Express, Test, Cycle – Recycling a Building, Reviving an Idea

Terman Engineering Building by Ron Horii

Terman Engineering Building by Ron Horii

As a wee teenager I wandered into Terman Engineering Building for the first time. Little did I know, this was the first day in a life-long love affair. Terman was the fabled inside-out building at Stanford built by Hewlett and Packard to honor their professor. It was deliberately built to expose the structure of the building to the students housed inside it. It was a constant lesson about design and engineering that followed us wherever we went.

I spent hundreds of hours in this building over the years. I would often see tours or overhear

conversations about the building – ‘notice the laminated beams, how the windows on one side are shuttered, the small pond for cooling, etc.’ What you didn’t ever hear is someone talking about the ribbon-like pattern dancing across the glass doors. Lightly etched into the heavy glass doors was an ornate flourish that held the letters ‘ETC’ -the mantra of the design team. E represented ‘Express’ or simply, go try to build the thing.  T was for ‘Test’ or try it out and see if it works or how you can improve it. C was for ‘Cycle’ or repeat, go back to the beginning and express again. This minor detail is what lives on in everything that I do and walks with me wherever I go.

After nearly 20 years I have seen dozens of teams fail from forgetting or refusing to ETC. I

Terman being torn down

Terman being torn down

have yet to see one fail who has stuck to this mantra faithfully. These days, ETC goes by new names (Lean Startup, Design Process, etc.), but the principals at work are still the same. Fundamentally, you have to get out of the talking and thinking space into the doing space and you need to do it as efficiently as possible. And, most importantly, you need to do it again and again until you have something that truly solves the problem and meets the requirements.

This blog is devoted to exploring the success and failures of human endeavors as we look through the glass doors of Terman Engineering.

What are some of the ideas you still carry around with you from college?