A graphic shows two people sharing one thought cloud
How the construction Mandela effect harms relationships & productivity

Luke, I am your father.” Surely, even without the added effect of the box fan modulating the intonation, we’ve all heard this phrase uttered by the insidious Darth Vader. Or have we? If you ask even the best Star Wars fan, you might hear this famous movie quotation misquoted.

The actual quote is, “No, I am your father,” as Luke dangles precipitously from the catwalk. Sure, it doesn’t have the catch of the former declaration, but it provides an excellent illustration of what is know as the Mandela Effect.

Simply put, the Mandela Effect is how a group of people all simultaneously have a false memory of an event.

It originated with Fiona Broome in her recollection of Nelson Mandela’s death in prison in the 1980s, when, in fact, Mandela was very much alive until 2013. There are countless other examples of the Mandela Effect in all aspects of life, from marketing slogans to pop culture. The construction industry is not too dissimilar.

There are many utterances exclaimed daily that everyone claims are gospel, when, in fact, there is probably little truth to base them upon. While probably not as grand as Vader’s stark confession, they do permeate jobsites and organizations and probably have a more deleterious effect.

1. “All general contractors are out to get us.”

The proverbial “us” is the trade contractor community. Everyone has heard the multitude of “lawyer” jokes, and, to be honest, there are probably a few contractor jokes that might give them a run for their money. Are all lawyers bad? Certainly not. The same can be said for contractors. There are probably a few bad apples who have managed to tarnish the image of every amazing industry. No one is out to get anyone. Best-in-class contractors know their success is directly connected to a trade partner’s success, especially if that general contractor self-performs nothing. It is certainly not easy to coordinate the maneuvering of 15 to 20 trade partners when you also have an owner to manage, unforeseen conditions and low-quality documents.

2. “All trade contractors do is overpromise and underdeliver.”

Once again, there are bad trade contractors who make a living from shuffling one crew among 20 different jobs simply to placate the general who is barking demands. However, the vast majority of tradesmen want to do a good job. Being a trade contractor is a lot like starting and stopping a locomotive. They are told to mobilize, only to stop or remobilize, which creates a logistical personnel nightmare. It is easy to think that a trade contractor is playing games when, in reality, they are trying to pivot after being led astray on one project, creating an eventual domino effect of crew shuffles.

3. “All these kids these days.”

First: If you have used the phrase, “these kids,” you are officially old. All jokes aside, it must be a rite of passage for every generation to pick on the next one. Whether it’s the baby boomers mocking the Gen Xers, or even the millennials feeling everyone’s ire, there is no shortage of disdain that comes with getting older.

The only truth that exists is that the next generation is different. Not better, not worse. Just like the other generations. There are strengths and weaknesses in all of the groupings — and only high-performing organizations recognize they need people from all generations to build harmonious working relationships.

4. “Engineering and architectural designs and drawings are getting worse.”

Far be it from me to judge the quality of anyone’s design documents. What is fascinating about this is that technology has improved exponentially over the last 20 years, yet, if you ask some construction practitioners, they would say the quality of the documents has deteriorated. Once again, it is hard to argue when there are an increasing number of change order, claims and delays. However, the same constraints that the construction team faces — time, budget, resources — the design team faces as well. By no means is this an excuse but, rather, an acknowledgement of how contractors of all types can refocus their approach to drive toward improved communication and collaboration.

5. “Change orders are a license to print money.”

Everyone has seen the comical meme of the large super-yacht pulling a small dinghy, with the boat names “Change Order” and “Original Contract,” respectively. Undoubtedly, there was a time when change orders might have been viewed as cash cows. The reality for many contractors is that a change has an adverse and unwelcome effect on the schedule, the workflow, the crews, permitting, productivity, etc. Hopefully, when a customer sees a change order and its price causes a near palpitation, they also understand that change orders for many firms are a losing proposition.

This has been a tongue-in-cheek examination of phrases we all hear regularly, and perhaps also receive credit for sometimes muttering. The problem is there are two sides to every story. Are we perpetuating a false narrative? Or asking the right questions to solve the right problems? There is no shortage of frustrations in the world of construction today, but leading through challenges with a different mentality can create less speculation about whether or not we’ll need a bigger boat. Look that one up.