Internal disruption and choosing to rock the boat.

I cause problems.

It’s part of my job.  I’m responsible for making sure that we are pushing our solutions forward for clients and giving clients the solutions that they need (even if they aren’t the solutions they want).  Often this means I have to take on the role of bad cop so that my bosses or clients can come in with the compromise solution that gets the job done.  Good cop/Bad cop works for this very reason.  Sometimes the very act of causing problems where none technically exist yet also forces solutions to be implemented because we prevent a worse problem from coming to fruition later in the process.

Disruption is often cited as the heart of innovation.  Without making people uncomfortable you are not likely pushing them to do things better.  Humans strive to live and work in comfortable environments.  They will seek to fix discomfort until comfort has been restored.  Simply forcing that improvement process to initiate is a key step.

The person who creates the discomfort is rarely appreciated at the time though which leads most to avoid the role of troublemaker.  Similarly there are some who like to make trouble purely for the sake of trouble and are not even trying to make things better – they just want to see others squirm.  It can be hard to tell productive discomfort from unproductive.  This is one of the key roles of good managers though – taking a situation, understanding it, understanding the root causing, understanding the participants and then using all available information to drive to a long-term improvement.

Do you disrupt on purpose?

What do you need to do to be a mover of CRE Technology? ….let’s start with the basics. #CRETech @dukelong

I love me some Duke Long.  He recently visited CRETech in NYC (why have I not made it yet?  I have to be nuts….) and came back with a post about the event.  I’ll wait here while you go read it.

Done?  You haven’t read it….?  Try again and then we’ll start.

If you don’t know what a Blockchain is then you have no business being in the CRE Technology space.  Bone up or leave now.  Seriously?  If you can’t explain the basics of how Bitcoin (and now many other modern digital actions) work then you can’t be taken seriously in this space.

I don’t care if you own, control, manage, operate, or have visibility to Trillions of dollars in assets.  Great, you’re big in CRE.  But that makes you at most an investor in CRE Technology.  You have no place in the discussions.

I’m dead serious.  At this point Bitcoin and its fundamental technology is the basics.  I don’t need you to be able to build it.  But you damn well better be able to give me even a 70% accurate 30 second description.

And people wonder why I’m bearish on CRE Technology……..

“We’re not Apple, we’re in [fill in different industry].”

A bit back I was around someone who through out the phrase “We’re not Apple, we’re a Professional Services firm.”  (Thankfully not anyone that I work with.)  It really through me off guard to hear this because it seemed very limiting.  The context at the time was regarding how they go to market and present themselves.  It was as if no professional services firm would want to be thought of like Apple.

It astonishes me that there is any company in the world that wouldn’t want to be thought of as having a clear mission, being innovative, a desired place to work, cutting edge, high quality and having loyal customers.  To me that sounds like exactly what I want regardless of my industry.

Too often people fall into the trap of framing their organization based on current competitors.  Ten years ago no one would ever ask why would Nokia ever worry about Google – we all know how that story worked out though.  Ten years ago taxis didn’t need to worry about any competition – now look at them.

A modern truism: if you are not the innovator then you will be upset by a competitor that you haven’t even considered yet.  This is particularly true if you work in an analog industry that hasn’t adopted digital trends.

Probably 90+% of organizations would be doing themselves a favor by being a bit more like Apple.

Bitcoin is just the precursor to the new digital financial world.

There was a lot of talk a few years back about how Bitcoin was going to take over the digital commerce world.  It brought currency into the digital age and re-introduced the world to the concept of non-government backed funds (although really no different than gold or other materials based on limited supply).

The reality of Bitcoin was much different from the hype though.  It has continued to slowly gain ground but has not yet brought the promised revolution.  In reality this is likely to be good for the long-term.  Quick disruption is often viewed as dangerous and undesirable.  Slow disruption becomes part of our everyday without a second thought.

As a handful of new companies begin to support Bitcoin each year it starts to feel like considered evolution.  The late adopters have an opportunity to really think about it.  Companies and competitors have an option to release competition, come out with arguments against it or start accepting Bitcoin.  So far it’s been a (relatively) peaceful path over recent months.  That’s a strong sign for continued growth.

Taxis, Uber, asymmetric information and disruption

I was in a cab headed from an airport to an office I hadn’t been to before.  Gave the driver the address and then sat back and had to make a few phone calls.  About 3 minutes into the drive he passes me back his phone to type my destination address into.  I thought this was a bit odd but went with it.  About 15 minutes into the drive I pull up the location on my own phone to double check where I’m going.  I happened to notice we had passed the exit.  Autocorrect had struck down my address input into a strange phone.

This situation got me thinking about the power of Uber.  When I call a car they have the same information that I have.  I see where they are planning to go and the route that they are recommended to take.  There is symmetric information between driver and passenger.  In a traditional cab I am full of uncertainty:  Did he understand my address?  Does he know current traffic conditions?  Am I taking the most effective route?

Asymmetric information is useful for legacy, incumbent industries.  They get to hold data back and leverage it however they see fit for their customers (I’m looking at you CRE).  Symmetric information opens up new fields and ways of delighting the customer.  It removes the big concerns, allows for instant evaluation of performance and puts more power back with the customer to make judgment calls.

Moving from asymmetric to symmetric information access is by definition a disruptive change.  But one that some competitor will eventually do if you don’t.

My mind is not built to follow only one path at a time.

I find that I am most productive when I have 2 or 3 projects at a time to work on.  There’s something about being able to jump back and forth when the mood strikes that increases my productivity (it may only feel that way though as study after study shows this feeling to be false).  I feel better working this way and that’s all that I know.

Over at TheNextWeb they ran an article called “The Importance of the Side Project.”  It covers a lot of different ground but to me the take away was that side projects give you a new perspective on whatever else you are working on.  Google turned their 20% time initiative (essentially mandatory side projects) into some of their biggest revenue services.  Side projects don’t have to be small.

The subconscious is an amazing thing.  While you sit working on one thing it is off doing something else entirely.  Eventually it may spit out a fully developed concept.  But first you have to feed it with something to work on.

My thoughts on What Are The 10 Biggest Tech Problems In Commercial Real Estate? @dukelong #cre

This is my thoughts on the question posed by Duke Long – What Are The 10 Biggest Tech Problems In Commercial Real Estate?  There’s a lot of think about and the future is obviously fluid but there are a lot that needs to be thought through by everyone involved.

  1. Inconsistent definition of what CRE is.  It’s not possible to solve a problem without first defining what the problem is you are trying to solve.  Are we trying to do discovery?  CRM?  Workflow?  Projects?  Selection?  All the above?  Is this all of CRE?  It all starts with definitions.
  2. If all data matters then no data matters.  We have a data problem for sure.  In some areas we don’t have enough data (real, accurate, current market rates?) and in other areas we have too much (are we really trying to rival economists in terms of understanding local market conditions?).  What’s really important and what isn’t?  It’s easy to fall into “analysis paralysis” or “collect it all” mentalities.
  3. Are we seeking disruption or lock-in?  It’s hard for people outside of our industry to understand it (or so we always argue – somewhat correctly, somewhat incorrectly).  If we build everything ourselves we will not get the necessary disruption but how do we teach people on the outside what we need?
  4. Is it possible to sell technology on value if you are associated with commissions?  This is the core problem.  The big brokerage firms see themselves in a technology arms war.  Who can build the “best” systems possible for their accounts.  And yet for the advances some technology is always a give-away.  As the adage goes – you get what you pay for.  If you sell technology can you also provide other services effectively?
  5. Who is the customer?  Sure, the people who occupy space are the ones using the systems.  But who is our real customer?  Is it the head of real estate?  The CFO?  COO?  CEO?  Operations leads?  A space management system has just as much value for the non-real estate groups as it does for the real estate team – arguably even more value.  Yet they aren’t the typical customer and we don’t market well to them.
  6. Flexibility.  The holy grail of real estate is giving occupants and owners of space the best return on their associated investments.  For owners that means the highest occupancy levels and revenues per square foot possible.  For tenants that means occupying exactly the amount of space they need when they need it.  Why take 30% more space than you need as insurance against the future?  Can technology align these incentives?
  7. Workplace planning.  Following along the idea of Flexibility, how can technology give companies visibility into how their space is REALLY being used.  How do you incentivize an employee to use real estate more conscientiously?  How do you give upper management real data on who appears in the office and actually needs to?
  8. Defining the user experience.  In reality, anyone who sits in a building could be considered a potential user of CRE technology.  They interact with the Building Management Systems, they know they best nearby amenities, they could make recommendations on building conditions, they are the workforce we are trying to identify.  That’s a big potential pool of users to be tapped.  How do we use tech to get that information – and make it useful?
  9. Cutting through the BS, misdirections and bad marketing.  There are lots of solutions out there now.  Some are valid, some are stupid, some are vaporware.  None are perfect, all have some type of value to someone.  How will the future develop in this morass of insanity?
  10. What’s the fall-out once all of this happens?  There will be disruption – what does it look like?