Saturday Cup of Joe: a lending and tech(ish) newsletter from Detroit

Saturday Cup of Joe #117.

Friends & Colleagues,

Week 117. What a week. In case you are new to Saturday Cup of Joe, I began this experiment with 35 readers my first Saturday in Detroit. I’ve sent out my postcard each week for the last 116 and this week is no exception. One difference between this week and most weeks, however, is that I was barely in Detroit this week or at least that’s how it felt. Detroit. Boston. DC. Philadelphia. 4 cities in 4 days. Phew, I need a vacation. Luckily, that’s exactly why I’m in Philly today. My family will be spending some time with my parents and brother’s family at the Jersey Shore. We’re looking forward to the time, albeit brief, to connect with The Potters.

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Photo by Ivan Sanford thanks to Unsplash

One of the highlights of the summer in Detroit is the cohort of interns that descend upon the city from mid-May through early August. I think companies value interns as much as interns rely on internships. New ideas. Energy. Credibility. I noticed a trend on Instagram this week where CEOs and prominent leaders like Kevin Plank at Under Armor and Dan Gilbert at Quicken Loans highlight the intern events and value. How do you engage with interns or new / entry-level employees? Do you think through the internship experience as well as the value to your organization? What does the feedback loop look like? Are interns providing response or reaction during or after they return to school? This week engage with your interns before they leave. The fresh perspective will surprise you.

Lastly, I wanted to mention a date coming up next week. Friday, August 10 is Meredith and my 11th anniversary. We’re looking for a babysitter for Friday night if anyone is willing to come hang out at our house for a few hours — we have Amazon Fire TV and new fiber optic internet for you. Only kidding. Meredith, thank you for joining me on this crazy adventure and always being willing to listen to my dreams, wild ideas and half-baked theories. You continue to demand that I speak up and show up and bring you in the loop. I am excited to step out toward the next 11, 22, 33, 44 years on strong, open and dedicated ground. But I’ll need your help, that’s for sure. You have a love and admiration for our daughter that is evident every time you look at her and I see it in your relationship. I know she looks to you for her guidance and her stability. Thank you for being willing to listen to me, to listen to her and to accept the ever-changing goals and dreams that I bring home each day. I love you. Happy Anniversary (on Friday)…eldorado.

To everyone else, on vacation, headed to a vacation or just back from a vacation, I hope you have a wonderful and not-to-hot week wherever you are reading this.

Have a productive (and fun) day! Cheers.

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Man U v Liverpool last week in Ann Arbor, MI

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Homeownership: Since a theme this week seems to be quotes, wide-ranging but hopefully topical, I included an article and some interesting quotes on home ownership. Bloomberg published the headline “American Housing Market is Showing Signs of Running Out of Steam.” For whatever reason, I’ve heard a lot the last week or two about the slowing of the economy and the “coming downtown.” How far out does your business look? Are you preparing day-to-day, 1 year out, 3 year out, or 5 years out? If you are doing it in parallel, what tips do you have for splitting time and focus?

Focusing just on housing, Lawrence Yun, the chief economist of National Association of Realtors (NAR), puts it this way, “Affordability is becoming a major headache for homebuyers. You are seeing home sales rising in Alabama, where things are affordable. But in places like California, people aren’t buying.” To me, this is a sales pitch for #theNextBelt. Midwestern cities where affordability and quality meet. Please come visit and let us show off Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Cincinnati/Louisville.

Yet, not even affordability or quality of life is enough to overcome some buyer’s fears. Freddie Mac’s chief economist, Sam Khater stated that “homeownership rates reflect the long-lasting scars from the Great Recession and the lopsided nature of this recovery.” What worries me about this quote is how our industry and our economy writ large is going to be able to overcome this reality.

One thing I’ve often written about homeownership is that it is no longer a wise financial decision. Selling the personal investment can be part of the story but should not be the core message; yet investment is still at the heart of the American Dream but of a different kind. The core message for homeownership should be commitment to place. Buying a home is public commitment to a place, a community, a way of life.

Choosing the community is as strong a statement, if not stronger, than being born there. You think it’s less “authentic” to select a city like Detroit and say, I want to make my life part of the history and people of this place. In my experience that is the highest form of commitment. There is one condition — sensitivity and respect for the place. There is a WRONG WAY to do this type of thing and that’s exploitation and appropriation. The right way is a true decision followed by actions that commit and better your community. It doesn’t have to be a city either. Many people leave their hometown only to return and make the decision there. Others find the same level of commitment to New York City and arrive at 18 years old declaring “I’m a New Yorker” and true to form, never leave (except for weddings and summer weekends on Long Island). That level of commitment is seen as romantic for New York and suspect in other cities in America. Why?

My advice for you or your business is ignore these articles that predict, perhaps accurately, the coming downturn and instead tell a better story. Focus on the why and speak to a new client and a new customer in a new way. Let me know how it goes.

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Blockchain: In a Fintech meets original tech story this week, the New York Times noted how blockchain and other recent technology innovations are dramatically changing the art world. It seems the blockchain’s capacity for transparency and consistency brings a much needed standardization and access to those buying, selling and investing in artistic works.

“Entrepreneurs are trying to iron out the archaic inefficiencies of the art world” and “new types of financial products, particularly the secure ledgers of [the] blockchain.”

Another way digital technology is challenging historical notions of art is the value of creation and resale.

“Digital art is a computer file that can be reproduced and redistributed infinitely. Where’s the resale value?” John Zettler, president of Rare Art Labs, a company building a platform for cryptocurrency art sales, said at the event.

At the same time because blockchain offers strong “proof-of-ownership technology” and supports cryptocurrency it is a natural fit for the art world’s “invention of scarcity” and opens a new market for potential art buyers.

The upside is not without significant changes. One area where investors have to rethink their investment is actually the original purpose of art — to look at. With “funds, tokenization and even digital art,” investors do not have anything to “hang on their walls.” Perhaps the next innovation will need to be the digital wall.

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On Democracy: “I can conceive of no better service in the United States, henceforth, by democrats of thorough and heart-felt faith, than boldly exposing the weakness, liabilities and infinite corruptions of democracy.” — Walt Whitman

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Spirit of Detroit.

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On inspiration: One thing I have been thinking a lot about lately is innovation. In unrelated news, when I first met Meredith her parents were living in South Orange, NJ and when I visited their house, I found out it was the former home of Edison’s clerk. The clerk had stored prototypes and other artifacts in the basement. Some were still there. Recently I have been looking for more articles that focus on innovation and creativity, specifically creativity in the business world. I saw this article about Edison’s inventions and productivity and pulled out a few highlights.

Clayton M Christensen and Derek Van Bever of Harvard Business school distinguish “process innovation” and “market-creating innovation.” This is a key distinction for your organization. Process innovation “speeds manufactur[ing] of existing products and/or reduces transaction costs.” Market-creating innovation actually creates “new industries and new employment.” Knowing what you are trying to do is key to whether or not you’ll succeed. To me, process innovation is trying to get incrementally better — 10% improvements each year. Market-creating innovation is trying to 100x or 1,000x your business or your goals. If you are working on process improvements, it is likely your business is competing with everyone else. Everyone is trying to get 10% better. If, on the other hand, you are viewing your organization as a market innovator, you might be the only one in your space looking to innovate.

The second important point is whether anyone can really be a market-creating innovator alone. Even in Edison’s case, it was important to bounce his inventions off others to ensure the final product was right. Typically, “entrepreneurship is less about a single experiment an dmore about the pooling fo multiple investors’ ideas. In the case of your business, it is a balance between collaboration among your internal team and the ability to keep monitoring and understanding the industry-wide innovation taking place.

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I want to believe: “The desert is this place that, because it’s so empty, because there are so few people around … you can write something about your own life or about the meaning of bigger, more cosmic kinds of things.” Against that backdrop, people have created landmarks and elevated the locations of sightings to provide them with spaces to focus their energies. Ultimately, they’re grappling with some big existential questions in the otherwise stark desert landscape.”

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On inspiration: Here’s an interesting and heart-warming link to how Dr. Seuss may have been inspired by a monkey in Kenya to create The Lorax. How do you struggle with “writer’s block” or “innovator’s block” in your current role? What inspiration do you draw on when you are looking to create a new project or plan?

One thing I think a lot about is storytelling and how storytelling changes outcomes. Can I be more persuasive with data, with story or with some combination? Certainly everything in our organizations and our business is a synthesis of existing technology or existing ideas. How do you leverage it to your advantage?

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Millennials: Brookings Institution provided a massive deep dive on Millennials and changing cultural trends across generations. Check out the whole report here. I provided a quote that caught my attention and some highlights:

“As a bridge to the future, this highly diverse generation will face both opportunities and challenges. Race and ethnicity disparities in education attainment, family formation, income, and housing persist among millennials. These differences need to be recognized because they will affect their current and future quality of life — including their health and well-being as this generation ages.”

If I could summarize the highlights in one theme it would be — millennials are facing a nontraditional path compared to previous generations of young adults. Whether its marriage, homeownership, household formation or income, millennials are more diverse and more creative in achieving certain quality of life milestones.

Excerpt from Brookings report comparing young adults across last 40 years.

The report also includes geographic research and some of the highest growth areas are telling a larger story about how millennials make decisions about homeownership — Colorado Springs, San Antonio, Denver, Orlando, Honolulu, Austin, Cape Coral, Houston, Sarasota and Seattle. Interesting mix of large and medium cities outside the Northeast and Midwest.

According to Brookings research, millennials are the bridge and by definition are between large, solid previous generation(s) and a more fluid, dynamic future.

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Fact or fiction: “All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die.” - John Steinbeck

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Answer well: “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.” — John F. Kennedy

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Blogging, ya know: This blogger is offering to help you “find your better self.” How you ask? Let’s try these 4 easy steps.

1. Pick a time frame in the future. Try this exact date 2 years from now. August 4, 2020.

2. Picture yourself at your best. All your goals are achieved — career, relationships, health.

3. See it and feel it deeply. Do your best to visual in vivid detail the actual future.

4. Think about how to apply your strengths. Apply them

Studies suggest that this visualization is most effective when it’s specific, such as thinking about your career direction or a new relationship.

Do you visualize? Do you believe in it? It’s curious. Professional athletes do it. Entertainers do it. What about CEOs? Leaders? You?

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Today’s thought: Don’t for The Middle. If I was more multimedia savvy, I’d have figured out how to get The Middle by Zedd and Maren Morris to play here. But what I mean by The Middle is the space between where your goals & “big rocks” are today and where you know you want the organization to be in 3 years. There’s today and there’s future state. How do you connect the two? If it’s a technology build, when do you start and how do you walk your team through the steps at the right time to meet back at success in 3 years? If it’s a mindset, what’s holding you back? Building the steps. Laying the groundwork. Planting the seeds. Watering the seeds. Nurturing the growth. It’s all about The Middle.

Quote: “All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.” — Calvin Coolidge

Bonus Content: Vice media posted some helpful financial tips and tricks. Ever try a 3 day waiting period on modest purchases? That and more ideas in this post.

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Continued success and continue to answer well,

Written by

Thinker, curious leader, once an attorney…always trying to answer well.

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