Friends & Colleagues,
SCOJ87. The deep freeze in Detroit. I generally avoid talking about the weather. In the office, though, it’s always a popular topic. Detroit missed the mega storm that hit the East Coast. Outside the office was another story. Our pipes froze before we got home from Vermont on New Year’s Eve. We have two pipes along an exterior wall which just so happen to connect to our kitchen sink and dishwasher. Bathrooms and showers are probably the less convenient loss, so that’s good. But it took several days of a space heater, heating pad, fabric and newspaper insulation, and foam pipe wraps to get back up and running. Happy to say we were successful without any cracks or leaks, knock on wood.
It was a weird feeling climbing under the sink to try insulate the gaps between the cabinetry and the walls. I was excited to be “fixing” something, happy we do not own the place, and torn on whether the risk of burst pipes, ice dams and wonky furnaces is ever worth 30 years of debt. Hard to tell. Many of you know that we owned in Connecticut but have been renting so far in Detroit. I wasn’t sure we’d ever own again (at least a primary residence) when we got here. But more and more I’ve been curious about what it would mean to rehab and own in Detroit. Our decision is not any different than anyone else’s — rent versus buy. Yet, I find myself wishing for a middle ground. We are committed to the community. We want the stability, or perception of stability, that owning offers. It’s not clear to me it makes any financial sense. I’m thinking of it more broadly than just the down payment, lower monthly payment and eventual equity. Time. Energy. Unexpected costs.
In Detroit, the opportunity to “save” a home, commit in an even deeper way to the community and have a front row seat for one of the great American comeback stories is perhaps too good too pass up. I’ve been working a little on a Detroit-specific mortgage program and what that could look like. We have a Rehabbed & Ready program that brings homes back to life and sells them at fair market value. That could be a perfect next move for us. Only time will tell. We can’t wait too long. Once Amazon announces the winner of HQ2, the whole market could change. No, I don’t have any inside info on that. Just hoping.
NIMBY: The New York Times published a quick but deep review of the old adage — Not In My Back Yard. Grounded in homeownership as the American Dream and fueled by the belief that owning a home allows an authority (at best) or a right (at worst) to control all the land and use around the property. In many ways, this article argues for the fact that no one is left to speak for what’s best for the community as a whole. For the last 50 years or more, little enclaves of concerned citizens have prioritized individual home values over the overall health of the community. Some can argue that by worrying about their own home values most people will make good decisions for the overall community, but I tend to disagree. By depending too much on their own property values, homeowners make increasingly risk averse decisions. Safe decisions. People dislike change. Communities fail to innovate. They get stuck in the past and then rely too heavily on existing infrastructure and assumptions. Isn’t this the story of the industrial Midwest? By becoming too comfortable with the employment and riches of factories, many cities failed to monitor changes that ultimately put these places too far behind when suddenly faced with economic or technological changes.
I realize the NYT article doesn’t quite go that far, focusing instead on the social and cultural aspects to the power of homeownership, or lack thereof. In fact, as the tax benefits to homeownership come under attack, housing as the primary asset in someone’s portfolio may change, too. What doesn’t seem to be changing, however, is that homeownership creates a belief in many homeowners that they have an ability to alter or control the entire neighborhood.
Apparently Apple was forced to publicly admit their product is designed to worsen over time. Ok, that’s a little dramatic. What the company said is that the phone slowed, in part to save the battery & operating system, as the software aged. Sounds like an excuse reverse engineered to a complaint, doesn’t it? We get it. Slowing the phone down avoids crashes. Hard to imagine, though, that the company genuinely tried to perfectly calibrate the performance to the processing power. Seems much more likely as the phones aged, the phones performed worse and worse, and consumers upgraded. “Everybody” wins.
As if on cue, what the market heard was “we intentionally mess with you to get you to upgrade.” Yikes.
This is kinda like the Howard Dean moment. Politicians and companies can make a misstep here or there but you cannot confirm the world’s biggest fear about you. That turns into a historic faux pas. This could be Apple’s.
Answer well: Annie Duke is a world famous poker player. She is a decision-making machine. Bold. Ambitious. Confident. She identified a fascinating concept — resulting — that I’ve never heard put this way. She writes that resulting is confusing the outcome with the decision process. Specifically, she says, “The outcome was irrelevant to the decision quality.” It’s a hard and complex concept to internalize. We want things to make sense, yet “knowing the outcome infects us.” The fact that perfect decisions can result in failure and poor decision-making can still work out could be crippling. After reading this, I found comfort in focusing on the process. Trust the process. We all want positive outcomes, but we can begin to separate ourselves from outcomes by focusing more on the decision-making process. On quality, and the quality of the process. Let the rest, “the chips,” if you will, fall where they may.
Included this week:
· Of Interest — Reacting to a world without enough work
· Millennial minute — Mobile-First platforms for all ages
· For your consideration — The news: the new opiate of the masses (?)
· NextBelt — A case study in a failing mall
· Power of storytelling — Where does compassion fit in a free market?
· Quirky Story — Literary road trips (think Kerouac) on 1 map
· Bonus Content — Blockchain is here
· & the Quote
Of Interest: “A World Without Enough Work.” I stumbled on a slide deck outlining Connecticut’s employment outlook for the future. According to Kelvie & Smialowski, Connecticut’s outlook is dim. As certain jobs are lost (potentially, forever) to automation and innovation the state must deal with the lost tax revenue, the inevitable burden on social services and the irreversible downward spiral fueled by lack of hope. Paralegals are predicted to drop by 94% in the next 20 years. Loan officers are predicted to decrease by 98% (leaving only 44 loan officers total in Connecticut). Once autonomous cars eliminate 35% of civil lawsuits, personal injury attorneys will decrease too.
In many ways it’s a double whammy. Not only will these changes alter how many human jobs are needed in the lending / risk analysis jobs like mortgage origination but also eliminate meaningful employment for many people we rely on as customers to buy or refinance homes.
Admittedly, this slide deck is focused on Connecticut, specifically, but the shifts will be felt throughout the country. People moving around the country to follow the existing jobs (or not). Tough decisions between staying near family or following the work. We already know humans resist change and do not want to admit when evidence goes against what we want to believe. To wit, you may already be feeling skeptical of this slide deck even as it makes sense on some rational level. The bottom line is how to prepare for inevitable change and create an organization that can grow and succeed even as technology evolves and competition increases. The Connecticut slide deck is interesting but this is a potential problem (almost) everywhere. When strategic planning or even just daydreaming, how can your organization prepare or lay the foundation for future success? What does nimble mean when technology is changing so rapidly? Good luck.
Millennial minute isn’t just for millennials anymore: Mobile banking is unquestionably happening and, turns out, its Gen Xers who are the next biggest adopters. From under 75% to over 82% adoption by 2019, Gen Xers all but guarantee that any consumer facing platform is now “Mobile-First.”
For your consideration: Have you ever said something just to hear it out loud as a way to value its legitimacy? As if saying something out loud makes it slightly more real than just thinking it, and then you can use the sound of it to help make the decision. I experienced a version of that this week after reading this article by Ryan Holiday. Wanna try it? “Let’s all stop watching the news.” At first the implication makes me feel like a bad citizen or something. But on second thought, the point isn’t to be burying our proverbial heads in the sand. The point is to carefully curate our consumption. Avoid daily triggers like cable news, Twitter and that one person’s Facebook feed designed to annoy you. Avoid opinion pieces. In many ways, avoid the national in favor of the local. I would suggest there’s value here. Moderation is needed, for sure. We still have to be socially aware and conscious to vote, influence our representatives, and support legislation that benefits our communities. But we don’t need to tune into programming designed to skew our perspective. More time spent on reading, talking to friends and neighbors and actually spending time with new, interesting people is much more likely to benefit our hearts & minds than getting all fired up on Twitter every day. And even though I believe people should get properly fired up when there’s injustice all around, I think the most bang for your emotional buck is connecting with yourself and your community. Just a (second) thought.
Next Belt: Here’s a quick take on a recent story. The Washington Post published a Style section piece on the importance of a mall and a JC Penney in one small Pennsylvania town. The story is a quintessential example of what’s happening in many rural towns and in the economy overall. Unfortunately, the story is also a profile in sadness. Few options are offered. Few solutions suggested. But as described in the Of Interest section earlier, this is a problem likely to get worse before it gets better.
Meanwhile, in the Midwest, Fort Wayne, Indiana is looking to capitalize on the new “cool” of industrial buildings. Fort Wayne is rehabbing an abandoned General Electric (GE) complex. Downtown Fort Wayne has grown 14% since 2000 and the planned revitalization includes new lofts, condos, farm-to-table restaurants and coffee shops. Downtowns are the new suburbs. Midwest industrial factory buildings are the new cul-de-sac.
Power of storytelling: I came across a fascinating article this week about a hypothetical future where human beings, specifically parents, care as much for all kids as they do their own. Ultimately it wasn’t about whether this would become a reality but rather, if it did, would that be a good thing? In the end, I have mixed feelings here.
Initially, I feel strongly that people do not consider other people and do not consider kids, generally, when making difficult decisions about their behavior, about the allocation of resources, and about social policy. Come to think of it, kids do not have a specific trade association for advocacy at the national level. Not surprising, then, that children (or causes important to children) struggle to get a fair piece of the pie. But I digress. The point is that socializing our kids to have a broader sense of humanity and community is not our main goal. In fact, individualism and the vague notion of market forces drive our socialization. Homeless people just need to get a job. The young man with the criminal record should have known better. The single mom without health insurance isn’t our problem.
I’m not saying these are necessarily personal assessments because many people cannot put a name or a face to these individuals. So, our kids do not have a broader sense of community or collective identity.
We do tend to instill religious, cultural, or ethnic traditions but leave the broader category of “citizenship” up to school or random chance. Compassion is left to the purview of the churches and non-profits. One way to weave compassion into the fabric of our culture is a move toward the old village model, or as I like to call it: communal living. Generally, I’m referring to a much narrower, specific meaning. Literally a variety of people and family constructions co-living and sharing the household responsibilities. Here, communal living is more a mindset. We’re all in this together. Compassion, consideration, and courtesy would go a long way in 2018 America.
I know it’s not that simple. A mindset isn’t everything. Individual responsibility cannot be replaced with compassionate public-minded neighbors and friends. The article both overstates the likely harmony of communitywide thinking and then attacks the overstated vision.
Quirky story: I love the idea of the road trip. Meredith and I almost drove cross country for our honeymoon. Perhaps we still will one day. In the meantime, Atlas Obscura published this map of the famous literary road trips. It looks like Arkansas was the only state in the lower 48 left out completely.
Quote: “Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?” — John Keats
Bonus Content: Can blockchain replace banks in real estate lending? The answer is a strong maybe, but seems more and more likely each day. The linked article praises possible uses for blockchain technology in real estate and glosses over practical obstacles. But when I sent the article to my colleague, Zach, a title insurance attorney in Connecticut, he had the exact same reaction I did: at the time President Kennedy said we were going to the moon in the next 10 years, we didn’t know how to do it but it, sure enough, it happened. Here, we already have blockchain at work in niche ways and just think, 10 years ago we couldn’t summon a car on command with our phones or pay a stranger to sleep in their house without ever meeting them.