Friends & Colleagues,
Week 148. A busy week to be sure. Monday was a day that I celebrate each year, in my own way. A popular teacher in my high school used the same joke, excitedly, and I’ve carried on the tradition Mr. Rishel. March 4th — the only day that’s also a command.
Monday was busy, as usual, and this semester I’ve been teaching Consumer Protection Law to 2Ls at University of Detroit Mercy Law School. My class is Monday evenings and I’ve really been enjoying it. One thing I knew was coming but wasn’t quite fully prepared for was how changing priorities and time commitments would challenge my classroom schedule. Luckily my class rolled with our impromptu conversation on the true lender theory of the Madden and Cash Call cases and led to really interesting discussions. I’m enjoying the process and hoping that I’m successful in passing along my lesson (or at least enough value) each week.
Tuesday was on the road. I visit our Charlotte office and worked a few days on our business channel there. Great opportunity to continue to innovate and connect with more of our business. Productive and successful visit.
From Charlotte, I headed to DC by way of Detroit and back to discuss some recent activity on GSE Reform and other housing finance topics around town. I had to remind myself several times that this is the stage I had hoped for and the serious work I had asked for.
Incredibly rewarding stuff and, perhaps then, not surprising why the themes of ambition and opportunity come up several times in this week’s Saturday Cup of Joe. For instance, one article I read was Scott Young’s blog post on ambition. The tension and sometimes conflicting purposes associated with being ambitious and proactive is something I’ve thought a lot about. Do you cultivate ambition and competition (healthy competition) in your organization? In your own life? How do you handle it?
I try to remember balance. When it goes too far, it can become a cult. A cult of hustle. A cult of work for work’s sake and not for value. Whether you think “work” (read: ambition) has gone too far and crossed over into the orthodoxy or not, it is clear that each of us has to answer for it in our own lives. Perhaps that is one reason I’ve made my personal motto, Answer Well. My original intent was to remind me about the nature and value of all my communications — big and little — to everyone in my life. As I’ve grown, it’s taken on different meanings and intentions. Certainly monitoring ambition and work and competition is a worthwhile study from time to time.
Focus on listening is not just focusing on others, but engaging, actively: Hat tip to my Dad for passing along a great article on listening. Conventional wisdom holds that being silent, providing nonverbal feedback and retaining what the other person said are the keys to being a good listener. New research shows that good listening, excellent listening in fact, involves much more activity and interaction.
Productive listeners respond, question, encourage, and interact with the material (not just the person). Of course, like anything context is critical. Deeper conversations require different approaches. Check out the article to help accomplish your goals. Good stuff here.
Do you agree with the following statement: Economics can help connect human beings? This is the theory that underlies Daniel Lubetzky’s entire life.
One of the most frequent topics for Saturday Cup of Joe has been millennial homeownership. From one of the first emails to last week (#147), this topic has sparked comments, articles and opinions. There are many reasons this topic remains hot. Housing and real estate are areas with long, expensive processes that have been the target of innovation and competition lately. Personal finance — from student loans to generational wealth — remain political issues likely to only get hotter entering the 2020 Presidential election. Just this week, we saw the following articles:
Cheaper housing options boosts homeownership in some US metro areas — Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Detroit, Tampa, Louisville, Salt Lake City, Nashville, Charlotte, and Philadelphia — make up the Top 10. #NextBelt cities like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Detroit, and Louisville are among the great opportunities in both value and work-life balance/affordability in the country especially for entrepreneurs and freelancers. Minneapolis, Tampa, SLC, Nashville and Charlotte are among the fastest growing opportunities for families and jobs.
The American Dream should be a Condo — Who needs 10,000 sq feet? Honestly? The National Association of Home Builders built a 10K sq foot mansion to showcase the future … opps. Much of the research and trends tend to show that homebuyers are not looking for million dollar, 10K square footage homes. This goes beyond AOC’s Green New Deal, though, the author cannot help but mention it. In my opinion, this is about friction. Large, isolated houses are starting to create more friction than they solve. Once considered a luxury is now seen as a waste of resources — money, gas, space, time. A condo nearby work and play with lower levels of upkeep and expense have started to change the mentality of first time homebuyers and families alike. Is it a major shift? No. Is it a serious trend picking up speed that you and your business should consider? Yes!
Homeownership with a side of second thoughts — According to a Bankrate survey released last week, about 63% of millennials regret homeownership. The regrets do not seem to be earth-shattering and no one asked the operative question — would you buy your house again if you had do it all over? These regrets might not have been deal breakers, looking back. On the other hand, continued negative sentiment about maintenance costs, locations, investment value, time commitment and home size are not great news for housing and real estate. How do you counter these objections in your business? How do you showcase success stories? If asked, what would you say about your house? How about your first house?
We’re moving to storytelling as main way companies and brands communicate. How are you telling a compelling story and to whom?
Come with solutions. Not sometimes. Not when you can. Always come with a solution. It is not easy because sometimes the only solution you are aware of is not a realistic one. That’s fine — bring it anyway and provide that context.
We spend too much time in our businesses dismissing ideas or solutions before the idea even leaves our mind.
It’s not just coming to the table with a solution as an arbitrary rule. It’s a framework that demand everyone have thought through each the problem, the solutions and the possibilities.
For example, there is room to airing all the possibilities even if some feel unlikely. The one I always remember to prove this point is “do nothing.” How often in your meetings or our teams do we assume action? That’s why I try to ask — what if we did nothing?
Similarly if that doesn’t work for you, another example is “what if we did the exact opposite?” A powerful question that can lead to solutions previously undiscovered or at least unmentioned.
Identifying the problem is the easy part. Bringing solutions. Especially unlikely or unpopular solutions. That’s the magic. That’s indispensable.
Creative Misfits: Adam Grant, a professor at Penn’s Wharton School of Business, sends out a weekly e-mail called “Granted.” This week’s looked at creative mischief and creative misfits. How leaders can ask questions to cultivate a spirit of innovation and make creatives feel comfortable. I took some of my favorite questions and highlighted them here:
1. Who are the outsiders inside your workplace, and how can you make sure they feel heard?
2. When things are going well, what can you do to avoid the fat cat syndrome?
4. If you were going to run Lisa Bodell’s “kill the company” exercise, where would you start?
7. Who is your team’s common enemy?
9. How do you know when you have a just manageable difficulty, rather than one that’s impossible?
Learning to say No: Everyone acknowledges that time is the only true limited resource and yet we’re all “super busy.” Meredith, my partner and lifeline to stay grounded, forwarded me this great article on how canned email responses can help manage expectations while maintaining professionalism and not missing that “big break” that might be hiding in the next meeting. Here is the article by Alisha Ramos and here is my attempt that I decided to use this week. I sent it 19 times!
Thank you for your email. This is not something I’m interested in at this time. Please feel free to focus your efforts elsewhere. Want to be respectful of your time and energy.
Best of luck,
Do you use canned responses? Do you find it helpful? Have you ever been the recipient of what might be a canned response? How’d that make you feel? More to come…
Hustler or con artist: Ron Lieber writes a meticulous account of Jordan Goodman, former guru, turned “admits no guilt” signor of a SEC settlement agreement. Whether or not Goodman knew he was endorsing a company that was essentially a Ponzi scheme remains an open question in the article, but it is interesting to see how quickly and easily his reputation crumbled. This idea of public trust is one that only gets more fluid in today’s cable news, social media landscape. Yet, many of these stories are much more nuanced than headlines would suggest. How self interest, conflicts of interest or personal opinion (even) are disclosed or discussed is not consistent or defined well on the Internet. Journalists have a longer history and slightly better defined regime for this kinda thing, but what is a journalist has also changed and evolved rapidly. What does that mean for your business? What research do you point to and how do you respond to claims or articles? What will tomorrow’s “guru” look like?
Suburbs versus city: When I was in middle school, my older and much cooler cousin was an all state basketball player for a small high school outside Philly. He scored 2300 points in 4 years and ranked 3rd all time (at that time) in PA history. Number #1 was Wilt Chamberlain. Like I said, cool. In the late 90s Philly was doing the high school all star game as suburbs versus city. I’m not sure if this is still going on or not, but I was reminded of this game again this week when CityLab’s frequent contributor Richard Florida posted about a study from Harvard on the strength of the suburbs. Apparently for 40 years (up through 2010), the suburbs out performed the urban neighborhoods in most categories that public policy folks look to for stability.
I have been wondering a lot lately whether the suburbs will remain as strong and as popular as they have been between 1970–2010 as covered by the study. The headline references the present day as if the data isn’t 9 years old. That aside, though, it is a question. Will the suburbs remain as stable and strong as they were in 2010? What if they don’t?
We built the suburbs in the decade or so after WWII thanks to the GI Bill and large infrastructure projects like highways and bridges. Could we empty them in the same amount of time? Between 2010 and 2019, the only anecdotal observation I can make is that some suburbs have tried hard to make themselves more urban with “town centers” and walkable outdoor storefronts. Is that a successful strategy? What happens next is anyone’s guess and probably has as much to do with the economy, taxes and entrepreneurship as it does with whether people believe in density and walkability. My sense has always been that story wins out. Places with special stories. Characters. Will better connect this coming generation and those beyond than place did for the generation before or the one before that. It’s not clear though if that story comes with risk whether it will be place and story that wins or safety and security. No, it’s not a zero sum decision or outcome. It’s shades of grey across the board.
I bring it up merely to challenge the baked in assumptions in real estate, housing and mortgage industries that people will always retreat to owning single family homes in the suburbs it is just a matter of when. That may end up being true, but it is worth questioning to better prepare your business and spark new ideas either way.
When in doubt, be yourself.
Be yourself, be confident.
Be yourself, be in the moment.
Be in the moment, be happy.
Today’s Thought: Thinking this week about what it means to Answer Well.
For some, it’s intentional. The intentional plan is for those who know their goal and direct all their activity and communication to achieve that goal. In it’s simplest form, the intentional mindset is the actor who is so dedicated to achieving her goal that she doesn’t hesitate to tend bar or wait tables while preparing for auditions because each spare moment and networking opportunity is in service to an intentional course.
For others, to answer well is to be an opportunist. The intentional course pursues one outcome with focus. The opportunist looks for ways to take the next step. Taking advantage and building on any opportunity means less predictable paths but capitalizing when the next step arises. It can be difficult to be the opportunist because the path is less certain. The end goal is not as clear. Ambition still drives the mindset.
Lastly, and most rare, is the serendipitist. No intention. No opportunity, per se, created or exploited. Pure happenstance. Right place, right time. But still acted. The idea of all three is that the mindset — Answer Well — and the ambition still need to exist. All three are proactive not reactive default operating systems, but each leads to a different outcome, a different life story.
The serendipitist is the thoughtful individual who ended up stuck in an elevator with the CEO one day or delivering coffee to the editor in chief or striking up a conversation with the stranger at the bar only to find out later it’s a famous artist.
The consistent theme is ambition, passion and understanding. The only different is approach.
Go and answer well.
Quote: “If you have that goal out there, it causes you to create different solutions and not settle for the status quo. My role is to challenge the status quo.” — Amy Brody, CIO, KeyCorp
Bonus content: In advance of a proposed Initial Public Offering (IPO), Lyft released early SEC forms and other disclosures. It’s fascinating to see what the future looks like…page 130.
Continued success and continue to answer well,