Someone asked recently about the difference in competence between today's architects and builders and those of the early 20th century that could design and build the Empire State Building in about 15 months. The actual construction took only a year plus 45 days; the remainder was design. Here's what I think:
On the one side, an unencumbered, highly motivated, highly capable person can get an astounding amount of work done.
On the other side, with enough interruptions, you get nothing done because the time you spend fielding the interruptions (calls, visits, conversations, etc.) eats up your entire day, and you're actually going backwards... having more to do at the end of the day because you not only got nothing done during the day, but the interruptions brought new tasks.
Often, the difference between these two extremes isn't so great. In my Town Architect consultancy, it came down to two simple policies: "You'll have my full attention when I'm there one day a month, but don't expect to hear from me between visits." And: "Always bring back your redlined drawings from the last review."
When I instituted these policies in early 2004, if I recall correctly, I was on the brink of giving up the Town Architect part of my business entirely because it was so all-consuming. Afterward, it was a dream. And the projects didn't suffer in any substantive way, IMO. Rather, it created a discipline with their architects and builders of having to get the drawings done on a particular day... so they arguably got some stuff done more quickly. And the "always bring back your redlines" part actually relieved some of the developments of a tremendous amount of paperwork, because the development's paperwork went almost to zero as a result. Two little one-line policies made the difference between choking and thriving.
Bottom line, I don't think the early 20th century architects/planners/designers were so much smarter or more competent. Rather, our professions are choking now. What one-line policy changes like the ones above might help this situation?