I’m revamping a takeover & due diligence tracker today. It’s one of a few things I set out to get done this week and it went differently than I expected.
As I’m working, I have this Seth Godin video playing in the background. He drops several gems while giving this speech in Stockholm but among my favorite is a line about design. Starting around 16:36 he drops this:
“Ask yourself two questions: 1. Who’s it for? 2. What’s it for?
I found this apropos as we’re designing a lot this week. New systems, new ways of conducting and pulling inspection data. A new logo is being created by our friends at Pixelriot.io and they gave a fascinating presentation on the principles of good design to get us in the right headspace to assess the work they’ll submit. We’re designing pre-leasing trackers, databases, you name it. I’m excited, to say the least.
“Leaders are required to take responsibility, not demand authority.”
The other gem in this video is Godin’s acknowledgment that leaders solve problems even if they’re not on their agenda by taking responsibility. Taking a moment to solve a problem effectively and beautifully, now, will provide reoccurring benefits as long as that system is used. These opportunities are investments and they don’t show up on balance sheets or quarterly reports. Leaders take responsibility, they’re not given it.
I’m taking responsibility for making this action-item tracker useful and also beautiful. It doesn’t take much longer on the design side, but the extra effort and intentionality will make it more useful and efficient for every takeover we ever do.
I hope you continue to have a great week! Take a moment to take responsibility for something in your life this week that you can solve. Take an action to make your life, and those that come after you, easier.
Oh, and throw this video on and take a 40 minute inspired talk full of insight. You won’t regret it.
I came across this 5 minute video and I’ll spoil it for you – it’s the title of this piece. That’s the question Tim Ferriss asks this guy. It’s a variation on “Begin with the end in mind” – the second of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
The guy is working through a tough process and it’s stressful; who hasn’t been there? Tim Ferriss asks him what it would look like if it were easy. He gets snapped out of his Lucy on the chocolate line mindset and thinks about what should change to make this bearable. He solves his problem and then invents a product to solve another problem he wasn’t immediately aware he had.
We’ve all been Lucy in that situation. It’s what makes it her most enduring bit. We know the feeling.
They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I like the sentiment and I’d offer another version: An hour of design is worth weeks of labor. Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it?
As we’re creating new systems it’s worth talking to the stakeholders and getting an idea of what this would look like if it were easy. Let’s give that a shot with work orders that aren’t binary (open/closed) but that require multiple steps, like water intrusion.
What would it look like if it were easy? It wouldn’t be 12 steps, all of which are unpleasant. Maybe 4 steps? It would be intuitive. It would elicit delight in its use. It would make our jobs easier. It would be (pick only two (faster/cheaper/higher quality) – let’s go with faster/quality for this one. It would set up the next phase of the job as each one closed. It’s got to be handled outside of the normal work order system then since that system can’t handle it. It’s got to be transparent/easily shared – a Google Sheet? It should inform the affected parties along the way – it has prewritten notices/emails ready to send informing the resident about what’s happening next. It should dovetail with accounting for charging back costs if it wasn’t an accident. It should contain documentation/photos from the start so everyone understands what happened, when, and why.
Answering the question gives us a lot of good ideas on where to go next and changes we should make.
What difficult process are you facing and what would it look like if it were easier?
Years ago, my brother was studying engineering at FAU and he brought home one of his engineering textbooks for the break. I started flipping through it idly and was surprised to find there were stories interspersed in all of the diagrams and equations.
Beyond tales of engineering disasters, there was a story about a high-rise condo building with a flummoxed manager. The building had opened months earlier and residents were already complaining about the speed of the elevators. Elevator technicians and engineers were summoned to speed up the elevators (they couldn’t) while they flirted with the idea of using one bank of elevators as an express to the top half of the floors. No amount of tweaks could calm the vitriol from disappointed condo-owners.
You can’t tell by looking, but these were painfully slow in the 90’s.
They gave considerable discussion to grafting on another set of elevators outside of the building. The cost would have been staggering and caused massive disruption to the luxury building for a year. Despondent, the GM plopped down on a settee opposite the elevators and put his head in his hands. The same head the board would happily remove from his shoulders if he didn’t fix this issue.
An older service tech named Jimmy was attending to a lightbulb in the lobby. Seeing his GM dour, he asked what was wrong. The GM explained the problem to him and how it was useless; they didn’t have the money or the magic to make the elevators faster. While he had discussed the issue with the Service Manager, he hadn’t bothered seeking the input of anyone lower on the org chart.
Jimmy chuckled and said, “Oh, that’s the big problem?” The GM nodded and said, “I know, hopeless, right?”
“Nah, just put up some mirrors.”
“What are you talking about?” replied the GM.
“The elevators ain’t too slow the people are just bored. Put up some mirrors outside the elevators; people love looking at themselves. You’ll see.”
Desperate, the GM approved the installation of mirrors outside of the elevators. Within days, the residents were dropping by his office to thank him for finally cranking the speed. Whatever he’d done, it had been a massive improvement; the lifts had never been faster.
The moral is that the supposed problem wasn’t the actual problem. Part of engineering is not only working out a solution but also in first identifying the real problem. Here, it wasn’t a lack of speed it was the perceived lack of speed.
Jimmy – having been around the block a few times – had key-insight by way of his proximity and connection to people. He could see things clearly from where he was.
Look, I know you don’t have a gaggle of sages running around your organization, but you undoubtedly have more collected wisdom than you think. Involvement breeds commitment. Dust off a problem that’s been bothering you and let the rookies take a crack at it. Ask your accountants how they’d handle your key-rotation plan. Get your techs debating about the best way to make contact for collecting rent.
I guarantee they’ll pull a thread you didn’t see; at the very least, you’ll get their appreciation for being asked.
I love competitive endeavors. Ask anyone in my family about Monopoly or Trivia with Rob and hands will instinctively ball themselves into fists. But when it comes to Student Housing, I’m not competing with you. What I am doing is focusing on perfecting “us.” I’m playing a game that doesn’t end with this season or this decade.
In general, I gain nothing from a deep-dive into the market survey. I’ve spent some time over 20 years watching “the competition” in student housing and the biggest takeaway I’ve had is that watching them is a giant waste of time. Not unlike middle school, everyone is watching the “cool kids” and doing their best to imitate without it looking like they’re imitating.
Copy your competitors’ marketing and you’re not a better version of you, you’re a worse version of them.
Me – just now.
You know the old story: “I saw Cady Heron wearing army pants and flip-flops…”
To Sinek’s point; if your competition can get people checked-in on move-in day in 15 minutes and it takes you 2 hours, that’s weakness revealed. If your competition routinely clocks a 45% renewal ratio and you’re clawing your way to the low 30’s, that’s weakness revealed.
You can’t copy them to a better renewal percentage or a faster check-in time, but you can use that knowledge to redouble your commitment to navel-gazing and figuring out if your check-in time needs to be so long. Spoilers: it doesn’t.
The weekly rundown of what “The Exchange” is doing does next to nothing for me in terms of improving my situation on the ground. It doesn’t lead to better internal systems, promoting daring and driven team members, or committing to reducing error rates in billing and work orders. What it does is tell me that I need to give away two months’ rent to sign leases, now.
And that’s the problem; all we’re interested in is “now.” That’s why we copy our competition. It’s why we’re incentivized to match their policy for policy, process for process, promotion for promotion until there’s nearly no difference between us. Gross.
A trend is always a trap. All success depends on performance and execution. If you’ve got significant flaws in your process, product, promotions, or your people, you’re going to have a bad time. No amount of star-gazing will improve it.
When things are slow, think about the future. Planning is invaluable but plans are worthless. Get excited about ruthlessly interrogating your operation for the gap between the car seats; the place things routinely fall and get stuck. Build bridges over those gaps that would make Joseph Strauss blush with envy. Revise. Revise. Revise.
We’re not competing with you. We’re hyper-focused on shaving one-tenth of a second off our mile-time. If you’re running in the same race that’s great, but we don’t care about studying your technique. We’ve got our race to run and the fact that you’re running as well is almost an afterthought.
For Christmas, about ten years ago, my sainted wife bought me a plane ticket to head to Dallas to spend some time with my best friend who I hadn’t seen in person in a couple of years. The ticket was for mid-April. I was furious.
Not that I had to wait so long to see him but that I had to agonize over the flight for four months. I worried a lot about flying at the time, or more accurately, the sudden cessation of flying otherwise known as crashing. I’d flown a dozen or more times without incident but I still couldn’t get my lizard-brain to understand how this massive metal bird was able to get off the ground and stay there. Surely I was destined to be one of those people with their name on a memorial somewhere due to a bad O-ring.
For months I found myself experiencing what were likely fun-sized panic attacks. I’d be irritable and have minor blow ups over nothing. Just me and the background music of my own 500mph plummet into the earth playing in my mind. A video loop of my oldest son looking like JFK Jr. saluting my empty coffin – you know, because I’d been turned into a Rob-Gazpacho by the crash? Why couldn’t I stop with this awful coming attractions loop on repeat?
Spoilers; I didn’t die on that flight or any of the thirty or so I’ve been on since then. I knew statistically that I had a better chance of getting stalked by Britney Spears, and yet. Why the hell was I so worried? Why are we all worried about so much that has such little chance of actually occurring?
Once, when I was 18 I bought a lottery ticket and worried for a few days about which of my friends I’d bring to buy matching Porsches. Seriously. I was certain I’d win like $100 Million and I reasoned I’d only buy matching 911s for five of my friends but what would I say to friend number six? I swear I’m not actually this dumb IRL.
Psychology Today has a few suggestions for why we worry and how we can stop. Feel free to read at your leisure. For me, I think it had something to do with my concern for my fledging family and what would happen to them if I was gone. I didn’t like imagining them all alone without a mountain of money to break their fall and the cash was only amounting to a respectable pitchers mound at the time.
I think it was this trip a decade back where I realized I was doing myself (and those around me) a disservice by not letting my rational brain take the wheel. It was always going to be fine. I’d spent so much time and energy uncomfortable over something as routine as falling asleep. From then on I’d only get more comfortable on flights with my nerves only appearing in the 30 seconds around takeoff as the engines fired up.
Why in the hell was I letting worry drive the ship when it couldn’t stop getting the directions wrong? If my brain was like the movie “Inside Out” why would the other parts of my brain possibly let Worry take the helm when it was so often wrong? Enough of that. Rationality bitch-slapped Worry and save for a handful of moments, it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
Plenty of what we worry about will never happen. The trip home will be safe. This shopping cart doesn’t have Aids. Canada isn’t going to invade and put those Nickelback on the money. It’s all stuff we need to hear from time to time.
What was the last thing you worried about that you realized in retrospect had no chance of happening?
When I work on a new spreadsheet build I’ll throw on a TED Talk or speech in the background. This week I reheard a classic by Simon Sinek – a primer for his book of the same name: “Start with Why.”
This may be the twelfth time I’ve heard it and I enjoy it as much as I did the first time nearly a decade ago. If you’ve been reading me for several years you’ll notice I’ve mentioned Sinek before in this blog; he’s a charismatic story teller and I like telling stories. I also tend to believe what he believes.
I think leaders eat last. I think a leader should take care of their team before anything else, especially the customer. I think trust is the most powerful force and we should be free with it to create more of it.
Not everyone believes those things and that’s ok. We only need to find the people that do believe what we believe and we can do amazing things. And I don’t mean “amazing” as in world-altering; I don’t need to pry up a mountain or convert all of Mongolia to veganism. I mean doing something remarkable that positively impacts people.
When you’re aiming for that – better, faster, stronger – in whatever you’re doing, and you hit it?! And it makes the lives of those you work with better? That’s it for me; that’s as good as it gets.
Right now we’re making our first hiring decisions and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m also spending a decent amount of mental RAM thinking about our mission.
What is our “Why” and how do we articulate that to effectively attract people that share that why?
Can I even create that before we’re a “we?” How many people do we need to have before we can decide on it?
How is our Why separate from my Why? What is my Why?
I’ve done this enough times to know that if you’re asking a lot of questions you’re doing well. The answers to those questions will form the bricks that pave the way to the future you’re trying to create. We’re going to need a vast number so the questions are going to need to keep coming quickly now.
What is my Why?
I like systems, elegant ones designed to last and to grow. I like beginning with the end in mind. I like having a great time with the people I work with. I notice those times come most frequently when we’re not battling monsters. I notice monsters are scarce when things work as or better than expected. To get there we have to solve or prevent problems. I like solving and preventing problems.
That doesn’t feel like a “Why” though, does it? It’s certainly not clean enough but it’ll have to do for a start.
A friend of mine reached out today and asked me to fill out a Google form with my thoughts on her talents, traits, and what I thought she’d be good at. She’s figuring out her next career steps and it’s a cool method. Nearly two years ago she made the jump. You know – the jump most of us entertain at some point – the one where you sell all your stuff and take off indefinitely. That jump.
One of the last questions on the form was about her “brand” and who I thought she was; essentially what was her human elevator pitch. To me, she’s the person that jumped. Who does that?
I’ve only known of two others in my life and I suspect that puts me three up on most people. There’s her, my cousin that moved to a little island off the coast of Puerto Rico nearly 20 years ago, and the other was someone I’d never met but his Ted Talk stuck with me when I saw it in 2012.
His name was Scott Dinsmore and he started something called “Live your legend.” I think the idea was to find work that you loved or at least didn’t hate? I honestly don’t recall the details. This was 2012, I was in my early 30’s and I found something about his presentation mesmerizing. As far as Ted Talks and novel ideas go it wasn’t in the top 20 but I found myself coming back to it.
I followed Dinsmore on social media. I was curious as a car crash as to how someone – who by all accounts had a promising, normal career path – opted to leave it behind for this; whatever this was. He even had a wife. I had a wife and there I was grinding away 50-60 hour weeks for no one in particular. This dude said “deuces” (this was 2012) and went his own way. Could I do that?
Spoilers: no, I couldn’t. At least not all the way. I craved security and certainty far too much. I poked the ether with a few entrepreneurial prods but nothing progressed.
But I digress. Back to Dinsmore, my friend, and why we’re here. As I was telling my friend about Scott I had to look up the Ted Talk and I watched it again for the first time in at least seven years. In doing so I was reminded of one of the key points of his talk; the big “hack.” Remember life hacks? So fun to say. “Put mayo on the outside of a grilled cheese instead of butter – LIFE HACK!” That wasn’t his but it’s a good one nevertheless.
It was around the midway point where Dinsmore brings up a quote from Jim Rohn
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
I’ll be honest, for years I thought it was a quote from the ESPN guy Jim Rome and I was surprised he’d say something so profound. I mean this was the guy who got knocked off his own stage.
I was reminded that I’d been fortunate enough to meet and get to hang out with people who became the defining influences on my life. People that younger me didn’t think I deserved to get to become. In the order I got to meet them:
Marshall – My best friend in high school and again, today. This guy is True North and the moral compass I’ve always needed. He’s been an incredibly supportive and influential force in my life for more than 25 years. I literally wouldn’t be who I am without him. I don’t know if there’s a better “let’s have a beer” partner on earth.
Brett – My best friend in college through today. Brett is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Knowing him pushed me to be better than I was letting myself get away with at the time, both personally and academically. When it comes to a partner for an intellectual argument there is no one better.
My wife – IYKYK. She’s genuinely the nicest person you’ve ever met in your life; full stop. Her kindness has transformed me into a far more patient, forgiving, and respectful person than I ever would have recognized in the mirror. Every day she makes me believe I can be a better person by giving me a good reputation to live up to.
Mike – We met at the Collier Companies back in 2004 and became fast friends. Mike was smart, professional, capable, warm, and sincere. He was a lot of things that I wasn’t and he made me vastly better in so many ways. I couldn’t do what I do at the level I do it if I hadn’t met Mike. He passed last July and I find myself missing him more and more with each passing week. Hug your friends more.
My KC Manager Crew – For eight years I worked with the best people and formed the strongest of bonds. While working to become a trustworthy leader I became great friends with the people who would help cement who I would become at work; someone to be counted on in tough times and the person with the best jokes. Ask of any of them. They’ll tell you I’m an absolute riot. No one ever gave a full-body eye roll or walked out of a room at a dad-joke that landed with the grace of a shattered moon.
I know that last one is cheating, but so what, it’s my list. More importantly than these people are the dozens of others I’ve been influenced by over the years. And that jives with this guy who says Rohn is wrong; it’s not just the 5 people that make you who you are. Cool. I don’t think he’s wrong but we’ve got to start somewhere and people love lists.
I hope you’ve got great people around you; people that want to see you grow and succeed. It’s nearly a superpower having that in your corner.
Oh, right; Dinsmore. I nearly forgot. I said “was” earlier because he sadly passed away in 2015 while hiking Mt Kilimanjaro. He jumped. Not from the mountain which I understand is notoriously “flat” as mountains go, but rather jumped in the sense that he sold his stuff and decided to travel the world while continuing his work. Again, who does that? It’s inspiring.
Not the dying – though dying doing something you truly wanted to do is likely as good as it gets – but the deciding to exchange your safe stock life for one you’re sure you need.
And inspiration is about more than getting others to do what you did; it’s about reminding them of what’s possible and what kind of world we could have if we’re willing to choose it. I like living in a world where people pursue their passions.
Thanks to everyone I’ve had the benefit of knowing thus far. I hope I’ve been at least half as helpful in shaping you as you have me.
Captain David Marquet of the USS Santa Fe turned his ship from worst to first by pushing decision making – and with it, commitment, innovation, passion – down the org chart.
As I’ve written about before, the default position of most in charge is “no.” There’s precious little upside to saying yes, especially if you’re not completely versed in the scenario or stakes. And who has time to get versed in the scenario? So, the response is silence; static at the other end of the line. “No” wins the game by default.
In this video, Captain Marquet discusses how he went from a “permission-based” system to an “intentions-based” one and the results that came with it.
The captain decided to reverse the polarity of the decision-making. In a conventional organization, the top gathers data from the people closest to the product/service, mull it over, and then dictates back what is to happen next. They are always reactive, and usually reacting later than needed to be of much use. Most of the time management didn’t know a problem existed until it had already been solved by the front lines, or at least a patch had been created that allowed the mission to continue.
I watched my former mentor, Nathan Collier, wrestle with this first hand. He lamented early in my career that as we continued to grow as an organization we’d face new challenges in communication and decision making. How could we react swiftly and competently if we decision-makers in the organization couldn’t or wouldn’t make timely decisions? The first time I heard this was in 2004 and it became a theme that ran for years and haunted most conversations with general managers and up. Few had good answers.
In one moment of quiet introspection with 35 or more stuffed into a conference room someone slammed the table and shouted “Get ‘er done!” The room was silent for all of twenty seconds before this interruption and that was enough to kill the mood. They didn’t get it – this wasn’t something to be muscled through.
Nathan liked that quote and I understood why he’d employ it week after week. The acumen and systems that built the backbone of a local company were all but useless for managing a decentralized company that would span cities and states. He found Captain Marquet’s book inspirational and the era of “I intend to” (or “IIT”) was launched around 2008.
Now, all a GM needed was to send an email to their Regional Manager with IIT in the subject line and their proposed course of action. They’d flesh out their reasoning in the body, but that was it. If not responded to 48 hours later they were free to proceed.
And then it ended as quickly as it began.
There were 4-5 Regional Managers inundated with “IIT” emails from 25-30 GMs declaring their intent to do everything from approve capital repairs to changing marketing campaigns. Regionals had 48 hours to respond with a reason not to do whatever that thing was or the GM was free to carry it out. Regionals couldn’t keep up as a backlog of delayed projects suddenly sprang back to life. Someone had to pull the plug and a massive financial crisis was the hard yank needed.
I think the problem was due to two issues:
There was such a backlog of things that were ignored/delayed that it was too much all at once. Especially for too few people to vet in any meaningful way. People that were still responsible for the outcomes of these decisions.
The GMs were young. The vast majority of us were under 30 and experience was in short supply. One of the perks about the early days of working for the Collier Companies was that one could gain a ton of experience very early in one’s career. It wasn’t uncommon for PT leasing agents to become a GM within 12 months if they were bright and motivated. What they lacked in experience they made up for in enthusiasm and energy. That lack of experience fell on the Regional Managers who were very experienced, most having worked in the industry for at least ten years at that point. Put simply, the system was unbalanced.
I write all this now as our new venture has me pondering the right approach to leadership, culture, and how we want to build our new enterprise for success. What got me here won’t get me there. I can’t be the guy in the room solving problems. I can’t take every phone call, create the daily agenda, or decide what’s best for every moving piece of what I’m sure will become a sprawling empire in the coming years.
As we hire our first GM, how do we build a culture that will keep decision-making close to those affected by the decisions? What areas do we focus on controlling and what do we encourage the site staff to innovate and create?
I have some ideas and I’m realizing that not knowing is pretty exciting. I’m ready to be surprised by what we find and what we decide to do as an organization going forward.
The most successful people are the ones that see the goal, and know that it’s reachable. That they can get there. Some work, sure, but it’s obtainable and if enough things go right, they’ve got it.
The worst are the ones that don’t even try. The shore is safe but we don’t write stories about the ones that stay there and hope the new land comes calling. It won’t – and if it does, it’s already too late.
Get there. Get messy. Get your hands right in it and tell your people what you’re thinking the whole way along. It won’t be easy, but then it wasn’t supposed to be – if it was everyone would be doing it.
Learn to fish. Talk to a Volleyball like your old pal. Set out amongst the cruel sea. But don’t bring the weakness of “there’s just no way to do it” unless…
As much as I love them, I can’t use them every day. What I can use is a mantra, and not from a movie but a TV show – the long canceled Friday Night Lights. It’s simple and startlingly prescient. I can’t stop seeing it everywhere.
“Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose”
I think of this when we get something wrong because we allowed ourselves to become easily swayed by the information we didn’t bother to interrogate. I find myself muttering it when someone makes a stunning reversal and course corrects after allowing the truth of the situation to come to them.
All that, and honestly, I’m a sucker for six words. There’s music to that number, arriving in two-word pairs. Hemmingway once won a contest by penning a compelling story with only six words: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” My first Mission Statement at CVI was only six words: “Be professional, Solve problems, Create value.” Distilling something meaningful into six words is an art and I’m its favorite patron.
The ability to see. The ability to identify what is happening all around you and not deluding yourself about the conditions on the ground, in the air, or in your own heart. You can see it all and you need that ability if you’re going to do anything meaningful.
Any idiot can make decrees or decisions while not knowing what’s happening; that’s most of life. What an effective agent of change needs is the ability to discern what the hell is happening; both inside and outside themselves.
Sun Tzu says any winning General must master the Five Factors:
You can’t master anything if you can’t see it. And not just with your eyes. You need to see it with every part of your understanding. You especially need to see that which you’re inclined or incentivized not to see. Clear Eyes is of supreme importance and so it comes first. As mantras go, this one is fire.
The Purpose is the cause, the morality; what are we fighting for? Is this who we are? Do we know?
The Weather is the conditions. If not the rain or wind then the market forces at work.
The Terrain is the ground, the topography. If not a battlefield then the shelf or the venue the sales battle will be fought.
The Leadership is not only those in charge but those whose influence exceeds their titles. How capable are your leaders to produce and adapt on the fly?
The System is my favorite. It’s the thing that accounts and adapts (or should) for all the strengths and weaknesses of the others on this list. It’s what we have the most control over if we’d only recognize it and give it its due.
The General who masters the Five Factors will win every engagement, even if they don’t. Clear Eyes reminds us that we should never lie to ourselves. Self-awareness is one of our most powerful weapons if we’ll develop it properly.
How many times have you seen a person, organization, or company, fail because they couldn’t see clearly; because they refused to see clearly? Too many.
Are you in to it? Do you believe in what you’re saying? Do you believe and trust in what you’re doing? Does what you do each day, right now, resonate with your core beliefs?
Can you stay focused and dedicated when things get tough and your path gets blocked? Can you fight through self-doubt, stumbles, and the hellish unknown? Can you manage to lose a battle without losing yourself?
There are two types of losses; the one on the scoreboard and the one in your mind. You can’t fully control the first kind of loss. You can plan, scrap, and brawl with all your might and you may still lose when the points are tallied. The second kind though? That’s all you.
Keep your vision clear. Don’t lie to yourself, ever, about anything. Walk your talk. Believe in what you’re doing and be prepared for the way to get rough. Don’t lose yourself.