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  • Writer's pictureEric McGinnis

2021 Retrospective

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

Comma Designworks

It’s healthy to look back. Events like a New Year are natural moments to look forward but also present opportunities to be retrospective. I readily admit that since the beginning of Comma Designworks, the time I’ve taken to look back and wholistically take in the accomplishments, things we’ve learned, and everything in between has been limited. We’ve been moving at a somewhat frantic pace, as are so many people in Nashville, so this little change from a ‘21 to a ‘22 is an important opportunity to recap our first full year.

After some personal reflection, Comma Designworks’ 2021 falls into 3 categories in my mind:

  1. The Good Times

  2. The Teachable Moments

  3. The People

The Good Times

Starting any business has obvious unknowns, but sometimes ignorance is bliss. Comma opened its doors in November 2020, which seems even crazier given the status of the pandemic at the time. Frankly, everyone was in a state of the unknown at that time, so I felt that it eased the burden of feeling like we needed immediate success and the nagging “have-to-know-it-all-right-now” feeling. When Kyle Nichols came on in late November, we both dove into a branding effort that neither of us had ever done. We love the Comma brand because it happened completely organically. From there, we spent the rest of 2020 and early 2021 taking on a couple of small-scale jobs that allowed us to sink our teeth into project standards. Project standards can be mind-numbing when starting from scratch, but looking back, it was so exciting to revisit what we thought we knew with fresh eyes. Kyle’s thoroughness and attention to detail were integral in setting that path. Since the start of 2021, Comma has taken on 12 projects of a wide variety of uses and scales, including multiple large-scale multi-family projects that tested our process and our efficiency. All of these projects had an impact on our team, our approach, and our office overall moving forward. Even when projects are difficult, we view them as a success, because they provide us with endless opportunities to add to our knowledge base. This is the Comma ethos.

The Teachable Moments

The phrase “I don’t know” is so important to me. That may seem strange, but every time I say it, it means I’m about to learn something. The teachable moments come early and often when starting something new… and I love it. I hope those moments keep coming because if they stop, the most likely scenario is that we’ve become too comfortable and have stopped pushing boundaries. I can continue to push myself into new technology and new ideas, but ultimately, it’s all about the people around you. When we hire, one of the most important questions we ask is “are they curious, and do they track down answers to the questions they have?” It’s vital for Comma that we stay in the front row as the Architectural world changes. The only way to do that is to ask questions, recognize a teachable moment, and do something about it.

The People

We come across, and work with, a lot of people in what we do. They are all important. We have long-term consultant relationships that make what we do on a daily basis fun. We can’t do it without them. We have client relationships, both new and old, that go way beyond billing contacts. We spend years together overcoming the challenges of design and construction and working with great clients is undoubtedly the difference-maker in how fulfilled we feel about what we do.

It’s talked about all the time, but also not often enough. We are small, but we are powerful. We have completed projects you wouldn’t imagine possible given our size, but it’s not an accident or an anomaly. We have support from an amazing organization called Carpenter Marty Transportation in Columbus, OH that includes incredible leadership that has allowed Comma to grow at an impressive pace. Our marketing and business development team jumped in without hesitation to help us figure out what it looks like to start an Architecture firm in Nashville. It’s incredibly valuable to have people who are asking the right questions at the right time. We have those people, and they are our greatest catalyst for growth.

Who’s left? Ahhhh… yes…

I hope the people in our design studio have some idea how vital they are to our success. No matter how valuable they think they are, the truth is, they are most likely still underestimating the impact they have on the work we do, the studio environment, the success we have, and our path forward. It’s simply nothing without them, and a large part of my learning process as a leader has been to slow down and make sure they know that. And I’m still learning. When I look back on 2021, adding Courtney St. John to our studio to compliment Kyle (and to always keep me on task) was lightning in a bottle. The sum of our studio is so much greater than its parts, and as we grow, they can and will provide a foundation that any great Architecture firm has.

Intentionally setting aside some time for this year in review naturally led me to a place of gratitude. Grateful that people have believed in and supported us. That gratitude quickly turns to excitement about what’s next. If we believe what we are selling, and we do, then Comma will never stop learning, adapting, and working to be better. Let’s keep it rolling in 2022 and beyond.

Director of Architecture

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