Self Doubt and the New Landscape Practice

Self Doubt and the New Landscape Practice
Presented at the “Landscape Architect’s Retreat” Yatch Club, Mumbai


When you Google self doubt on the internet, you will be presented with this definition.

“Noun: lack of confidence in oneself and one’s abilities.”

You will also see close to 15 pages on articles dealing with Self Doubt. What is interesting though is that all these articles seem to discuss self-doubt at a deeply personal level, and that is, of course, true.

But is there another, more significant, aspect to doubting yourself? If Self-doubt affects you, doesn’t it affect your actions? And if self-doubt affects your actions, and you are an entrepreneur, would it not affect your business model?

If the answer to the above question is yes, then it brings us to the premise of this essay. Self-doubt is not only a personal problem; it is also a business problem, a professional problem and an economic problem.

To understand how self-doubts affect us, I contacted eight landscape architects, and asked / begged them to fill a questionnaire regarding aspects of self-doubt. Pasted below is the link to that form. The idea was is to get into a dialogue with a few likeminded people and understand their experiences and mechanisms for coping with self-doubt.




These eight landscape architects were very kind to give to fill in this form. What I learnt from them was very enriching, and it was interesting to note how different people viewed this talk differently. In this talk, I shall be referencing their feedback from time to time to substantiate the premise of this essay.



…undermines the art of design
The discussion on self-doubt generally tends to revolve around its relationship with design process. “How does it impact the quality of the design?” or “What is the dynamic relationship between the sense of self doubt and the process of design.”

There is a subtler angle to this discussion. It may be argued that the pressure of running a practice (as a business) undermines the art of the design process. It is no secret that clients tend to prefer safer and simplistic designs over dense, intellectual, or edgy experiments in design. a designer worried about his relation with the client and his immediate need for the project that designs are likely to be dictated by what is safe than by what may be daring / interesting / deep / experimental etc. self doubt is a client related issues and I think the common question revolved around “clinching the deal VS pushing the design envelope”

Consider the situation below. We have the same team with the same design idea reacting in two very different and very real ways. The principle designer on the left is dealing with self-doubt in a very skillful and mature way. The one on the right however is wondering about the amount of sugarcoating required to push this project through.


Consider another observation gleaned from advertising professionals. Around 2010, the Advertising Industry was beginning to feel the heat of the global economic downturn. They found themselves sitting across their clients (big corporations, the makers of products) renegotiating their fees. Across the Industry massive slashes ensued, just to keep the client from taking their businesses elsewhere. And yet,

If collective memories serve us, the public did not see a reduction in the amount of advertising that were published between 2009 and 2015. [ ran a story “FMCG, Apparel and Telecom least impacted in the global meltdown: CII Retail Report | January 12, 2010 at 1:21 pm”]

Neither did the quantum of work in the Advertising Industry fall down. What did happen though was a very subtle but noticeable shift in the organizational structure of the workspace. Projects were lead by the Servicing department. Deadlines and delivery became more important than the solution. The creative side of the business started to lose its clout in the decision making process of the office. To quote M Saatchi (from a completely unrelated reference) “We stopped delivering the best, and started delivering it by next Tuesday!”

…stresses the logistics of the business

This point is straightforward. All seemed to experience self Doubt, but they experienced it at different levels and in different ways. However, every one indicated that there was a loss of effectiveness because of self-doubt. This ranged from revisiting decisions to going for movies – basically postponing decision-making. Now this is important cumulatively.

…not equipped to deal with this issue
The survey brought to light some interesting point and some not so interesting points. There is a cumulative learning here.

As far as rating questions regarding the root of self-doubt went, there seemed to be no real consensus what did or did not contribute to a sense of self-doubt. Regarding self-motivation, the techniques people used were diverse and very interesting and made for good reading. But one notices that these were all solitary method and this I think this solitude seems to underline the way we function in this profession.

s8 s9 s10

The answers to the question “how do you deal with self doubt? How do you motivate yourself?” made for interesting reading. Again, one notices that these were all solitary method and this I think this solitude seem to underline the way we function in this profession.

I found the general direction of the responses to these three topics quite unsettling. I think the results reinforced the feeling that this topic was not discussed enough. All acknowledged the impacts of self-doubt, at least in part. But the ways of dealing with it or thinking about it seemed too diverse and spontaneous.

An interesting side project
This lead to an interesting side project in this study. – looking at features of a support system.

It is said that one of the key ways to tackle self-doubt is to counter the crippling effects of loneliness. to quote an essay from the web, “ “I have personally found some solace from business loneliness for six years through my affiliation with the Inc. Business Owners Council, which is a membership community of Inc. 5000 company owners……it has been well worth the commitment. For me the reward has been a growing concatenation of peer friendship, humor, and allayed loneliness. ”
-The Peculiar Loneliness of Entrepreneurship | by Tim Askew


I first asked if any of the participants had a support system that they turned to for help. (5 of the 8) had them. The answer to the question “how does your support system help you?” revealed two recurring themes. The fist was camaraderie. The second was of being able to discuss common problems.

From the feedback, I managed to make a list of salient features of a support system.

…may lie, benefits for the landscape profession
The question one can ask is, will the discussion of this issue have any long-term benefit for the landscape profession as a whole?

Let us consider the following lines

We do not seem to have ready answers to barrage of questions that assault us while working,
We do not have a ready reckoner of answers to daunting business situations.
We do not have biographies of how the now established firms went about establishing themselves. These can be a source of incredible inspirations.


Not having these could be said to be one of our biggest setbacks. Most of these stories travel about by word of mouth and in that sense, is not open knowledge. This creates a state of perpetual golden age of startups where wisdom gained over the years by the previous generation is never built upon by the newer generation and what one invariably notices, is that starting a landscape practice has not undergone any form of evolution as compared to start-ups in any other fields (notably software development).

One could also mention professional bodies at this point. I think issues raised in this essay have the potential of adding to the definition of what these bodies could be doing, and the conversations they could be engaged in with all professionals.