135: ‘Realizing the Potential’, with Nathan Miller

A conversation with Nathan Miller.

135: ‘Realizing the Potential’, with Nathan Miller

Nathan Miller of Proving Ground joins the podcast to talk about the importance of maintaining a critical view when it comes to tools and technology, the need to evaluate new technologies and innovations carefully to determine if they align with the desired goals, the value of balancing established experience with new advancements and fostering bi-directional learning between innovators and experienced professionals, the challenge of navigating the constantly evolving nature of technology and architectural design, the importance of learning from previous projects to drive continuous improvement, and other topics.

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135: ‘Realizing the Potential’, with Nathan Miller
Nathan Miller of Proving Ground joins the podcast to talk about the importance of maintaining a critical view when it comes to tools and technology, the need…

Episode Transcript:

135: ‘Realizing the Potential’, with Nathan Miller

Evan Troxel: [00:00:00] Welcome to the TRXL podcast. I'm Evan Troxel. In this episode, I welcome Nathan Miller back to the podcast. Nate is the founder of Proving Ground, a digital transformation agency, and he specializes in collaborating with designers and builders to implement digital strategies for reducing waste, enhancing creativity and making better decisions about the built environment. In addition to developing new software, like the popular LunchBox plugin for Grasshopper and Dynamo, Nate frequently publishes writings about digital business practices, critical evaluation of technology trends and ethical considerations influencing the adoption of new technology in the construction industry.

There's also a very useful weekly workflow series running over at the Proving Ground blog, showing off how to implement their machine learning tools and LunchBox plugins, for example, that caught my eye a couple of months ago. You should definitely check it out by following the link in the show notes.

Today, we discuss the [00:01:00] importance of maintaining a critical view when it comes to tools and technology, the need to evaluate new technologies and innovations carefully to determine if they align with your desired goals, the value of balancing established experience with new advancements and fostering bi-directional learning between innovators and experienced professionals, the value of navigating the constantly evolving nature of technology and architectural design, the importance of learning from previous projects to drive continuous improvement, and other topics. So without further ado, I bring you my conversation with Nate Miller.

I would love to just talk about proving ground. I'd love to talk about kind of how you got, because the last time we talked we didn't talk about that as far as I remember. I mean, it was, it's a fuzzy time in history, I think. But, um, I remember us talking about C O V I D and just like, it was great [00:02:00] to have a conversation.


so like, wherever it goes is wherever it goes. Uh, I don't, I don't actually like to set an agenda up front, but I would like

to show, you know, talk about what you're doing and you're, you know, you're doing the Lord's work, I'm sure.

Nathan Miller: Well, well, we can, we

can, um, we can let the listeners decide if, um, you know, in 20, we did the first one in 2020. Now we're in 2023. Has Nate become more or less anxious and unhinged in this, in that, in that time span? Um, 'cause it doesn't really seem like crisis. The crisis of, of world events has really ever gone away,

Evan Troxel: No,

Nathan Miller: you know? it's just sort of been like,

Evan Troxel: Just a

different version.

Nathan Miller: more,

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Nathan Miller: just Yeah. Different versions, more of them. And so

your listeners can be like, whoa, we thought, you know, he was on the edge in 2020 and now he's really, he's really taken the plunge, [00:03:00] um,

Evan Troxel: I,

I read something Nate that was like, uh, you get like more and more anxious and I know, maybe angry, maybe like questioning until like age 55 is like the, the, the culmination of all that. And then, and then it just gets better and it's like, it's some, something happens, you know? I'm sure that's just like some number that

is an average, but

Nathan Miller: Well, it's like reaching the top of a rollercoaster.

You're, you're like, you're at the top. You're like, okay, I'm just going to, I'm, I'm 55 now. I'm just gonna coast.

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Nathan Miller: I'm on my way down. is all someone else's problem,

Evan Troxel: To hell with it. Yeah.

Nathan Miller: Yeah, that's right. That's right. Well, that's, it's, you know, I'm getting there.

I, I think this is all, this is, this is good to have a, have a convo. I, I turned 40 this year. Um, and I think that's, that's like, it's like, I didn't think it would mean too much, but it's kind of like in the back of your mind I'm like, oh, I'm, [00:04:00] I'm not in my thirties anymore.

Evan Troxel: we right.

Nathan Miller: and I think about, I think about technology and the, the space that we operate in and, you know, you're always told, uh, at least I always felt like, you know, when I was first getting into the, the. The architecture and computational design scene. You know, you'd have the, you know, the, the, the project, you know, the senior project manager principal talking about, oh, he's, he's into the new stuff. It's a, it's a young person's game,


Evan Troxel: Yeah. Yeah.

Nathan Miller: And now I'm like the, I'm, now I'm kinda get to be that, that older guy.

I mean, like,

Evan Troxel: Yeah. Yeah. You, you're still an emerging professional. You're still a, you're still a youngster in, in the architectural profession. You have to, like, you have to have some serious gray hair to be considered senior. Anything, you know,

Nathan Miller: um, between you and me, I don't think I'll ever have gray hair[00:05:00]

Evan Troxel: just between


Nathan Miller: as, as you can, as you can, as you can tell, as you can tell from my haircut. I don't know. It could be gray right now.

I, I wouldn't know.

Evan Troxel: Oh,

Nathan Miller: I wouldn't know.

Evan Troxel: it's like I grow my beard out. I don't actually, my wife won't allow it, but uh, when I, when it pokes out, it's like, whoa, there it's just white man. Like, what


Nathan Miller: Yeah, that's right.

Evan Troxel: What happened? Where'd that come from? Oh my God. Yeah. It's, it's, uh, it's eyeopening at, at that point,

Nathan Miller: Sure.

Evan Troxel: actually feel it.

So anyway, yeah. Let's talk about proving ground. Let's talk about what you've been up to for the last three years, two and a half years since we talked. I mean, that was a, that was an episode for the, for the books that was like solid covid time. We were just like getting our feet back under us. And I mean, so much has happened since then.

And you are creating order out of chaos, [00:06:00] which is the a e c tech sphere and maybe just the architectural profession in general, but like you, the tools that you make, the training that you provide. You know, you go in and, and, and you kind of do these assessments on firms and you, you're, you, you've always been kind of the champion of digital transformation when it comes to architecture using technology to, its, to its benefit.

So, I mean, let's. Let's talk about roofing ground. Let's talk about Nate Miller, who is the, the founder of, and the team behind what, what you're working on.

Nathan Miller: Sure. Yeah. You know, it's proving ground turned eight years old

as a company, um, this year. Um, and, and before that, you know, if you, if I really rewind the clock, proving ground was a blog,

Evan Troxel: Right. . That's right.

Nathan Miller: to like, even to this day, you know, there's that blog element to it. And, you know, if, I think if I, if I really think back to [00:07:00] what, what really motivated, I guess that initial genesis was, you know, maybe a. Idea of a, a question on what can technology really do

to benefit the building design? Originally, the building design process. 'cause I was a designer at the time,

and you know, as, as we all know, when you're a designer, that's all you can think about is design. Um, and, uh, and it becomes kind of your

whole world. But I think we've kind of broadened the scope, uh, quite a bit in more recent years as we've been thinking about construction and, and operations. Uh, but it, it really did start as a, as a way to sort of, and this is I guess the, the, name of, of the company and, and previously the blog, you know, to prove that this stuff, this new stuff, technology and computation and, you know, uh, tech, [00:08:00] uh, being the umbrella term can actually transform how we work to, uh, tort, you know, to a better. Kind of state,

um, whether it's better design, um, a better construction process or a better, uh, lifecycle management of, of the, our, the building. Um, and when, when I first was like getting into this space, you know, the blog really was more of a journal than anything else. You know, you kind of have a set of, of, of, interest areas like, oh, what if you had a grasshopper definition help you plan your building?

And like, what would that look like? You know? And, and the, you know, you could actually probably go back to some of those early posts where it's like, oh yeah, you could probably do something with, um, novel uses of tessellation and, and figure out relationships between kind of auto-generated geometry

and, you know, think about planning that way, or you're using [00:09:00] something like, You know, one of the, one of the OG grasshopper plugins, kangaroo, maybe can we actually use a physics engine to help us solve, you know, how spaces might come together in, in some way.

Right? And so it really was like this, this, um, this journal or diary of of experiments, which eventually became, oh, I'm gonna write my own plugin. Um, now, and, you know, either the first one I wrote was a plugin called Slingshot, which was all about sending data out of Grasshopper into a database and then lunchbox, um, which if I rewind the clock, I think that was like 20 10, 20 11, uh, when the first

release of Lunchbox was out. Um, and that one, that one was derived from, like, I just wanted to go. In some ways it was kind of driven by. I just want to be able to get through this competition as fast as possible, because I know I'm gonna be doing paneling systems and I know I'm gonna be doing [00:10:00] a lot of complex geometry and structure. So can I create a plugin that will help me get through this without having to reinvent it every time? And

that's what, you know, that's what Lunchbox became. Um, and you know, if I then kind of look at our current state, um, what I like to think, uh, proving ground has become, you know, we're a company now, which is very different than someone sitting in front of the, the computer writing a blog.

Um, but a lot of that original, that sort of original kind of thinking from those days where you're experimenting or asking questions, you're looking at what can What can a building design and construction and operations process look like? Um, if we were to employ certain techniques or technologies, um, has really been a driver for a lot of our work today. And, you know, that's kind of turned into different forms of service. You know, you mentioned the strategy side, which is super important. I'd like to [00:11:00] actually talk a lot about that, um, because it, it feeds into maybe some peripheral subject matters related to what we're seeing happening today with generative AI and all that other stuff.

And a lot of people are asking a lot of questions right now in their

practices, like, what, what is this gonna do? Um, but you have the strategy side. You have, you know, building, continuing to build tools. Um, we've productized some of them and that was really, I guess, I. That really started in 2020. in some ways, that was a,

that was a survival instinct in, in some ways when, 'cause we didn't know what was gonna happen.

And um, all of a sudden our tr our in-person

training and in-person workshops and, and

strategy Just like went away.

And so we needed to think about, okay, how can proving ground start to put itself out there in new, in different ways? And that led to a segment of our stuff becoming more product productized and then different [00:12:00] kinds of service, which allowed us

to, to do what we do, um, in a capacity that didn't require us to be in the room physically.


Evan Troxel: right. There's a lot there. I mean, I, I even think back to what you were, where you started with this online journal basically, and I, I, my question is like, how did you decide to make that a public journal versus a private journal? Because I think there's a, we've see it all the time through you're, you're in a position where you looking at firms and you're seeing the duplication of effort in every one of these firms, and I think one of the big reasons of the duplication of effort is people are not publicly dreaming about this stuff.

They're not publicly talking about this stuff, and so therefore, they're in their own silo. Maybe they're looking at what other people are doing, but because the majority don't publicly put out there what they're working on in the sense that you did with proving ground on the blog, I think that's just a very different approach.

Why did you decide to go that route [00:13:00] instead of keeping it to yourself?

Nathan Miller: You know, that's a really good question. Um, I, I don't know if I know the exact answer to that. I, I, I, I first started the blog right as I graduated from school. Um, and at the time it wasn't even called Proving Ground. It was just like, I, I heard of people starting, you know, blogs I had done, like I. This has taken me way back, but pre, pre-Facebook days, you know, I was

all, I was like, what was it called?

Live Journal.

Um, I was doing that, uh, when I was in college, uh, ear, early days of college. And, um, know, the Facebook became really popular when I was in college. And so in some ways I feel like that maybe just instilled a bit of like, okay, um, in order for, you know, if I think about where the world was going how street cred, [00:14:00] um, and career and things like that, maybe taking us, you know, where that might be going.

It's gonna be online. And so in some ways the starting a blog was, it served two purposes. One, for my own sake, I could track what I was doing and, you know, maybe if there were some, some idea of trends and. In, the work that I was doing and what that would be. Um, but there was also this idea that, um, you know, you could, you could kind of make a name for yourself by

putting, putting things out there, especially if you're doing things that were really, really new.

And at the time, tools like Grasshopper, um, were really, really new.

And, um, there was, there was a bit of a, in those early days of Grasshopper, and I think that it still persists to this day. It's very community driven type of tool.

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Nathan Miller: And I remember when it was in the first days [00:15:00] of beta, you had a Google, a public Google group where if you wanted to learn anything about Grasshopper, that was the only place you could get any information because you had David Rutten writing the software. He was, he was like almost building an airplane while he was trying to figure out where to land it, you know?

Evan Troxel: yeah. Right.

Nathan Miller: Um, and then you had all these people, like contributing ideas and throwing in example files, throwing in files that were needed for debugging. And, you know, you don't want to, I think in that context, you don't wanna be the person to be like, okay, I'm gonna take all of this and make like this really private thing. Um, you wanna like, absorb that information and put something else out there so you can maybe help shift and shape that community in some ways.

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Nathan Miller: And I think that that was really a big driver, um, for, for that. I think the idea of community, the community driven

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Nathan Miller: of the tools that I were, I was using in combination with, [00:16:00] um, just a general cultural ethos around putting yourself out there in, in the, you know, right, right.

As social media was becoming Super, super, um, popular, um, you know, gave, gave me that, that kind of platform with proving ground. Um,

Evan Troxel: it, it's also where, where it seems like the, you, you found your tribe, right? I mean that, that that's the idea of an online community. But, but you, there's so many other people kind of in your cohort that I would assume kind of came out of you finding those people in that location online.

Nathan Miller: sure. I mean, I think, I think so. I mean, there's, there's the, you know, the, it, if, I think, if I think back to. You could almost get really specific here with, with the Grasshopper stuff, but the original [00:17:00] like kind of plugin cohort that we're putting out tools, uh, I think to this day are among the most popular.

You have, we mentioned Kangaroo earlier by Daniel Piker.

Um, you had, uh, Firefly, uh, authored by people like Andy Payne. You have, um, you know, there, there are some that I, I don't know if they've quite continued on. You know, I think about, you know, stuff like late the, I think more recently like the ladybug tools that kind of, you know, it's afford a few, a few more years, but you know, it's now one of those kind of staples

of, of the, uh, the workflow. And then I'd like to, you know, put Lunchbox in there too. You know, it's just,

it's become those things like when people get Grasshopper and people get Rhino, they get those plugins I just mentioned. Parallel with it,

um, because that's what, you know, in some ways gives it, its, um, its juice.

Um, [00:18:00] more, more than what's available outta the box.


Evan Troxel: Especially for architecture, right? I think that, yeah, there's, there's some key words when it comes to Grasshopper that are the plugin names that you're mentioning, right? There's others out there as well, like human ui or, I mean, there's, there's a bunch of examples,

Nathan Miller: Human ui. Yep.

Evan Troxel: I mean, it, it's, it's one of those things where in architecture circles, there's kind of the usual suspects of, of grasshopper plugins like you talk about.

And I mean, I don't know if they go beyond that. You would know better than I would, um, being the author of it, but, but, Architecture specifically kind of relies heavily, especially I would assume in in school, like in in really like form finding design exploration where everybody's a designer. Those are gonna be kind of the, the plugins that get passed around more than more than others.


Nathan Miller: Yeah, no doubt. I mean, like it, I, I think one of the things that has been very surprising, take Lunchbox [00:19:00] as an example. Every now and then I'll get pinged on LinkedIn or, um, some, you know, directly through email of someone saying what they're doing with the, the students, because I, I really have no insight into any

anything that anyone does.


Evan Troxel: you're not creepy like that. You're, you're like, I wanna see exactly which ones they're clicking on and how they're using 'em. Yeah. It's all phoning home. Yeah. That doesn't happen.

Nathan Miller: yeah, yeah. And, and so, and so for, for context, I am like, I'm pretty against a lot of that.

So, um, even, even with our product stuff, um, if anyone is interested in Knowing that side of the philosophy, we don't track anything. Um, and, and so the only way I know if someone's doing something cool with it is that they, you know, say, Hey Nate, look what I made. But to the original point, um, I've, I've had people that are designing automobiles, showing me something they did with Lunchbox,

and I was like, you're [00:20:00] using Lunchbox, pa like the paneling stuff to do a cool pattern on like a Ford. Like what?

Or you know, some other, uh, and then, and then, uh, I, I saw one pop up on Instagram.

I got, this was a couple of years back when we first released some of the ML tools for Lunchbox. And someone had cobbled together, like a self-driving, like a virtualized self-driving car. Basically a car that figured out its way through a racetrack using some of the ML tools. I was like, what

Evan Troxel: What a moment. That's so cool. That's so cool.

Nathan Miller: And, you know, and it was, I don't even know if it was like, was it a stu It may have been a student, it may have been

Evan Troxel: Yeah,

Nathan Miller: some researcher, but I was like, you could, I'm like, I had no idea you could do that with the, the tools that I made. And that's actually one of the more gratifying aspects of,

a lot of it is like if you put something out there, you made it for a particular purpose for yourself.

[00:21:00] But then when it becomes that you never intended or became or becomes something that it's another author clearly put their stamp on it, I think it becomes way more interesting, um, because of that.

Evan Troxel: Yeah. Yeah. And, and you guys have gone down that road now with, with conveyor and Semantic and Tracer and, and so I mean, that was maybe your first foray into productizing digital technology, a piece of software, right. And, and that's led you down this path, like you said, that was kind of kicked off when.

You started when, when Covid happened because of the uncertainty of all the in-person work that you were doing as well. So let's talk about, let's talk about some of those tools before we get into the strategy side, because I know you, you, we bookmarked the strategy stuff. I

definitely want to get there.

So let's get this, the product stuff taken care of. But I, the tools that you guys have developed and released as products are absolutely incredible. And [00:22:00] like I said, you're kind of creating, um, some calm in this world of chaos, helping people get their stuff from one tool to another or visualizing their data or making useful tools, let's just call it that, that, that handle a bunch of different scenarios.

But maybe you can go through some of those.

Nathan Miller: sure. Yeah. So, um, the, the tools we're talking about here, um, and we can go through each one, uh, very briefly. The conveyor, semantic and tracer are the three, um, tools that we have available on PG apps, our proving ground apps, and those were all born out of services initially. Um, they were tools or the bones of them were tools that were used to solve a real world problem that we as, um, consultants were encountering. Um, whether it had been a building or helping someone compose a dashboard or synthesize some data. [00:23:00] And at a certain point we realized that, hey, some of this stuff might be valuable as a generalizable toolkit. Um, and I think conveyor is the first example of this. Um, the problem of interoperability between different design applications has been an area of interest of mine for, for, for years. Um, if I go back to like rewind the clock to the early days of lunchbox and. You know, 20, you know, two, between 2009 and 2011, I was working on a, a stadium at M B B J, and I think it was one of the first documented use cases of Grasshopper at such a large scale.


Evan Troxel: Right?

Nathan Miller: we, we were trying to parametrically solve this exterior and kind of interior seating bowl of the stadium with, with grasshopper and kind of computational methods, uh, just to get us in some ways just because we had to, we had to get our way through the project. And, but there was like [00:24:00] this other conundrum with that workflow that we had to figure out was, you know, we're doing this all in RiNo, but we needed to get it over into Revit

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Nathan Miller: because that's, that's what our firm was using. That's what M B B J was using and continues to use and many other firms are using it.

But we had no like path. To, to get there. There was basically some, at that time we were like looking at novel ways of using SS a t, like automating s a t exports and, and imports in just to get the documentation set, get some drawings out. that kind of woke me up to the fact that all of the systems that we use in this industry are not very well integrated with each other. And if we think about the time waste that occurs during a design process, there's a good chunk of that is in figuring out how you can move information, um, and data between these, these platforms that we need to use. Um, and I [00:25:00] have a very I guess shop mindedness to me. You know, if I, if I think about a, a shop, I have different tools for different purposes and I'm gonna grab the tool that's best for the job.

I'm not gonna try to screw something in with a hammer. I'm not gonna try to like saw something off with, um, you know, pair of tin snips. You know, you, you want to pick the right thing. And so I always wondered like, why can't we have that kind of mentality with our tools?

And the thing that prevents a lot of that is like, okay, well if I use Rhino over here for this purpose, somehow that needs to jump over into Revit to do something else.

And maybe it needs to go over to analysis software to do something else. And so, um, shortly after I left M B B J and joined Case, um, which was the company I was with, um, consulting Group out of, out of New York City, um, in case any, uh, are familiar was acquired by WeWork, which is why Proven Ground is a company now exists. [00:26:00] Long, uh, long, long path there. But we were interested in, you know, a kind of similar set of, of things. We started to look at different integrations, um, between these softwares. I was building up different solutions. One was called Rhino Mo, which was a Dynamo Rhino


Evan Troxel: right.

Nathan Miller: at the time.

Um, and then as proving ground got started, we got put onto a couple of projects.

One was the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, currently under construction. And it looks phenomenal. Um, it's taking a long time, but it looks phenomenal. Hats off to that team for what they've done. And the American Museum of Natural History by, uh, studio Gang, uh, was another one that we were involved in.

And these two projects had, um, challenged us. At the time it was just two of us, some really small team at proving ground to figure out a way that how we can officially move this hyper complex geometry, [00:27:00] um, seamlessly between these applications and do it in a way that didn't necessarily require us to be at the, in the driver's seat because we needed to hand the workflow off to

a team.

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Nathan Miller: And that's kind of where Conveyor was born. We, we needed to figure out a way for these geometries to transfer, assuming the end user knew nothing about Grasshopper, assuming that there wasn't necessarily an advance, like what we would call an advanced modeling toolkit, but maybe a, you know, a generalized modeling, uh, skill set around knowing how to manipulate Rhino models and knowing how to manipulate Revit models using more, more of the conventional tools. And that's where Conveyor kind of situated itself and we kind of built, started building up this toolkit that allowed for that to occur. And right now it's, um, know, kind of grown to a point where a number of of practices have adopted it as kind of their enterprise wide solution, which is [00:28:00] really cool.

They're like, Hey, all of our designers use Rhino. All of them use Revit. If you're that kind of firm that is using those tools primarily Conveyor kind of becomes a way for them to stitch those two together and, and offset in some ways the, um, the necessity for the advanced, you know, grasshopper toolkit that is oftentimes as much as powerful as it is, can also be, become a barrier and cause a bit of a digital divide in an organization.

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Nathan Miller: And so we're, we're trying to figure out how we, how we bridge that with conveyor.

Evan Troxel: And it's like, what makes this easy? Right? Like you, you talked about those other layers of complexity that not everybody's gonna get into. And so dialing it back to geometry and, and maybe some data from this major application to this major application. Without the grasshopper, without the dynamo part, how do you make, what, what would this look like if it were easy to get geometry between these two?

[00:29:00] And you've created an interface that allows that to happen.

Nathan Miller: That's right.

And, you know, I think the other, the other thing that's, that's fun about that project and, and product. Um, I, I think about it as a project. 'cause a project is something that's ongoing. A product

always feels so final. Um, in some ways I think about these things as projects. 'cause they're, they're always kind of going,

Evan Troxel: software's never done. Yeah.

Nathan Miller: yeah, it's never, never done But, um, one of the things that became really fun, I think in, you know, post 2020, getting into 20 21, 20 22, is that Rhino Seven came out and the McNeil folks had developed Rhino inside, um, which introduces the of the, the, the, the ability to directly integrate Rhino into another application and Rhino inside Revit is like their, you know, in some ways a flagship example

of like, Hey, you can now launch Grasshopper [00:30:00] within Revit and do with Grasshopper similar things that you might have been doing with Dynamo. Um, oh, and by the way, it starts to solve some of the interoperability challenges between these platforms 'cause they're now kind of directly linked. Well, that became really fun for us because not only did they kind of create the, the, the connect, the ability to launch Rhino and Grasshopper from within Revit, that pipeline becomes something that a third party developer like ourselves could actively use to expand on tools like Conveyor. So outta the box, you download Rhino inside Revit, you can. Open up Grasshopper and do grasshopper things within Revit, have a lot of fun with that. Um, but can also launch Rhino and then use the conveyor translators that we've made and have a direct back and forth from Rhino without having to touch Grasshopper.

We're kind of able to use the [00:31:00] pipeline that the generous folks at McNeil have been able to carve out, um, to allow us to use our logic and our, um, kind of translation methodologies to make the process even easier. So it's, it's like, again, it comes back to that community side of things, right? Like McNeil's part of the community.

We're part of the community. There's a lot of people a part of this network and their thinking allowed us to expand our thinking. And, you know, we've been work, you know, um, sharing ideas back and forth for, for a while now. And I think it, you know, it, it starts to work both ways and that that's really, really fun when that happens.

Evan Troxel: The kinds of geometry that you're sending back and forth. I mean, it's not just boxes, right? It's not just rectangles. It's, it's like the two examples that you cited, the Lucas Museum and the, and the studio gang example. I've seen photos of those and like to actually get that kind of geometry built in the real world as a physical object is incredibly [00:32:00] difficult.

And tools like these actually make it. Possible and easier

at the same time, , right? Like that's a, that's kind of a holy grail of, of realizing design intent. Uh, it's absolutely incredible.

Nathan Miller: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. The, the, uh, I, there's not a single, I, you know, I always like to joke whenever I, when I give a lecture about those two buildings and our digital workflow as that's a part of it, um, you know, there's not a single straight line in either of those, either of those projects, it seems. And, um, We had to really, we, we published a, a peer reviewed paper through the, the Acadia conference about some of the stuff that we were doing with novel mesh translation. Um, and historically MeSHs have been like the bane of every Revit modeler BIM model. You know, anyone that's doing bim the bane of their existence. 'cause it's like mesh. What can we do with, we need solids, we need really clean [00:33:00] solids, which is, you know, na naturally, you know, gravitated. I think a lot of those platforms to being able to, you know, we think about 'em as boxy modelers.

You know, you draw, these, um, normal normative buildings, um, tell you're you're blue in the face, right?

Um, but meshes are really, um, powerful ways of conveying complex shapes. Um, and they're. You can get very, like, you know, they're, they're the basis of, you know, entertainment software, character modeling.

They're the basis of everything when it comes to just displaying geometry on your screen. And so a lot of the, the, the workflow development that was done for those projects was about how we can actually capture the mesh in such a way that it can be cut, um, that it will look good on a sheet, be part of [00:34:00] the documentation, have a level of fidelity to it that, um, is, is, um, you know, uh, supportive of the design intent.

You know, we don't want it to be too coarse. We don't need it to be too

detailed. So we developed, you know, ways of, you know, refining those meshes as part of that whole translation workflow process. And it became such that, you know, one of the, I think one of the, um, More interesting features of conveyor.

If we get into the specifics of the different things that translates is how it handles the, the mesh component and makes them usable. Um, and part of, part of BIM in a way that they, I don't think were previously

Evan Troxel: Yeah, for sure. Well, let's, let's get through your other two, uh, as well. So which one do you wanna talk about next? Conveyor.

Nathan Miller: well there. I think they, they, those are, those two are like companions in, in many ways because they, they touch on business intelligence. Um, and the idea of [00:35:00] telling a story with your data and when we, when I was at Case, I. Um, we were doing a lot of work with Tableau at the time 'cause we were, you know, basically creating reports to help our clients understand their standards better.


what was in their models, um, the quality of their, of their digital assets. And that kind of experience opened me up to this world of like, oh, what if you could actually use data as a storytelling device, much

like you would use a rendering to tell an architectural story, um, or a drawing. You know, can you use the data com data side of all of this to tell, to tell, um, the story or expand on the story in a way that, um, that more conventional modes of architectural representation don't allow? Um, and so as proofing ground was getting started, power BI was becoming more popular. We were starting to see it pop up on desktops, um, of our clients and, you know, project managers were [00:36:00] using it from like a, a scheduling purpose.

And, um, You'd see a, you know, accounting departments using it and, you know, uh, and a number of other kind of, you know, analysts, uh, using that kind of tool. And at a certain point it became kind of apparent like, well, what if, what if we could make connections from Power BI into the model assets that people were using, and not only display the data, but display the kinds of representation that we need to be able to tell the story of our architecture. Um, and so that, that's where Semantic and Tracer came into play.

And I think Tracer was in some ways, first because we had been working with building information models for, you know, quite a while, and were very familiar with the Revit, um, underlying data structure. And so Tracer started off as a way of, [00:37:00] okay, let's get the data out into a. Database structure. So a structure that sits apart from Revit entirely,

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Nathan Miller: um, such that it can then be hooked in to a place like Power bi and we can run analysis on quantities and, um, parameter values and element counts and, you know, just basically unpack what's in that model. Um, and then that evolved into what if we started to serialize geometry in a number of different ways. What if we could convert the areas of a, of re model to a geo json such that you could start to display it in like a, a mapping viewer? Um, and then what if you were able to take the three dimensional geometry of a Revit file and turn it into a, um, a set of meshes that could then be rendered in a three D viewer?

And can we, could we even get a three D viewer in Power bi? Was, was another kind of big part of that question. And so, um, [00:38:00] Tracer was born out of like, okay, we're gonna, we have a data analysis thing, we need to get the data out. And then the viewers became a way for us to then stitch it all back together in Power bi. And with that information, a designer or an architect or a project manager can compose a story with within Power BI that tells them something about their building. And I was just on a phone call earlier this week, phone call. No one does phone calls anymore. It was a Zoom call, um,

Evan Troxel: of course.


course. It was

Nathan Miller: I just, I feel like I, I feel like I'm just constantly like dating myself in this, in this convo. Again, we'll leave it up to the viewers to decide if I've become more or less unhinged since 2020.

Evan Troxel: It's okay. We're we're, we're recording this episode right now on, on V h s, so, yeah.

Nathan Miller: Okay. Oh,

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Nathan Miller: my comfort area.

Evan Troxel: Right.

Nathan Miller: perfect. Uh oh. That's a relief.

Um, actually that would be really funny if you like published like [00:39:00] a really grainy v h s quality of this this recording,

Evan Troxel: We're just

one filter away from that

Nathan Miller: SS side. And, um, before I get back on topic, I'm gonna take myself off topic. Um, I got my son into music, um, in this last year. And the way I got him into music is I bought him a, it's not an original, but it's something you can, you can get, you can still get them on Amazon. Um, kind of a knockoff Walkman.

Evan Troxel: Nice.

Nathan Miller: And I found a bunch of cassettes that my parents had that I used to listen to.

Evan Troxel: Oh, cool.

Nathan Miller: went on eBay and found a bunch of stuff that. That I used to listen to as well. And so now my son is into music through a growing cassette collection. And this is one I haven't given to him yet. Um, he's nine years old. [00:40:00] He's, uh, you know, he is into rock and stuff like that, but I also have been giving him the Guardians of the Galaxy. You can, you can buy new stuff on cassette.

So this is the Guardian Galaxy Volume three,

Evan Troxel: Nice.

Nathan Miller: cassette that I bought off of Amazon, and

it's awesome.

Evan Troxel: cool. So have you introduced him to a number two pencil yet? And, and the usefulness of that with, with,

Nathan Miller: Oh yeah, he knows, he knows how to use it. He knows how Oh, oh, you mean to re to, to,

to Unspool. Yeah. I, I did, I did take him through a demo of that because he ended up, uh,

his, his cassette player ended up chewing up, uh, Metallica's, ride the Lightning a couple weeks back. So I had to like, I had to like go, this is how you fix it.

Evan Troxel: That's awesome. Yeah, so cool. I actually, it's funny that you say that 'cause I just saw, and I wanted it so bad. I just saw an iPhone case that was a cassette tape, like a old school Max cell or r c A tape, so, so from the back, your phone actually looks like a cassette tape.

Nathan Miller: That's


Evan Troxel: really sweet. Yeah.

Nathan Miller: So how do we get on this subject? We got [00:41:00] that on the subject because I said phone call

Evan Troxel: Yeah. You were on a phone call

earlier this

Nathan Miller: was like, yeah, I was on, I was on a phone, I was on phone, I was on the telly

and uh, Um, so they, uh, the comment back or the question to me was like, oh, well what use cases have you seen with Tracer? And I couldn't, I couldn't answer the question in a very straightforward way. 'cause they were looking to like, oh, this is primarily used for like, space planning,

you know, or like showing the program in three D or, or showing something else. And I was like, well, we've seen a lot of them. So there's the planning and programming stuff that architects. Like to use, like space tracking and, you know, showing blocking and stacking of, of rooms. And then we've seen, um, an uptick in contractors downloading the tool because what they wanna do is they want to take the Revit model, turn it into a database, and then, and then [00:42:00] attach, uh, power BI to like their costing and scheduling database.

And then create a dashboard that shows like a timeline of construction or shows element installation and, and tracking over time. And then we've seen owners using it for, um, you know, we as a component to their digital twin solution, where it's like, oh yeah, we're gonna have Power BI and that's gonna be attached to this real-time database that's giving power bi x information about, um, our facility. Um, and the three D piece is, you know, there to, to convey the model. And so people are like really scrapping together. Interesting use cases out of it, again, in unanticipated ways. Um, we've had, um, and speaking of unanticipated ways, you know, we've had people that are in like biomedical, um, and, and chemistry, like wanting to show

digital models of, you know, biology or like d n A structures, like, Hey, will this help us show [00:43:00] like the mesh of this, of this structure over here, this, this chemical structure and come with the data that we're collecting.

I'm like, sure, why not? I know nothing about this. In fact, I became, I came very close to failing chemistry when I was in high school. Um,


yeah, have at

Evan Troxel: wanna ask that .

Nathan Miller: Yeah. I'm the last person you want to ask about. Yeah. Three D sure. But you,

I don't want to, I don't, I know nothing about what you do. Um, but. So that it, it, the versatility of the business intelligence platforms like Power bi, um, and others really start, you know, it, it, to me it becomes a really interesting design tool in a way wherein of designing your, I think, I think back to when I was in school or even when I was doing a lot of competition work in, in designing, you design your board, you know, and you have your rendering and you have maybe some, you have a diagram,

you know, and [00:44:00] you know, power BI is like, wow, what if you gave an, gave an owner or gave your client a dashboard

that lets them explore that in a way and, and do so in a way that you've curated and you've, you know, you've published as a designer that, that.

Evan Troxel: And be fully interactive. I think I rem I'm remembering, uh, one of your AU classes that I attended years and years ago where you were basically showing this at its initial state, I think. And because you had like the Revit, uh, you know, example project in Power bi. I don't think it was three D yet. I think it was just two D at that point, and you were just typing in a query and it was.

Isolating information and showing you like how many classrooms are in this building. It was like you could ask it a question in regular language and it would kind of parse that and filter that data down and just show you what you were asking. And, and I, I remember just like opening up my eyes to the possibilities here for [00:45:00] allowing someone else who is not a designer, who's not working in Revit, who's not working on the project, to be able to track progress, answer questions with a client, make sure that you're on track with the program.

Like all the pieces are there, that the sizes are right. It was, and it was just, it, it was amazing to see using a, a completely different tool to kinda look through that, into the model, but, but something that anybody could access. And I think that's what really was, was eyeopening to me about it back then.

Nathan Miller: I think, I think there's something like, and this in some ways feeds into our, we can maybe lightly touch on the strategy stuff here because there is a underlying philosophy in play when it comes to that, that add, I guess you could call it an attitude or a, an approach. Um, if you can give someone, give a non-expert, [00:46:00] um, information or data that once previously required an expert, but you're giving it to them in a way that they can, then I digest and understand. You've, you've all of a sudden set up. Um, what in my view would be like the foundational part of a digital transformation? Di Digital tools and technology are not transformational. If they are relegated to a select view, in my view, they need to be something that, a, allow, it allows us to have them opened up to a cross section of, of stakeholders, uh, of people, um, such that they can participate. And when I think about the, you know, the, you know, uh, power bi, um, and the stuff that we're, you know, doing with Semantic and Tracer, it's really about that. It's about [00:47:00] people like people to compose a model, uh, uh, whether it's a Rhino model or a Revit model that requires expertise, that requires someone to go into, to the, to the three D world, um, and construct. Their, their model. Um, but then if you have publishing tools, stuff that allows you to take that information and put it in a way that with a nominal amount of knowledge of how you might rotate a three D view or click on a bar graph and see the, see the impact of that selection on a model, um, you've all of a sudden made a, a, an opaque process far more transparent and allows for more people to participate than were participating previously. And then you've created the, you know, some, some level of foundation for a transformational conversation. Um,

Evan Troxel: Yeah. I, I would, I would say, like, to, to be really specific about it, is you're letting them drive. And, and that is, [00:48:00] that's a big deal because you, you could do everything that you just said by watching over someone's shoulder who is the expert driver, but to actually give them the, the steering wheel

is a completely different game because it's actually started to create a relationship between the person.

The data, not, not even the tool necessarily, but, but like what, what are the answers that they're trying to get? And that creates a level of transparency. It creates a level of accountability to build trust in the system and build a relationship with the people who are allowing, or in enabling that even to happen.

And that there, there's way bigger impacts to that, that that allows for on, on a pro, for a project than, than without it. And that's where that transformation can actually gain a foothold. Because if it's, if it's just tools and there's no trust and there's no relationship, then it's just tools like, it, it doesn't make, it doesn't actually make a difference.

Nathan Miller: Yeah. Well, and [00:49:00] I think, um, there's, there's another aspect to it that I think is also really important is that it somehow, there needs to be a bit of a fun side to it. Um,

Evan Troxel: Agreed.

Nathan Miller: We've seen many dashboards, you know, reports and things like that, that just by the, you know, that that contain a lot of really good information, but just by nature of them being boring as hell, no one wants to look at 'em

or ga gain any insight.

And, and

so when I think about this idea of composing and publishing

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Nathan Miller: and the, uh, the, the element of creativity that can go into it, it's in some ways like designing a game. You want the game to be fun.

You want there to be self-discovery by the person playing it. And so you as a designer of say, your dashboard that has attachments into bim, um, or, uh, rhino or any of these other applications, you want it to be such that there's a level of [00:50:00] intuition.

There's a level of like, I want to go deeper and you want to encourage this kind of interaction with the data. Um, that. Helps, helps that end user become educated, but also have fun with it along the way. Like, Hey, I've never seen this before, or, Hey, isn't this cool? Um, you know, if, if we're, if we can create tools that are helping designers compose in that way, then I think that's, that's where we want to be.

Evan Troxel: Yeah. I I, I love that idea too, because I, you, you. You use the analogy of like laying out your boards when you were in school, right?

And, and you're placing views on sheets. Probably in, in design or back in my day it was Cork Express. Right.

Nathan Miller: Yeah. Right.

Evan Troxel: it was like that you, you draw a frame and then you decide what you're gonna put in that frame.

It could be text, it could be an image. Now it's a fully interactive three D model that if you click on this frame over here, it's gonna isolate that information and it's gonna update in these other views to [00:51:00] reflect kind of the thing that you're drilling down into. But it creates that, it's another level, right?

Because of the interactivity then, then just the two D boards on the wall work. And it encourages exploration and it encourages someone to scratch an itch and find out something that isn't just a parent on the surface. It is deeper. And that is what's so interesting, I think about architecture in general.

Real architecture does that as well in a spatial way. Maybe it does it with light, maybe it does it with color, maybe it does it with texture, maybe it does it with the size and proportion of the room. But we're talking about using this to get us there and, and this building, this relationship along the way, using tools like this that enable that to happen is a fantastic way to deliver that project and include people in the process along the way.

Nathan Miller: right, right.

Evan Troxel: Yeah. Super cool.

Nathan Miller: Um, [00:52:00] there's also, you know, there's an element here where there's, there's also a, I think a. Component to what we do that also operates, you know, we're, we try to do new things, um, but we also build on what's there, um, in, in many ways,

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Nathan Miller: you know, we're not proving ground isn't a company that we're not designing our own ground up platform, you know, which I think requires a, a, a very different kind of business model. Right. You know, we, we have amazing kind of platforms being built by the ground, up by the folks at like high par, um, and, and, and, and others out there. Right. Um, we, we are, you know, building tools that naturally extend things that people are already familiar with to a degree. So, like Conveyor, you know, rhino and Rev are known commodities in the world of design.

We're trying to introduce another level of integration in there. Um, power BI is a well established product, um, and the idea of creating, you know, web viewable, um, [00:53:00] You know, three D reports is also somewhat familiar, but we're, we're trying to layer in this idea of ease of accessibility and, you know, the idea of like a no code type of environment.

It, it's also been advantageous because it allows us to tap into existing infrastructure if we're able to sort of say like, Hey, our tools work with your stuff. Um, because that's what they're designed to do. There's, there's, there's a, you know, there, there's an appetite there to be like, oh, okay, we don't, we don't need to overhaul our entire kind of IT or software infrastructure

to get to this capability you're talking about, you're naturally extending and taking us to a, to a place that is, um, built on what we have as our skill sets and our, our infrastructure and, and taking it to another, another level.

Evan Troxel: It reminds me of like old car magazines [00:54:00] where it was like bolt-on performance, right? And it was like, anybody can do it. You know? Uh, that's the idea, right? Is like you've already got the, the building blocks in place, you have the expertise, and now you're just gonna extend the capabilities or get a little bit more.

Just an an add-on that that helps do the things that, other words in other ways are extremely difficult to do. You couldn't piece that together yourself without an extremely large amount of effort. Right. So,

Yeah. Yeah. The value in the tool is, is kind of obvious the first time you use it. So

Nathan Miller: right.

Evan Troxel: let's talk about this strategy thing.

I mean, you're, because this, I think, does kind of provide the gateway into that part of the conversation, right? Because this is where you're now addressing the other people in the room, right?

And you're, because a lot of times I think the, the software, the, the startups are focused on the actual users of the software.

But there's this whole other world [00:55:00] to the business of architecture where there's decision makers and stakeholders in many different levels beyond the actual users who are. Delivering the projects right there.

They're, and there's, there's even different layers there, right? There's, there's the, the juniors and the mids and the seniors and, and that everyone kind of touches things in a different way.

But then you've got that on the, you know, the overhead side as well of, of the business. Uh, and, and so I'm interested to kind of hear what you've been noticing in the business of architecture and how you're helping address some of the digital transformation side of that with the tools that you're releasing, but also with the, the strategy and the, you're, you're doing your own kind of analysis of these firms, right?

To help

them understand the landscape that they're in, how they're participating in it, in ways that, in which they may, may not even be aware of. Because you get to, you get to step back and you get to look across the entire landscape.

Nathan Miller: Yeah, so, uh, strategy, [00:56:00] the strategic work that we do, um, was really among, I, I think some of the earliest consulting, uh, pro, uh, projects that we've been a part of. It. It's sort of been the way that we're able to connect and create, I think, meaningful collaborations from, um, and you used the term earlier, the idea of trust.

Because trust is really the, the currency that a, I think, a good strategy relies on in order

to make it actionable. There needs to be trust between, you know, I would say would call us maybe coaches, coaches

and people that we're helping to coach. And there also needs to be trust among the stakeholders within a business to, um, realize the potential of the things that they're interested in realizing. Um, and so, The, the strategy work that we do is, you know, I I I call it the 30, you know, it's like the 30,000 foot, um, view of, [00:57:00] of an organization and what the impact of digital or is, can and should be within that, within that company. And I think there's, there's a misconception usually right off the bat that we're gonna come in and we're gonna tell them which tools to use and then that's gonna solve it. Um, or that we're gonna come in with a, uh, a new set of technologies that they've never heard of before, and that's gonna be something that they're gonna implement as the next stage. What, what more often is the case? Is that an architectural business? Or a construction business or an owner operator business, they ha they, they might have a lot of the tools and the technology in place to some degree, it's right there.

I mean, it's like right on their desktop in some way. But what they're missing is [00:58:00] the attention to process, um, and the attention to people and their skills in order to, to, to motivate the organization to really see the benefit. Um, part of, you know, it's, it's part of a lot of my introductory talks that I give on the subject of strategy. Um, it deals with two components to a successful strategy. There's this idea of the smart component. Like, and we all, we, we've heard the term smart business, you know, work smarter, not harder,

um, and those types of things, right? That, that, that refers to like, okay, you have the technology, you have the tools.

You might have different tactics that you're employing those tools with. Um, but then there's, and you know, maybe knowledge management's a part of that

kind of the smart side, Right.

Content management, it's like the nuts and bolts that go into making a, a smarter [00:59:00] organization. But then you also have the health side.

So smart and healthy. Healthy is the, the part that is far more challenging to address in a strategic way and actually requires way more effort and attention from people that are non technologists, which is why I really like this,

because what you have to do within a, in my view, a healthy organization is an organization that. Has levels of accountability for certain initiatives that are taking place. There is maybe even a sense of, of equity, um, within an organization, i e equity, and both in terms of how, how you're thinking about how a certain cap capability can spread equitably across, uh, a staff, but also people that might be contributing to that.

Are they getting an upside from it, um, in a, in a meaningful way in their work and their paycheck? You know, something like that. [01:00:00] There might, there's also, uh, communication, um, something far overlooked like, Hey, you have a new thing. How is it being like, talked about

in your company

Evan Troxel: right.

Nathan Miller: and. And then there's the, the big B, which is behavior as part of the, the healthy side is your team s set up in such a way where they are being motivated to change the way they do things. And that one right there is probably the, you could call it the biggest speed bump or barrier, uh, in any organization when it comes to digital transformation. Um, and I'm sure you've heard it in many of the places that you've worked. Why are you doing something a certain way? The answer is usually, well, that's just the way I've always done it.

Evan Troxel: Yeah,

Nathan Miller: there's very little

motivation to push an individual to sort of be like, well, maybe I should look at it a [01:01:00] different way or change the way I'm, I'm working.

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Nathan Miller: and so

Evan Troxel: is why you have to engage those leaders as well, because

that, that mentality comes out of, uh, I mean, I don't have time to look at another way to do it. I don't know that there's a better way to do it, and the project has been built around slicing up time in the way that we've always done things,

and so

therefore, you give me that amount of time to do the thing.

I will take that amount of time to do the thing.

Nathan Miller: That's right. It's a ma. It's, it's like, it's like a, it's a beha B. The, the B is for behavior of the bee is also for bias. Right? It's

like they have through, through their professional upbringing, through, through our, the habits that we build, the rules of thumb that we cultivate.

These are great things in many respects because it allows us to work, you know, we, we are gaining experience, we are developing rules of thumb.

We are figuring out faster ways to shortcut problems that we always encounter. These are necessities [01:02:00] for us to be successful, but if we're not careful, those. Um, habits and those rules of thumb can also put the blinders on our

ability to see other possibilities.

And that's kind of why I like to think about our strategy is like, can we o, can we come into the room and help take some of those blinders off and help motivate an organization at different levels, whether it's the designer doing the project or it's the project manager that's trying to figure out how to staff a project appropriately, or it's the executive trying to make a high level, um, decision on where to invest in training in, um, know, in a new capability or how they might be developing a relationship with a, with a prospective client. Can we help them look past maybe some of what they know and get into an area where they might be uncomfortable at first, but recognize that hey, this, this new [01:03:00] capability can take us where we want to go. Um, and if we can get. That kind of attitude in place. Um, the roadmap and a roadmap is usually like the, what I refer to as a roadmap is usually the artifact that comes out of every strategy.

Engagement kind of sets a near, mid and long-term set of goals. That roadmap very much easier to execute because you can see where you're going and you have this level of buy-in at these different levels that help people, um, know where they're going and know how they are participants in that, in that ride together.

Evan Troxel: So many times someone like you, Nate, will come into a business. And do the thing that you just talked about. You'll create this report, you'll create the roadmap, and then you're out, and then they're left to their own devices and, and there maybe are, there maybe aren't some directly responsible individuals for each key element on there.[01:04:00]


it tends to, I, I don't know. I guess it's just my experience, but it's like if there's no one owning it, it doesn't happen. Right? It

was like we went through the exercise, we checked the box, we realized the things that we never realized before. I, I, I was reminded, I think of Donald Rumsfeld's Rumsfeld's quote, right?

We have the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns. And it's like, you don't, you can't fault someone for not knowing what they don't know. And because they're so busy on the projects, delivering the things, doing it the way that they've always done it, that they're not even coming up for air to kind of survey the, the current state to see what, what else out there is possible.

You as this injection get to come in and kind of show people what, what might be possible after you've listened to them.

Um, I mean, as far as efficacy goes to these kinds of, uh, relationships that you enter into with them, how, I'm sure you've seen it go both ways, good and bad. [01:05:00]

But I mean, if you were to kind of assign a ratio to it, what do you think that that would be for, for implementation and success of, of those interactions?

Nathan Miller: I would, I would say, you know, there, there's, there's, you know, I don't, I don't know if I have like a sta like a statistical like percentage or I could say like, Hey, these, you know, folks we're at, we're at 80

Evan Troxel: 80


Nathan Miller: yeah, we're at 80 20. We're at 80 20, 80% of

the time. Our strategies work every time. Like I don't know if I can do, I don't know if I can say that, um, with certainty, but what I can say, um, is that there, there, there definitely is the, the breakdown that, that you described there, there are, um, companies that we've worked with where we've come in and we've done the strategy. We've even set up the kind of account, like an accountability structure and who's doing what, and then we'll check in on them. [01:06:00] You know, six months later, a year later, um, and be like, Hey, how are those? Or, or we'll see them at an event, be like, Hey, how, how are those, some of those initiatives we worked with you ongoing.

Like, well, you know, we, we just haven't been able to, to, to find the time to, to do the, um, you know, the machine learning study or, or to, or to, to enact the new training program

Evan Troxel: Mm, mm-hmm.

Nathan Miller: and, you know, but we're gonna, we're gonna get to it, you know? Um, and, and you, you kind of like,

kind of

Evan Troxel: get the feeling. Yeah.

Nathan Miller: like, yeah, you know, that maybe, you know, that one's not gonna

pick up steam. But then, then we have the ones that are very, like, um, know, we've had, we've had repeat strategies where it was like we would do like, like a three year plan. And the, the, the team that was responsible for looking at the, the tactics and the strategies that we had been talking about was very diligent about going [01:07:00] through each one, and they were starting to see results.

And at the end of three years, we're now Like I said, we're an eight year old company.

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Nathan Miller: We're now able to have repeat strategies where they're like, Hey, we're done with our roadmap. We're able to do X, Y, and Z. Let's do another one

and look at the next three years based on where we've landed. And they will come to us with a level of confidence that the things that they had done were working out, and that the insight we were able to provide was also gonna help them, elevate them to the next level.

And that, that becomes a very strong relationship and a high trust relationship. I. And those are, those are two like examples where it's sort of like we do the thing and then we, like you said, might go away for a

while or we're not like


Evan Troxel: you're not, you're not actually delivering it. It's up to them to deliver it on on it. Yeah.

Nathan Miller: But we've also been a part of a number of, of strategies that are like, yeah, [01:08:00] we'll do, we'll work on the tactics together. And oh, by the way, like these five over here are things that we can directly help you with.

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Nathan Miller: Um, implementing a centralized, uh, data warehouse, for example, or setting up, setting your self, setting them up with a training around interoperability. Things like that become natural points of entry for us

to be more hands on

with the .With the approach. And I tend to like, obviously I like those more because it's like, oh yeah, it's like kind of more, more business, right?

But it, but it's also, I like them because it, it gives us more of a hand in the success or failure

of what the roadmap could be. And I feel like with more involvement, we're able to help continue to give advice along the way,

and that lends itself to a better, um, chance at the transformation succeeding. I will [01:09:00] say that I, I have a blog article that states as much, and, you know, is, is based on some research, digital transformation initiatives are really, really hard to pull off.

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Nathan Miller: Um, I think there's a, there's a statistic out there that they did a survey of like big companies that were initiating digital transformation initiatives. They have like an 82% failure rate which

Evan Troxel: There's a number,

Nathan Miller: a really high, there's a number. It's a really

high, I mean, because what, what happens is, um, and it all comes back to that B word


Evan Troxel: mm-hmm.

Nathan Miller: What they're able to do is you're able to sort of say like these digital transformation initiatives as well-meaning as well thought out as they can be. If you're not able to, again, attach their success or failure in a way that is relevant to the, to a wide range of stakeholders that will see some kind of upside in their work, um, then they're gonna stick [01:10:00] with what's known. Um, and they're gonna stick with the, the way that they've always done things and. You know, and I, I think is especially true in larger organizations

where there's just a lot of complexity, a

lot of bureaucracy,

a lot of different opinions. Um, and you know, it's easy, I think with, if, if, um, you're an employee in a large company and the kind of upper echelon of leadership comes down like, Hey, we're releasing a new strategy. It doesn't matter what it is. It could be related to, um, you know, the, the food service as much as it is the technology that they're using.

Evan Troxel: Sure.

Nathan Miller: Um, but if, if it's one of those things where hey is, is coming on down and my project manager isn't really talking to me about it and my, um, you know, my principal is just sort of like, okay, whatever.

We're gonna ride this out for, for three years and then

we'll have a new

strategy. You [01:11:00] know, there's sort of this element of like, yeah, we'll wait and see.

Um, as opposed to, uh, you know, Hey, let's get on this. You know, and that's where

you want to get past. You wanna get past the wait and see stage and to, and to show results with these strategies that can, can be meaningful to people.

Evan Troxel: you, you mentioned the word upside and I'm, I'm wondering if you have any particular thoughts about, I mean, it is so important for someone to see upside early is my guess, right? , because I don't do what you do, but that makes a lot of sense. And so do you focus on that a lot on the work that you're doing there?

Because I mean, some, you, you said you've got, you've got a short-term, a midterm, and a long-term kind of staging of the plan. The short-term stuff. I, I would assume kind of has to show value very quickly so that it even has a chance of continuing to that mid-level point. Just general thoughts on, on that kind of thing.[01:12:00]

Nathan Miller: Yeah, we call them quick wins and I'm sure it, it, it's, it's a common terminology, common consulting terminology. You might might say the,

the quick win. We need a, we need a way to, um, demonstrate the value of an opportunity right away so that people can latch on and wanna see more. Right.

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Nathan Miller: Um, this is where I think computational design has an advantage in a way because it's not full-blown software development.

Um, but you can still develop extremely powerful automation technology like techniques and technology that will help elevate a process. And so what we oftentimes see is like, okay, there are these, okay, we need to get some momentum behind, um, our data management behind, uh, planning and programming. What can we do? Oh, well, I. Uh, let's think about what you're using today and let's prototype something really [01:13:00] quick in Grasshopper or Dynamo that allows you to circumvent some waste that we know your teams are dealing with right, right now. And let's do it in two weeks, you know, and develop something that we can get in their hands and, and help them. And 'cause all of a sudden you're taking a high level, I, you know, something that might be super high level in the 30,000 foot strategy view, and you're saying, okay, now we're gonna bring this down to a solution rapidly. Um, that's gonna hit person doing some level of production. so that all of a sudden can, can generate a lot of excitement and also puts a lot of, um, uh, interest, uh, behind. The technology initiatives like, oh, I had no idea we could do this. Why, why don't we have more computational designers? Where can we get more training? Um, how can I participate in this, in this training? How can, um, can I sit in on the next, uh, strategy meeting so we can talk about what we need? [01:14:00] Because we think this could turn into a new, uh, tool for us that has broader reach. And, and those quick wins can help, you know, prompt the questions,

um, and prompt the dialogue. And, you know, when we, when we build software, uh, that's, that's, that's part of our, i, I think, workflow in general is that if we're building something custom, we want to have, um, prototypes, we want to have wire frames, we want to have things that take something from the abstract into something that is actually meaningful

and we know can deliver.


Evan Troxel: Just like the architectural design process, right? ,

it's like,

Nathan Miller: It's, it's amazing the parallels there. You know,

the, the architectural design process you want to have, you know, you have your sketches, you have your initial renderings, you go through the different phases of design. Um, actually something that, uh, we, we've drawn that parallel before and it tends to resonate is like digital transformation is just another design problem. And you're going through a very similar set of steps [01:15:00] and, you know, you might end up with, uh, designs that get discarded and you're gonna end up with, uh, and that's, think about those as iterations

that are taking you on the path to, to realizing the


Evan Troxel: It's, it's, it might be circuitous, right? It

might not be that straight line that, that somebody really, ideally wants, but rarely ever happens, right? And, and you do have to have kind of that. That loopy nature to it too, because you learn in the process and then you go back and you, you know, like two steps forward, one step back.

You're not going all the way back, but you, you learn something along the way and you're gonna continue on from there.

Uh, I think it creates a level of ownership too. Like you said, you, you have this high level report that, that the highest level people in the company are, are responding to, but then you take it down to the grassroots, to the floor and you say, here's a technology that we can introduce that's gonna make this person and this process better, and that's gonna have an outcome of excitement.

And it, it starts to get their gears turning. And now you have both levels [01:16:00] working, right? You, you have a high level and a grassroots level working together to deliver on those strategies, but actually really in a, in a useful day-to-day way. And it, I think it does take both to be really successful, right?

It's like you, you've gotta see it. You've gotta see progress at both ends of the scale, and you've gotta have ownership at both ends of the scale

for it to have a chance to make it.

Nathan Miller: That's right.

That's right.

Evan Troxel: The the other thing that, that I was thinking about when you were talking about these reports is flexibility and like

the, is how much flexibility is built in because you're, if you're doing a three year report and I think about what's happened in the last year, it's like the report's gotta change.

Nate , something happened in technology, uh, the explosion of, you know, large language models, AI as an example, would have an effect on digital transformation, I would assume, [01:17:00] pretty obviously. Right. and

so I, and so I'm just wondering how, how do you navigate that as a consultant to these companies building flexibility into your reports or not?

Nathan Miller: Yeah. So, um, I would say that yes, you know, I think, yeah, I use the term report. Um, I also use the term roadmap. These are, these are very, um, would say by nature. Meant to be living documents.

Um, the, the, the, the early sort of stage stuff, like the near term tactics that are often like outlined are far more concrete than the late, the later stuff. And I think what, what, they, what they also need to do, um, what a, what a good strategy also needs to do is provide some basis of criticality into them. So you have a north star, uh, that you're headed [01:18:00] towards and you know what not to get distracted by.

And I think that's one of the more dangerous, we don't think about it as often, but it is one of the more, uh, dangerous and area things that can really derail a strategy where it's like, I. Oh my God, something new just came along and I'm gonna table everything else and just look at this new thing.

Evan Troxel: Squirrel. Yeah.

Nathan Miller: Squirrel. Exactly.

And with technology, boy, is that easy. I can look at my LinkedIn feed right now

and I'll, I I will show you a feed of dozens of people doing the squirrel thing at this moment in time. and I, and, and so what I, what I, what I think is important then is to sort of say like, okay, we know technology is gonna be changing and evolving and there's gonna be a new thing. But what you need to do as a practice is be able to say like, does this new thing, um, [01:19:00] we critically look at it, does it support where we wanna go? Does it take away from where we want to go? Um, or is it just a general kind of r and d and we're just gonna kind of wait it out and see what happens? Um, and I think. In a lot of cases, if we hear of something new, there's, there's an element that we, you know, we want to educate ourselves as much as we can about something that is maybe capturing the popular imagination. But there's also an aspect of like, yeah, we're gonna wait about eight, between 18 and 24 months to see how it actually shakes out,

to see if it will, um, be something that is going to concretely move us in a new direction. Um, because, you know, the, the there's two sides of an ear. Being an early adopter, you're, you're basically gambling, you are, you're

putting a gamble, you're placing a bet. [01:20:00] You're like, Hey, this new thing is going to be the thing, or it's not gonna be the thing. And you know, it's really a 50 50 shot, you know,

um, many people do, like, I remember when Google Glass came out. Do you remember that?

Like, there I knew just maybe a, a few people that, that were early adopters and they were walking around with the Google glass and they had the thing, and it just fell flat on

its face and, you know, it wasn't the new thing, you know?

And now, now, today you do have some more augmented things, you know, since I, you brought it up earlier. I do a lot of swimming. I've seen, I get ads pushed to me all the time where you can get ar goggles that will show you like all of your stats as you're, as you're doing laps. Pretty cool that it was like, oh, this is actually a practical use of that.

One thing I saw that failed, fell on it face a while back. Um, so you want, you want to, you wanna have, um, [01:21:00] yeah, you wanna be careful with the new stuff, I think in, in a way where you, you just wanna make sure that you're, you're engaging with it in a way that is going to be productive and it's not a distraction. Um, You're not gonna be sinking a lot of money into something that ends up being a, you know, ends up going nowhere.

You know, there's, 'cause there's, you know, as we know this world of architecture, you know, you have, you know, there's a business model attached to it where r and d is already really hard to come by, um, and justify certain levels of investment.

So you're,

you're kind of like, okay, is this the metaverse is a good example of

this, this, it's like, it kind of blew up last year, right? You know, it was like at first beginning of the year, everyone was hot on the, on, on metaverse.

It's like, boom, this is where it's going. And by the end of the year, all those stocks,

taint and crypto along with it,

you know, and it's, and it's like there's a level of, [01:22:00] of churn that happens in tech that you, you, wanna build a, a critical view around so you don't get sucked in, um, in a way that is gonna be detrimental to your, to your goal.

Evan Troxel: you, you talked about that critical look of, of the business over time. And I'm, I was thinking as you're saying that it's like, because it's come up on this podcast, it's come up on my other podcast about how architecture in general, the, the profession is bad at, at looking at itself as a design problem, right.

Looking at

its business as a design problem. And the way that I just started to think about it as you were talking was, it's not like a architectural design problem, it's more like a software design problem in that the software is kind of never done. Right. Where a building is like, yep. At some point you hand it over to the contractor and they hand it over to the owner and, and then you're onto the next project, right?

And, and there's, of course, there's software like that too that just stops getting maintained or whatever. [01:23:00] But,

but for the long running apps that we've been using for decades that have just been like built up over time and new features added and other ones deprecated and like, that's what a business is, is much more like, and so to, to really have that critical view.

In an ongoing way and constantly watching and adjusting and really having, you know, your fingers on the pulse of what's going on is, is of course, this is what leadership and firms are responsible for. Uh, and yet there's a lot of businesses out there that could be doing a heck of a lot better because

Nathan Miller: Mm-hmm.

Evan Troxel: of so many reasons,

Nathan Miller: I mean, the oppo, the opposite of all of this is true. Like, you know, there's one side you don't wanna get caught up, but you don't wanna have the blinders on where you're gonna get,

you know, sideswiped by something that you didn't know was coming.

Um, you know, with the large language model and the AI stuff, I mean, [01:24:00] we're not, we're, uh, that's been a long time coming,

you know, it's, it's

been the, it's been kind of pr, it's been present.

Evan Troxel: right?

Nathan Miller: The, the discourse, um, if you were, if you had your pulse on the conversations to the president of the discourse for a really long time, and now we're, you know, seeing prompt engines and, and, and things like that, which are, you know, it's making it, you know, it's getting into the popular kind of imagination in a way that it hadn't previously.

And people are like, where'd this come from? Like, well, it's, it's kind of been there, you know?

Evan Troxel: Right. Yeah. Yeah. It's, uh, it's, it's crazy. I, I think also about the idea of the innovation curve versus the adoption curve, and so you're, you're watching this from a, I think it's framed in, in your world, under the, the guise of digital transformation. Right? Which is

kind of the actual adoption of.

Innovation and technology in business to do better, to do more to what whatever the, the outcomes that you're looking for are. What, what do you see as, as there? Because [01:25:00] the way that I've described it in talks that I've given is like innovators are, and this is a, a belief that, that we've kind of established it within our company that we share is innovators are innovating on top of innovation, and therefore the curve is up into the right.

I mean, that's, that's the direction that it goes because they, it can't, you can't even help it. Like that's, those are the people who think like that naturally are going to do that. And then there's the people doing the work who maybe do have the blinders on in some categories, and maybe they're aware of other things in, in other categories, but, but the adoption curve is much lower and

slower. And so that chasm by definition only gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. Right.

I'm wondering what you think about, about that because you're actually boots on the ground. Even trying to help people get over that gap in their firms. And so how do you, how do you see that? Do you see it like that or do you see it differently?

Nathan Miller: No, it's true. I mean, you're, you're really kind of speaking to, [01:26:00] um, I. You know, there's that, uh, there's that quote, the future is here. It's just not evenly distributed.

You know, you know that, that's very true. Um, especially in the world of construction. Um, there are that are doing amazing, innovative stuff like, like you just described.

It's innovation on top of innovation. They're accelerating. Um, and then you have firms that are decidedly not doing that. Um, and they, you know, I I had a, I had a a, a call just last week, last two weeks, and I, I, dropped the term grasshopper. I just said, oh yeah. You know, we, we built some tools with Grasshopper and they were like, grasshopper?

What's that? You know, and,

Evan Troxel: Legitimate question. [01:27:00]

Nathan Miller: Legit legitimate question. Uh, I have been trying to figure that out for like the last

13 years.

Evan Troxel: Right.

Nathan Miller: Um, I'm really thinking about it. Um, but you know, we take for granted

how, uh, established some of these products are, and some people just have not have not engaged at all.

And for all intents and purposes, the firm that I was talking with at that point in time was profitable and

had a good customer base and was moving along just fine.

Evan Troxel: Right?

Nathan Miller: And I think that's, that's like, that's an important thing that it's always to have important to have those kinds of gut checks is like, just because something is innovative, um, doesn't necessarily negate or supersede or override the benefit of. Of doing things in a way that's already established as well.

So like, [01:28:00] I'm not, you know, I, I think you're right. I think you're, you're right that you have, you have innovators that are always gonna be, you know, moving the curve, moving that curve, um, up into the right. But, you know, I, I think it, you know, this comes back to the air, the kind of point I was, you know, making earlier about being critical about where you're at and where you're going. Um, and, and maybe it's just who I am, um, as well, because when I was at M B B J, you know, I was, I was the grasshopper guy, you know, and I love building stuff in, in, you know, grasshopper. But I tell you, when it came crunch time, there, there was nothing stopping me from being like, you know what? I'm gonna get in these CAD plans and

we're gonna be

Evan Troxel: Export to


Nathan Miller: Yeah, we're gonna be ripping through these, ripping through the document

set, you know, like you have to do it and you have to [01:29:00] do it to get, get by and you need to kind of rely on, on, you know, those, those experiences too. Um, so in many ways it comes down to maybe there's an element of balance there. Like there's so much expertise.

Like we talk, you talked about the gray hairs in this industry, right? Um, earlier and you know how um, and I may be getting to be one of those two, um, at this point, but, you know, there's so much experience there and just because there's new stuff coming in, and just because there are, you know, highly innovative technologies, while you don't want to have people putting their blinders on, you also don't wanna negate very well established experience.

Um, how a building comes together, how architecture gets made. Um, you know, I think you almost, you almost wanna, [01:30:00] we called it, um, you know, it was kind of, there's like a term that we, that was popular there for a while. It's called upward mentoring or reverse mentoring.

Something we often advocated for in, in, in a lot of strategies also was something that M B B J was kind of big on, is that you would pair up, um, your, you know, someone that is doing new things and engaging with new content. Maybe it's grasshopper, maybe it's rendering, maybe it's, um, you know, a different form of design. You'd pair those individuals up with people that are very well established in the field and you would try to set up mechanism where they can learn from each other.

Um, And, and feed, feed, feed forward. So it's not a, a, pure dichotomy of people that aren't doing it and people that are doing it.

It's more of like, what can you share in order to make a product, you know, to to generate kind of a productive transformation that operates in both ways.

Evan Troxel: the Venn diagram. Yeah, the greens and the grays, right? Yeah. That, that spot, that sweet [01:31:00] spot in the middle. It, I, there was a book written by one of the partners, I believe it was N B B J, and it was called Designing the Design Firm. And they did

talk about, talked about that in there, that that's a fantastic book about leadership in design firms.


Nathan Miller: Yeah.

Evan Troxel: Um, this, this idea, and maybe, maybe we should start to wrap up here, but I, I've, the whole idea of, of that bi-directional, I mean, talk about interoperability.

Nate, uh,

Nathan Miller: that's what we're, that's what we're, that's what it, it all comes down, it all comes back to interoperability. Uh, bi-directional exchange of data.

Evan Troxel: It is, it is about creating these connections between experience and wisdom. Right? I mean, it is interesting also to think about those people who are the operators using these maybe high tech solutions early in their career, but not knowing the things that they need to know to actually deliver a project and creating [01:32:00] the connections between those.

Because like you, you talk about, you know, navigating the building code. Talk about navigating a stakeholder meeting. Talk about getting a client to sign off on something and go to the next level or

an ad service or, and, and I think it's funny because you always see these, uh, analogies being driven toward like the automobile, the automotive industry in design or, or any kind of product based design, and applying those ideas to architecture and look how much better architecture would be if we only did this thing.

And it's like it is actually a completely different animal. It is completely different. How many times does a, does a automotive firm engage a customer to ask 'em their preference when they're designing a car like hardly ever is, my guess is the answer to that. I'm sure it happens, but, but like the architectural design process is completely different than that.

Completely different. And it, it's interesting to me to kind of see or [01:33:00] listen to you talk about the experience that, that you've had throughout your career to navigate like this really complicated thing called an architectural design P practice. Right? I mean, and it is a practice. It's not, it's not a, it is a project , it is this ongoing, it's not a product.

It is a project and it, and it is constantly being reevaluated and the goalposts are always moving and the people who are in those companies are always moving around and it's a, it is a. It is just this really interesting kind of, uh, what's the word? Organic thing that's just constantly changing all the time.

Nathan Miller: Yeah.

And then, you know that, that, and that's at just a singular

business level. And it's, it's even more true as you get out and think about like the larger team structure that goes behind a project.

Um, you know, it's, it's, it's always [01:34:00] interesting to me to, for me to think about, hey, when a project team finishes a project, The odds of that team coming together again in that exact same way to do a project again, that's almost identical, is also rare.

You know, and you have to figure out, okay, how are we adapting to a new context with new collaborators? It may even be the same client, but you're paired with like a different contractor,

a different engineering team, and you need to, you need to think, you need to figure out tactics that will help you grapple with that. And, um, how, how can you take, one of the big questions we, we often ask our clients in a strategic, you know, from a strategic perspective is like, how do you take what you just finished on one project and mobilize what you've learned to support the next one? And if you're a firm that has figured that out, I think you are in a position[01:35:00]

that is far better than most.

Um, I would say you're in the 99th percentile. And you, and you, even though, even if that firm itself is not a digital firm, you're probably putting yourself by just figuring that one part out, figuring out how you're gonna learn from one project to the next and expand and improve. You've probably set yourself up to be more of an innovator, um, than any firm that has the latest cutting edge tools. Um, in my view, you've, you've created a, a, healthy organization that is continually trying to learn, um, and that you are naturally going to innovate and evolve with technology over time. Um, because you've, you've, you've mobilized a very, uh, healthy behavior.

Evan Troxel: I think that's a perfect place to wrap this one up. I,


we've done a lot. We've covered a lot here. Um, I will include links to everything that you've . [01:36:00] Brought up in this conversation in the show notes for this episode, which I encourage people to read, but if you could just tell everybody where they can find you, that would be fantastic.

Nathan Miller: Sure. Um, so I am I am on LinkedIn. That's probably the primary place you'll be able to connect with me at a, on a professional level. Um, so if you search Nathan Miller on LinkedIn, um, I think my title says something obtuse like I'm a digital transformation specialist. So look for that, um, And then, um, you can also find proving ground on Instagram. And then in the, in the show notes, you should, uh, I'll make sure Evan here has links to my website or the Proving Ground website, as well as the Proving Ground App site where you can try out some of the software. I, I've mentioned,

Evan Troxel: Fantastic. Nathan.

Always a

Nathan Miller: on. I, I was gonna say, I'm also,

I'm No,

longer on Twitter or

Evan Troxel: right.

Nathan Miller: That's another thing that's changed in the last, since 2020. A lot of social media has [01:37:00] fallen by the wayside for me and I highly recommend it.

Evan Troxel: You are on Mastodon. I, I've


Nathan Miller: a Mastodon great

Evan Troxel: are we, are any of us really on Mastodon? Not that much. Probably

Nathan Miller: and that's the way I like it. I like being able to sort of let it sit and I feel like I can just let it sit

for weeks at a time and then I'll come back to it.

Mast alone's. Great. No algorithm. Trying to keep me addicted.

Evan Troxel: awesome. Well, Nathan, this is a, a true pleasure always to talk to you, and I look forward to hopefully seeing you in the near future. We'll see


Nathan Miller: hope so too.

Evan Troxel: yeah.

Nathan Miller: Thanks.

for having having me on for part two.

Evan Troxel: All right. Anytime.