Systems and data have no ethics or morals.

There’s an intriguing article up at Quartz about AI self-replication. In the middle of it, there is an interesting tidbit about AI adopting the biases and flaws of its developers. Basically, an artificial system will accept whatever data and rules are programmed into it and become reinforced through new data inputs.

It may go without saying but data and technology don’t come with built-in morals or ethics. If you analyze a spreadsheet that has incomplete or inaccurate data (whether you realize it or not) you will have inaccurate results.

Ethics and morals (and yes, they are different) are human constructs. They are based on our views of the world, culture, right, and wrong. Never assume that the systems you work with have these constructs.


How’s your personal plan coming along?

It’s that time when everyone starts to develop their goals and objectives for the next year. Reviews and appraisals are being completed. Company objectives are being set. Personal objectives are being setup to align. It’s a time for planning!

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the corporate one-year objectives planning as I think it can force people to not adjust as the year goes on. However, planning, in general, is at the top of my list of things that everyone should be constantly doing.

My contention is that every single person should have a plan for their next two years at all times. That plan should be based on what you are looking for out of both your life and career to help ensure you are pushing yourself where you want to go. Mine is based on answering the following questions:

  • Am I getting new, valuable experience from my current role? Do I see myself continuing to get new and valuable experience over the next two years?
  • Am I balancing work and life? Where is my stress level currently?
  • Am I working with people that both challenge me and are good to work with? Am I more happy than not day-to-day?
  • Have I progressed in ways that make me a better person (work and life)? If not, what will I do to become better?

That’s it, only a few questions. No one can predict that they will be burned out next July or that they will suddenly get stuck in a role they don’t like in 18 months. What they can understand is whether they are in a position to continue growing and exceeding personal goals. If not, it’s time for a change.

One thing here: none of my personal goals are around money. It’s always hard to set monetary goals for yourself because so often they are out of your hand. Even in commission or contract roles, money is usually secondary to building a solid reputation and earning client trust. Do those and the money will follow.

Every plan should be different because no two people are the same. Even my questions change every few years. It was probably five years ago that I explicitly started to focus on new experiences. I imagine that in another 10 years I’ll be thinking more about leveraging my past experiences into a unique role of some sort (the best-laid plans and all that…).

Do you know how your workplace is actually used? #WorkplaceWednesday

One thing that I’ve seen over and over in my career is that few people actually realize the ways their workplace is used across the business. It’s not uncommon for a real estate group to have a complete misconception of the day-to-day reality of a site they are about to run a project in. This isn’t to say they are operating without asking first but it’s just as common that managers at the site don’t realize it either.

Most of our perceptions about how an office is used come from anecdotal information. We experience a shortage of conference rooms on the occasions that we go looking for them or we think things are too loud because we do a lot of heads down work. It also comes from hearing about things that are going on – but the things people usually share are bad events. Most anecdotes around the office are the negatives.

The day-to-day reality of most offices is that everything runs smoothly. There’s usually enough desks for everyone. Most people can get a conference room when they need it. Most people make use of the work areas to be productive. The biggest risk in a workplace change is breaking the culture.

How does one actually learn how the workplace really works? The basic blocking and tackling that occurs in any other group: asking people. Surveys on how offices are used go a long way and systems to track usage data around desks/conference rooms/equipment. Blocking and tackling is most of the job in most areas and it’s just as true in real estate.

The biggest difference between real estate and other areas is that a workplace design isn’t going to change much from when it is implemented. That design is going to be in place for anywhere from 5 to 10 to 20 years depending on wear-and-tear. Planning too much around today can actually be a bad thing because the primary requirement of an office space is to be useful for years to come.

I can’t tell you how badly I wish I had written this article: Data shouldn’t drive all your decisions

Quartz just published a phenomenal article titled Data shouldn’t drive all of your decisions. Go read it first because I can’t find a single thing I disagree with in it. It hits all of my favorite topics on innovation and decision making.

Go ahead, I’ll still be here after you finish reading it.

Done? Good! Because there’s some summary to unpack:

  • When solving new problems, yesterday’s data isn’t going to give you the answers.
  • Data is best used in story form, not in charts and tables.
  • Just because most of the data says one thing, that doesn’t mean your conclusion won’t be something else entirely.
  • Sometimes experience isn’t everything and can lead you down the wrong path.

The trap of the Echo Chamber.

A truism in this world is that we all end up reading our own press. Whenever someone clicks the “Like” button on one of my posts here or on LinkedIn, I get a sudden rush of feeling important. It is easy to start thinking about how smart you are because you got some clicks.

Similarly, we tend to interact with the same people regularly at work. We learn their patterns and what they like/dislike. Over time, all presentations and analyses are put together to meet the patterns of those we interact with instead of a neutral benchmark. It’s an easy pattern to fall into because it helps make life easier because putting things into the format and voice that is expected reduces the friction involved in getting to complete.

The Echo Chamber is that place where the things we experience become the reality we react to. When you work in the Boise, Idaho real estate market, it’s easy to think that it’s a big market – because for you and your customers it is. But if you want to dominate Boise, should you do things the way they have always been done or should you bring in some of the appropriate best practices from New York, Chicago, London and elsewhere?

When we do work, we tend to fall back on our experiences. If you rely too heavily on experience you end up doing things the same way without changing or improving; you start to miss out on nuance. Your experience becomes your Echo Chamber.

There’s a great saying: never believe your own press clippings. The story as it exists in your echo chamber is never the reality anyone else experiences.

Keep pushing because sometimes momentum is the only thing keeping success possible.

It’s easy to let off the gas every now and then. Keeping the pressure can take a lot of work with seemingly little gain. It usually doesn’t make many fans and doesn’t necessarily advance things regularly. Is it really a problem if that report takes an extra three weeks to come out?

Think about how easy it is for those extra three weeks to turn into six weeks. Or how easy it is to decide that report doesn’t even need to come out after all. Sometimes it’s worth letting work disappear and stop but not usually.

Momentum is a powerful force. Putting pressure on people to keep things moving does more than simply hold people responsible for delivery. Pressure also serves to keep attention on the work so that others know that it is coming and allows them to plan for it. Simply holding attention builds the value of the final product.

Minimizing your least productive moments helps you become more productive.

It’s easier to raise your floor than to raise your ceiling. Cutting out the least productive moments is an easier way to help yourself become more productive than building in maximum productive moments.

Why is this true? Usually, unproductive moments are caused by external factors while moments of maximum productivity are a combination of opportunity, time, and personal clarity. It’s possible to identify those external factors and minimize their ability to impact you.

If there’s a person who constantly schedules pointless meetings, stop attending. If there’s a work location that causes you to be unproductive, avoid it. If you aren’t getting the information you need, build an improved network.

Your productivity is yours to control. Don’t just seek to be more productive generally, minimize the moments where you are least productive and you’ll see amazing results.