Precedent is the refuge of the lazy – Gary Hamel

If you are looking for opportunities in business, then often  the best places to look are companies and industries that constantly trot out the mantra ”that’s the way we always do it”. Because those are the companies and industries that are likely sleepwalking into the future. They can be easy targets. Being resistant to change means their reaction time to competition will inevitably be glacially slow.

One of the lessons we have learned throughout our career is that tomorrow will always be different from yesterday. We don’t usually know exactly how it will be different, but we can be confident that it will be different. Which raises both challenges and opportunities.

Organisations that just keep on doing what they have always done will sooner or later be overtaken by someone who finds a better way to do the same thing, or indeed a whole new set of circumstances mean that whatever it was that we did yesterday is not even required today. It’s the same for individuals. Just continuing to do today what we did yesterday, in the same way we did it yesterday, is a surefire way to ensure that we really are forced to do something different in the future. Usually radically different.

We don’t have to look far into our own industry to find examples of the way things have changed. It wasn’t too many years ago that the prime avenue for advertising was the local daily newspaper. Anyone who is still using that medium now is obviously not spending their own money, but instead throwing their client’s money away. It’s like driving with both eyes on the rear view mirror. Great if you have a self driving car.

It used to be that real estate terminology was deliberately misleading. The “sea views“ sort of description. If you stood on the toilet in the attic with a telescope. At least now most reputable agents have a passing acquaintance with the concept that good on-going and repeatable business can’t be built on misleading the customer with half-truths. Google is only a few key strokes away for all of us to be able to find out the truth about reputations and descriptions. Fake news may be headlines today, but “the truth will out” is truer today with virtually instant communication than it has ever been before.

Several years back I went into a business with the aim of saving it from imploding under the weight of pressure from it’s bankers. The business had had it’s day in the sun, but failed to adapt to a world that had changed around it. It was still sizeable, but the writing was on the wall. In fact the bankers were less than a week away from making a move. So in I went with the intention of warding off the bankers to create time and space to make the changes necessary for survival. But this was California, and there was much to learn. In a short space of time. Banks in California operate differently from those in this part of  the world. Employment (and therefore redundancy ) laws are different. And of course in California everybody’s feelings have to be taken into account through numerous meetings, sharings, hand-holding, kumbaya sessions etc  before any action can be taken.

But the biggest challenge was actually understanding the business model. And to do that I had to understand what everybody in the business was talking about. The first priority was a crash course in listening, to come to grips with what the business did, and how it operated. To understand it’s path to profitability – or lack of it, as the case was. It didn’t take long to realise that I was sadly lacking in understanding what the technical abbreviations everybody spoke in meant. It’s great when you talk in abbreviations (or acronyms) to people who understand exactly what they might mean. But using a technical  abbreviation in a pitch to a potential client who probably doesn’t know it’s meaning, is a shortcut to failure. The potential client can either ignore and fail to understand because they don’t want to be seen as dumb.  Or they can walk away because they haven’t a clue what you are talking about.

But I wasn’t a client. And I wasn’t walking away because I didn’t understand the language. So I did the obvious. Every time an abbreviation, or acronym, or technical term, was used that I didn’t understand, I asked what it meant.

The answer would astound me!  And, no, this is not clickbait.  The answer, more often than not, was that the speaker didn’t know either. They were just repeating something that they had heard used elsewhere.

Ultimately this of course just illustrated their own ignorance. But it showed up two things. The people who did this – repeating what they heard elsewhere without knowing what it meant or understanding it – did not have the curiosity or integrity to work in the organization. If they were prepared to do this without understanding, what else were they likely to do without understanding?  It also highlighted how much potential business was being driven away by failing to be clear and concise in our pitches, and ensuring that clients understood the value we had to offer.

A few years later, I often relate this lesson back to the commercial real estate industry. When the pitch is a “THAB upside”, a “blue chip” tenant, or a “bottom drawer investment”  I immediately wonder whether the agent involved actually understands what those terms mean. Generally not.

The lesson I take from this is that we need to be constantly looking at what we are doing, and how we are doing it. And changing accordingly. Just following the lead of the other guy, or repeating what they say, won’t help us make the grade. Because there are people out there who will challenge us. And they will challenge our assumptions. And our conclusions. And that’s great.  Because it is only by challenging, and questioning, and innovating, that we find a better way to do things.

Which of course means that any agent pitching Expedio with “blue chip”, bottom drawer”, “top shelf” or similar had better be ready to explain.