I Would Not Like to Have Worked For Frank Lloyd Wright

"Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no reason to change."

— Frank Lloyd Wright

Figure 1: Frank Lloyd Wright.

Figure 1: Frank Lloyd Wright.

Because my wife and I are designing a cabin to replace our hunting shack in northern Minnesota, we have been looking at various house designs. Many of the designs we have looked at show the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright, who was the most famous member of the Prairie School of architecture. I know that Frank Lloyd Wright (Figure 1) is considered America's greatest architect (according to American Institute of Architects, 1991), but I do not think I would have wanted to work for him.

I have read many stories of his extreme arrogance. Arrogance can be very difficult to tolerate. I consider myself to be fairly tolerant of arrogance − nature usually provides a healthy dose of humility in due time. For example, I once had a boss that believed that he could overcome theoretically unsolvable problems (e.g. metastability). Reality soon corrected his erroneous belief in a rather nasty way.

I believe that managers should take more than their share of the blame and less than their share of the credit. Such was not the case with Frank Lloyd Wright. Consider the following quote from Givers and Takers.

Wright success is described as being helped often by apprentices, yet rarely giving them any credit.  He required his apprentices to put his name on any work they completed to insure all recognition would be allocated to him.  At several points in his career he was abandoned by the architectural community and went years without work. The book cites these challenging intervals a result of his unwillingness to share the spotlight and recognize those who contributed to his success.

His family didn't even like him. Consider the following quote from the Orlando Sentinel.

An unloving father, Wright was often estranged from his children. "I have had the father feeling for a building, but I never had it for my children,'' Wright once remarked. Grandson Tim Wright calls him "an embarrassing relative'' and "a torment'' to the family.

Wright was also legendary for not paying his bills − he was known as "Slow Pay Frank" (Source).

But they are shunned by neighbours outraged in equal parts by their living in sin and "Slow Pay Frank's" perennial refusal to honour his debts. As one cook explains to Mamah as she tenders her resignation: "It's sinful, that's what it is. And sin and pay is one thing, but sin and no pay I just can't abide."

He even refused to pay his family members (Source).

While he worked for his father on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (1920), Frank Lloyd Wright's son, John, an architect, was instructed by his father to complete a set of six drawings, present them to the client, Viscount Inouye, and collect the fee for his father. John did as he was asked, kept his unpaid back pay, and sent the balance to his father, who was then in the United States. On receipt of the balance Frank Lloyd Wright sent his son a cable-wireless, firing him.

In addition to firing his son, he also "presented him with a list of the total amount of money that John had cost him over his entire life" (Source).

I always tell my sons that most of life's management lessons are negative − as when we see a manager doing something that we swear we will never do. Frank has provided me a few more negative lessons.

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