Web Bridges


How to read
a bridge


as art


Bridging the





People Bridges

Beam: Front Street, Vancouver

Arch: Bradford on Avon UK
Bridges are built by people for people.

Bridge builders must work with and through others - they have to work in teams.

Teams work effectively when relationships are good.

Relationships connect people - as do bridges - so I will call them people bridges.

Bridge builders have to create people bridges in order to create physical bridges.

Of course the idea of a people bridge is a metaphor.

The structure of our own personal people bridges consists of our relationships and links with others.
We maintain them through our social lives.
We build a people bridge whenever we make a new friend, or work with a new colleague.

At home, at work or in a relationship some links may be relatively straightforward - making an acquaintance at a party.
Others may be part of a complex situation - like deciding to change a job or whether to get married.

The most difficult are the relationships between companies, nations, racial and religious communities.

Just as we can span a physical divide, such as a river, with a bridge of steel, so we can span deep intellectual, emotional, religious and cultural divides, such as self interest, fear and intolerance, with bridges of understanding.

Over recent years we have seen the rise of what some call 'selfish individualism' - the idea that the individual is 'king'.
We are encouraged to believe that individual effort is the only real way to succeed.

The celebrity culture embodies this myth.

However celebrities have to recognise that they can only succeed with and through the efforts of those around them.
Just as a soccer team would not be effective with 11 players with the precise skills of a celebrity player like David Beckham so bridge building teams would not be successful if everyone was a structural engineer.

Bridge builders understand that they have to be creative in bringing together the experience, understanding and disparate ideas and skills from different groups of people.

More importantly they understand the need to value the contributions of all members of the team.

Building a bridge is a team effort so the structure of the people bridges required to build a physical bridge is the structure of the team.
Architects, structural engineers, geotechnical engineers, project managers, welders, steel fixers and many more professions and trades are involved.
The project leaders have to build a great team in order to build a great bridge.

Teams of physical bridge builders often have to form themselves quickly, be adaptive, creative and change responsively as situations change.
When it's all done they disband quickly too and move onto the next job probably with a completely different team.
This means that every specialist must know how to be a team player - without that a project will soon flounder - as some inevitably do.

'It must never happen again.'

A phrase always genuinely meant - too often repeated.

Media publicity of tragedies can be intense as people look for someone to blame.

Whether bridge collapses, undetected child neglect, errors in medical treatment, computer records lost by government officials or deaths from friendly fire in warfare, any loss of life is dreadful.
Naturally we want it never to happen again.

Unfortunately, and all too often, history does repeat itself.
Despite all kinds of enquiries including formal commissions of inquiry it sometimes seems that we want to learn the lessons but we just fail to implement them.
Tragedies just keep on occurring.

Bridge failures are no exception but thankfully they are very rare - but they do happen.

It is often a shock to many engineers after graduation and into their first job to realise that much of their day to day professional work is actually spent on dealing with messy and uncertain problems.
They are surprised by how much time they have to spend dealing with people bridges.

Builders of physical bridges depend on learning from practical experience - from finding out what works and what doesn't work.

They look for evidence that they can depend on.
They realise that they have a big responsibility for public safety - if a bridge fails then people will probably be killed.
Bridge builders tend to have a well developed ethic that values the honesty forced on them by 'mother nature' because you just cannot fool her.
Gravity will do what it does no matter what spin you put on things.
A very large part of the skill of a bridge builder comes from 'hard fought' experience.

Bridge builders have to make decisions and be accountable for them.
They must not flounder in indecision - 'on the one hand this….and on the other hand that'.
They have to give themselves time to consider their options but then they must make decisions and make them work.
Their respect for the 'honesty' of 'mother nature' means that they must change their minds if the situation demands it.
Bridge builders must know their own values, understand and appreciate quality and want to provide it.
This is a very important and often totally overlooked quality - a basic ethic.

There is a gap - indeed a gulf - between the way most of us think about people and things - in systems thinking this is called the soft and the hard.

It is a gap that needs to be bridged.
We need to find ways of 'joining them up'.
We need to think of the physical and the human as one integrated whole.

Read more about 'Bridging the gap' between people and things - between soft systems and hard systems.