When I get ready to conduct an interview for an article, I go in with a handful of prepared questions—mainly the who, what, where, when and whys—to get the conversation started. I know that after you’ve been on the phone for a while, the barriers start coming down and that’s when people start giving you the real “behind the scenes/this really happened” part of the story that gives your article the right edge or defining angle.

I imagine a lot of project teams start that way, too, asking questions about the overall goals, design directives, and anticipated challenges. But how many go a step further to ask, “What if?”

About eight minutes into a recent interview with Carlos Amato, principal/western region healthcare market leader, architecture, for CannonDesign, he described an “aha” moment during a user group meeting on a new research and simulation center for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The project, which is in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), is designed to test trauma care workflow and procedures for both civilian and military settings and the users were going back and forth about the ideal size of the simulation OR. (For more on the project, see “Reinventing The Simulation Center OR.”)

“There was a long discussion about if it should be 24-by-26 or 30-by-something else,” he says. “We said, ‘What if it’s all of the above, what if we make it something that can be adjusted?

“That was one of the defining moments of the project,” he says, and resulted in an OR suite with moving perimeter walls that can flex and move to different shapes and layouts.

Another what-if conversation occurred with equipment vendors about a custom trolley system for the ceiling that would enable users to move equipment, such as an anesthesia machine, from one end of the room to the other rather than be clustered in work areas.

“They thought we were nuts because how are you going to do that with a 300-pound piece of equipment that’s got all this stuff connected to it,” Amato says. “It was getting people to do things that they had never done before."

A simulation center is an ideal environment to test out-of-the-box design ideas since, unlike other healthcare projects, there aren’t any patients to consider. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more of these discussions in everyday projects that push people out of their comfort zones to ask: Why do we have to do it this way? What if we did this or what if we did that?

It could lead to the industry’s next game changer.

I’d love to hear about your best “what if” moment and the results of that thinking. Send your stories to me at adinardo@vendomegrp.com.