start the project again. Give it everything you have again. Your supervisor gives your idea a new spin. Start the project once again. Give it everything you have, once again. Your client doesn’t approve of your idea. And we’re back to the drawing board with ‘Start a project’. Sound familiar? Of course it does. It’s a process we’ve all been a part of. It’s a process that has driven us to frustration more times than we can care for. But as frustrating as it can be, it is a process like this that is more likely to lead to a far superior end-product than you otherwise would. And it does makes sense when you think about it. Your supervisor is most likely far more experienced than you are, which means his suggestions come from a seasoned eye. Your clients know more about their products than you do, which makes their suggestions and decisions that much more critical. Which is what makes this uncertain cycle a necessary part of getting better at whatever we do. If we are open to getting better. If we are willing to admit that we can get better at what we do. And above all, if we are willing to embrace this cycle even through the cloud of uncertainty it holds.
These all may seem like ideas we already know of. At least in theory, with a host of books and articles written about each point I’ve tried to make. But Gaudi was able to follow these ideas even before they became a part of the commonplace dialect. Just another reason why Antoni Gaudi, and his Sagrada Familia, at least to me is more than just a revelation. The La Sagrada Familia is in so many ways, as a good friend put it, ‘Something to aim for’.