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  • Book Review: Resilience – Why Things Bounce Back

    Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back

    Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back

    Can you see why this book’s title would catch my eye? Interesting idea, right?

    While it wasn’t exactly what I expected and I’m not sure I love the author, Resilience does offer compelling examples of resilient systems and organizations and offers a few theories on how to create a similarly resilient entity yourself.

    Like most nonfiction/business books Resilience uses anecdotes and examples from both business and the environment to illustrate what true resilience means. Zolli uses Mexican corn riots, South Pacific tribal fishing, and the Wall Street meeting over the rescue of Lehman Brothers. Let’s call this the Gladwell Approach (he wasn’t the first, but he is one of the best).

    Anyway, Zolli argues that there is a sweet spot of interconnectivity. Systems that are too connected, i.e. Wall Street circa 2008, are much more vulnerable to catastrophic failure given a single significant downward incident. It isn’t much of a stretch to say that this financial system was too connected if a few of the big boys can falter and every financial institution in the world feels the ripple effects. He also argues that a certain level of connection is crucial. Isolation and resilience do not walk hand-in-hand, Zolli claims.

    I particularly enjoyed the book’s fishing examples. Zolli gave historical cases where a certain species had been over-fished and therefore decimated almost to the point of extinction. Then he recounted the ways a system would nourish the species back into abundance. Fascinating.

    Is this a life-changing book that will forever alter the way I view business models?

    No.

    But it is fairly interesting and I like drawing parallels from nature to business models. Zolli does that fairly well.

    What is will criticize is tone. Great writers strike a balance between formality (showing expertise and some appropriate jargon) and informality (making it readable for the general population). Zolli is too formal and reads like an academic. I have a theory that people who truly master their opinion can explain it to an 8 year old. No 8 year old on the planet would understand this book. Choosing longer words in lieu of shorter, simpler words just makes me impatient and doesn’t impress me. As a writer myself, I appreciate word choice and I think this book does a below-average job on tone and readability.

    Also, as a small side note, I read the audio version and the narrator had trouble with “s”. His “sss” was more like “sch” and it bugged me every time I heard it. Not Zolli’s fault, but you’d think and audiobook company would hire a reader without speech quirks.

    All in all, meh.

    Read it if you like interesting anecdotes. Skip it if there is something more interesting on your shelf.

     

    Resilience in Two Sentences: Nature and business can provide poignant examples for resiliency and one needs to be carefull of connectivity. One key to resilience is finding the right amount of connectivity to fend of small losses while avoiding system failures.

    Pros: Interesting analogies, well-reasoned examples of resilient and non-resilient systmes/businesses

    Cons: Overly academic and verbose. Could use more clarity for thesis.

    Target Audience: leaders seeking to create a lasting system built to weather all storms.

    This book is best for: The businessman who has given no thought to cyclical volatility and down sides.

    Overall Rating: ♦♦♦ (out of 5)

    Here is the Amazon link to buy this book:

     

    Ratings Guide

    ♦ = Not worth your time

    ♦♦ = May be worth your time if it is specific to your industry or interests

    ♦♦♦ = A decent book and worthy addition to your library depending on your interests

    ♦♦♦♦ = A great book and an excellent addition to your library.

    ♦♦♦♦♦ = One of the all time classics. A must-read for anyone and everyone.

  • AWNM

    Book Review: A Whole New Mind

    A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink

     Image Courtesy DanPink.com
     

    As I have mentioned before, I think the age of the American analyst is ending. Daniel Pink agrees with me. Sort of. His book, A Whole New Mind, argues that creativity and innovation are the American exports of the future and right-brain thinking will be the key to our future. He says that we are leaving the Information Age and entering the Conceptual Age.

    Pink’s book is an intriguing (and well-written) argument that the proliferation of MBAs and “Quants” in recent American business has run its course. The ability to analyze and quantify are skills that can be replicated more cheaply abroad.

    Pink uses the terms Asia, Abundance, and Automation to explain why our left-brained, analytic business model is headed overseas. They are each pretty self-explanatory, but I like the way he argues for abundance.

    My favorite example is the toilet brush. He claims that because of the recent astronomical rise in standards of living across the planet, most people can afford the necessities to survive. Most people even have enough income to have a choice in how to allocate their disposable income.

    Enter the toilet brush. Pink describes his recent trip to Target where he headed to pick up a few things and noticed the bathroom aisle. He saw no fewer that twenty different toilet brushes. Martha Stewart had one. Allen + Roth had one. Some were sleek and sexy. Yep. Sexy toilet brushes. Think about that . . .

    Because the toilet brushes were all less than $10 and all did the EXACT same thing, Pink had to choose the toilet brush that appealed most to him aesthetically. He went with the coolest toilet brush and Allen + Roth got his hard-earned dollars. Or, put another way, the most creative company earned the sale.

    And that, I think, is the entire premise of the book. If we have all we will ever need to survive, then we make our decisions based on taste. And taste is a very right-brained, creative activity and has very little to do with our analytical skills.

    I wouldn’t do it justice to describe all of the examples and analogies that Pink uses to prove his point, but I will say that he is very thorough and convincing. He goes as far as scanning his brain, exploring labyrinths, learning to see the world differently through painting, attending laughing classes, and about a half dozen other exercises that flex the creative muscle of the mind.

    Through Pink’s eyes, you can see how the truly innovative and inspirational companies in the world really put a premium on creativity and R-directed thinking.

    One of the most important keys of the book is what I will leave you with. Pink argues that, with the impending end of the Information Age, the vast majority of American jobs in the future will be held by people who create something. There will be no need for data interpretation or management, and no need for the ability to organize or present information. That will be done for pennies in Pakistan.

    The American job of the future will be creation.

    So, what I recommend you ask yourself is: What am I creating?

    If it can be done cheaper by someone else . . . watch out.

     

    Whole New Mind in Two Sentences: Analytical skills, data processing, and data management can all be replicated abroad. The future of our country will depend on our ability to create and innovate rather than our ability to analyze and interpret.

    Pros: Interesting analogies, well-reasoned examples of creativity trumping analytics

    Cons: Perhaps overly simplistic or generalizing (but not offensively so)

    Target Audience: Anyone under the age of 80 and over the age of 10

    This book is best for: The reader looking for an interesting introduction into the world of creativity and how the right side of our brains will become our economic engine

    Overall Rating: ♦♦♦♦ (out of 5)

    Here is the Amazon link to buy this book:

     

    Ratings Guide

    ♦ = Not worth your time

    ♦♦ = May be worth your time if it is specific to your industry or interests

    ♦♦♦ = A decent book and worthy addition to your library depending on your interests

    ♦♦♦♦ = A great book and an excellent addition to your library.

    ♦♦♦♦♦ = One of the all time classics. A must-read for anyone and everyone.

     

  • Book Review: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

    Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

     Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

    Image courtesy Amazon.com

    What goes through your mind when you form your first impression of something? What types of decisions do you make in the blink of an eye?

    Those are the main two questions Gladwell addresses in Blink. He wants to know how we form our first impressions and what happens inside our minds in the milliseconds that we first recognize something.

    In Blink, Gladwell explores and explains the science of “rapid cognition” or “thin slicing”, as he calls it. He wants to know why we make our knee-jerk reactions to certain circumstances and if there is anything we can do to control or interpret those reactions more effectively.

    Gladwell’s best example, in my opinion, is the Getty Kouros. Some years back, the Getty Museum in CA was presented with an “authentic” Greek sculpture said to date back thousands of years. They spent months analyzing it, testing it, and scrutinizing every inch. After all that analysis, they decided it was genuine and paid $10 million for it.

    But as they started to show it to Greek sculpture experts around the world, they started to realize that they may have made a mistake. These experts would come into the Getty, glance at the Kouros, and feel like something was amiss. The couldn’t exactly verbalize what wasn’t quite right, they just knew from years of experience that something was off with this particular piece.

    Gladwell uses this dilemma for the Getty as an example where an expert’s first impression was more useful that a year of careful studying of the object’s chemistry and provenance.

    As usual, Gladwell is not afraid of controversial topics. He uses a police shooting in Brooklyn, where 4 white policemen shot an unarmed black man, to illustrate the negative power of thin slicing (or as he calls it “temporary autism”). He illustrates how, in the span of about 8 seconds, 4 police officers used misguided first impressions to deem the young man a threat and ended up killing him over the misunderstanding.

    My favorite example involves Atlanta-based Coca Cola. Gladwell delves into the New Coke fiasco of the early ’80s where Coke had been losing blind taste tests to Pepsi for a few years and had seen their dominant market share begin to slip. Concerned with the perceived weakening of the company, Coke (led at the time by Goizueta) created the sweeter New Coke to combat the surging popularity of Pepsi.

    People hated it. There was public outcry to bring back the old Coke and eventually Coke did just that.

    The problem that Coke ran into, as Gladwell opines, is that they were over-weighting first impressions. These taste tests were simple sip tests where the participants would just get a small sip of an unmarked glass of cola. Then they would write which of the two colas they preferred.

    The problem with that is that Pepsi is much sweeter than Coke. So at the beginning of a drink Pepsi would probably win a taste test. However, over the course of an entire can or bottle (how people ACTUALLY drink colas), the sweetness of Pepsi would dissipate and most people would actually prefer Coke.

    Plus Coke had the added benefit of being the original cola, having years of great branding, and fitting in as part of Americana. Coke had this history where its drinkers remembered holding that cold glass bottle on hot summer days as children. Coke had (and still has) nostalgia on its side. You can’t taste nostalgia in a sip test.

    So Gladwell uses the New Coke anecdote as a parable of the dangers of knee-jerk reactions and the need to understand the nature of thin slicing.

    He also cautions on the validity of our first impressions. He argues that you need the skill to recognize your first impression, the vocabulary to name it, and tool set to apply it. For instance, if professional food and drink critics had taken the blind Coke/Pepsi taste test they would have been able to identify the subtle differences in carbonation, vanilla levels, and the hint of oak flavor underlying the first taste of Coke. They wouldn’t have been overly impressed with the sweet punch of Pepsi on the first sip and there may have been no New Coke.

    All in all, I would say that Gladwell, as usual, spins a compelling web of stories, anecdotes, and illustrations to show the strengths and weaknesses of first impressions and the psychology of our rapid cognition. I would have liked for him to delve more deeply into how to control and utilize those first impressions.

    Practically, I would be nice to be aware of when to listen and when to ignore my initial impressions. I suppose that is better left to Kahneman’s System 1 in Thinking Fast and Slow. I finished Blink and wanted to hear more about how to shape my first impressions and use them wisely. Still, Gladwell is always interesting and uses anecdotes well so that I have little doubt as to his theories or opinions.

    Would I recommend you read this book for business? Eh, maybe.

    If you read only one, go with Kahneman. But if you are fascinated by first impressions and their implications, or your career is built on influencing a tenant/client’s first impressions, sure.

    Blink in Two Sentences: Every day we make unconscious decisions and form impressions without ever knowing what or why we thought what we thought. These reactions happen in the blink of an eye and can have both great advantages and tremendous disadvantages depending on the circumstances and environment.

    Pros: Good historical examples, Easy read and interesting anecdotes

    Cons: A bit unsatisfying, Doesn’t fully explore applications

    Target Audience: Anyone interested in the psychology of first impressions and rapid cognition

    This book is best for: The casual reader looking for an introduction to first impressions and how we perceive our world in the blink of an eye

    Overall Rating: ♦♦♦ (out of 5)

    Here is the Amazon link to buy this book:

     

    Ratings Guide

    ♦ = Not worth your time

    ♦♦ = May be worth your time if it is specific to your industry or interests

    ♦♦♦ = A decent book and worthy addition to your library depending on your interests

    ♦♦♦♦ = A great book and an excellent addition to your library.

    ♦♦♦♦♦ = One of the all time classics. A must-read for anyone and everyone.

  • Book Review: Startup Nation

    Startup Nation – The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle by Dan Senor & Saul Singer

    Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic MiracleImage Courtesy Amazon.com

    I full admit that I’m a startup junkie. I love to hear the rags-to-riches stories of entrepreneurs who had great ideas and then the guts to follow through on making something special. It’s the quintessential American capitalism story and I get my monthly fix in Inc and Entrepreneur magazines.

    So it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that I read a good deal about startups. Entrepreneurship, venture capital, and the art of creating something from nothing are just fascinating, in my opinion. Oddly enough though, I got this book recommendation from David Birnbrey of Shopping Center Group.

    (When I am meeting with industry veterans to pick their brains and look for wisdom I almost always ask for good book recommendations. Startup Nation was Birnbrey’s recommendation.)

    I usually expect books that are country-specific to be overly patriotic or home country propaganda. This wasn’t like that. Startup Nation is basically just an examination of the culture created in Israel that has pushed this tiny nation to be one of the top 5 most innovative cultures on the planet.

    The author asked, “How can such a tiny country with such limited natural and human resources become such a technology and innovation giant?

    A large part of the answer, it turns out, comes from the IDF. The Israeli Defense Force is the national military that protects this small nation from hostile neighbors. Senor found out that the IDF culture is one of improvisation and questioning authority.

    For example, he found that in an air raid all planes and pilots will know the main objectives of the mission and do what is necessary to accomplish those objectives. If one plane is shot down or fails to hit a target, another plane will carry out the bombing run with the remaining explosives it has on board. Seems logical, right?

    Well in the U.S. Military (and apparently most national militaries), all planes are to stick to their objectives and ONLY their objectives. Any deviation from the prescribed flight pattern will lead to reprimand and possibly disciplinary action. Not so in the IDF.

    The IDF has created a system where you are encouraged to go “off-script” if it will lead to accomplishing the major objectives of the mission.

    The IDF also encourages questioning superiors.

    If you disagree with the judgment of a superior officer, question him or challenge her respectfully. The IDF seems to believe that leaders should have accountability to those they lead and apparently it’s not uncommon for privates to go over the heads of captains when they disagree on decisions or actions.

    So the IDF actively promotes a culture where all servicemen and women are asked to consider the broader goals of the military and to actively question authority. Senor argues that this culture leads to a fantastic startup culture once these soldiers enter the private business market. Since all adults in Israel are required to serve in the military, it’s easy to see why this mentality pervades the entire adult population of Isreal.

    While the IDF argument was my favorite theory, Senor provides ample resources and supporting arguments for why Israel has become so innovative. Be sure to check out his argument on why Charles DeGaulle was responsible for the rapid ascension of Israeli weapons technology and why Intel owes much of its chip-selling success to Israel.

    The reason I am including this book in our Commercial Real Estate Bookshelf, is that I think it is crucial to understand innovative culture. If we aspire to be next-generation leaders in the commercial real estate industry, then we had better gain a firm grasp on creating innovative cultures. If we do not innovate, we will be passed.

    So, if you aspire to inspire, then I recommend reading Startup Nation and taking note of how the leaders described in the book use deliberate and intentional practices to create environments conducive to some of the best work on the planet. If you can replicate that type of environment, there is no telling how far you and your company can go in the business.

    Happy Innovating!

    Startup Nation in Two Sentences: The tiny middle-eastern country of Israel has become a global hotbed for innovation and technology startups. This culture of innovation can be attributed to a national culture of questioning authority, improvisation, and a few other key historical events that have forced the Israeli people to innovate or perish.

    Pros: Solid arguments on the foundation of innovation, Good historical examples, Easy read and interesting anecdotes

    Cons: A bit redundant at times and can seem like an Israeli tourism magazine ad

    Target Audience: Those who aspire to create an atmosphere of innovation

    This book is best for: Business leaders looking to replicate an innovative culture

    Overall Rating: ♦♦♦♦ (out of 5)

    Here is the Amazon link to buy this book:

     

    Ratings Guide

    ♦ = Not worth your time

    ♦♦ = May be worth your time if it is specific to your industry or interests

    ♦♦♦ = A decent book and worthy addition to your library depending on your interests

    ♦♦♦♦ = A great book and an excellent addition to your library.

    ♦♦♦♦♦ = One of the all time classics. A must-read for anyone and everyone.

  • Book Review: Thinking Fast and Slow

    Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

    Thinking, Fast and Slow

    Image Courtesy Amazon.com

    Don’t tell anybody, but the economist in me is breaking out. I’m starting to get more and more interested in behavioral economics, game theory, and decision theory as I grow into my commercial real estate career.

    I have found that the concepts I learn and grow to appreciate in behavioral economics are useful in my every day interactions with deal-makers and colleagues. Learning about how people make decisions and how they make rational choices given the information available is crucial.

    Let me see if I can bring it home to commercial real estate. Consider the following questions:

    Given the information available to me, should I build this shopping center?

    Given the information available to me, should I buy this flex industrial building?

    Given the information available to me, should I lease this office space to this prospective tenant?

    Given the information available to me, should I refinance my apartment complex with Life Company debt?

    Given the information available to me, should I pursue this retailer as a potential lease lead?

     

    Those are just a handful of examples of decisions facing CRE professionals that I would file under behavioral economics, game theory, or decision theory. You can certainly apply the concepts to tenants or clients:

    Given the information available to them, how will a tenant want to use this space?

    Given the information available to them, what will a shopper want to see in this center?

    Given the information available to them, what will visitors to my property want in their parking experience?

     

    Again, just a few examples of behavioral economics in action in our world, and I hope you can see why I find those concepts so relevant. They shape almost everything we do.

    That’s why I enjoy books like Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. To call this a follow up to The Black Swan wouldn’t be fair, but I can say that they are highly related and TFaS quotes tBS fairly often. Black Swan told us how much we suck at predicting anything, particularly “outlier” events. I would say Thinking Fast and Slow is more about our everyday decision-making skills and biases.

    In the book, Kahneman discusses two systems of our thinking that he labels System One and System Two. System One is our automatic recall memory, our first impression, our first thoughts and reactions to the world around us. System one isn’t very good with statistics and is prone to mathematical errors and all sorts of biases.

    System Two is our more analytical, slow, methodical thinking system that takes the time to analyze probabilities, best practices, likelihood, etc. This is the system we use when we take the time to really break down a problem or decision and analyze it mathematically or systematically. We don’t rely on our impressions or memories of similar problems in System Two. We approach everything more carefully and methodically than we would in System One.

    A large section of the book is dedicated to the short-comings and biases of System One and how we, as imperfect decision-makers, rely too heavily on System One for our decisions. Kahneman does a thorough job of breaking down our biases and heuristics when faced with similar situations. He uses questions like: “Would you prefer a 40% chance to win $100 or a 8% chance to win $1000?”

    All-in-all the thought processes and common decision biases he examines are though-provoking and interesting, but I would warn you that his style of writing can tend toward academic. He is very skilled in describing complex scenarios at high levels, but tends to use numbers heavily and will stroll through complex psychological issues that the lay reader may not be familiar with.

    So, this wouldn’t be an easy beach vacation read that you leisurely peruse between trips to the pool. You need to take your time with Kahneman, take notes, and allow yourself a chance to digest these complex psychological contradictions. I think it’s worth your time to do so, if nothing else you will better understand your own short-comings in quick decision analysis and judgment and may be able to recognize when to slow down your thinking and engage System Two for some heavy lifting.

    Thinking Fast and Slow in Two Sentences: Each of us have two systems of thinking: System One (Thinking Fast) and System Two (Thinking Slow). System One is our quick-judgment, memory, and recognition center that is prone to errors in estimation while System Two is our more analytical and statistical system that methodically breaks down options to reach rational conclusions.

    Pros: Very interesting foray into psychology that explores decision-making, game theory, and behavioral economics. Well-researched and well-argued.

    Cons: A bit length and highly academic/mathematic in parts. Not a leisurely read.

    Target Audience: Any reader interested in human psychology, the psychology of decision-making, heuristics, game theory, and behavioral economics.

    This book is best for: Someone wanting to analyze and improve the way they make decisions and judgments.

    Overall Rating: ♦♦♦ (out of 5)

    Here is the Amazon link to buy this book:

     

     

    Ratings Guide

    ♦ = Not worth your time

    ♦♦ = May be worth your time if it is specific to your industry or interests

    ♦♦♦ = A decent book and worthy addition to your library depending on your interests

    ♦♦♦♦ = A great book and an excellent addition to your library.

    ♦♦♦♦♦ = One of the all time classics. A must-read for anyone and everyone.

  • Book Review: The Power of Habit

    The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

    Image courtesy Amazon.com

    If you’ve read any of our past reviews, you will know that I’m a big fan of habit formation and business psychology. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that a book called “The Power of Habit” would catch my eye.

    I bought and listened to the audio version a couple weeks ago and I really enjoyed it.

    The basic premise is that there are certain patterns that have been scrutinized surrounding both positive and negative habits. You can imagine that this is a blossoming branch of science as habitual smokers are desperate to quit, over-eaters crave self control, and habitual gamblers try to walk away from the slots. Intuitively, the business of habits, both how to form the good ones and how to break the bad ones, is potentially worth billions of dollars.

    The book, by Charles Duhigg, walks through a dozen stories that illustrate the newest and most innovative thinking on habit formation and deconstruction. Duhigg has a gift for navigating controversial issues with science. Much like Gladwell claimed that Japanese children were good at math because of ancestral rice-farming and Levitt claimed that abortion led a decreases in crime, Duhigg uses facts and science to avoid moral debates on habitual gambling or other socially questionable addictions.

    One basic take-away from the book is the basic routine of any habit. Duhigg delves deeply into the brain and it’s functions in the various steps of the process, but for my purposes I was really only interested in the process itself. It is as follows:

    Queue – Response – Reward

    Something will queue your action. According to that queue you take some action. Because of that action, you get a reward.

    Let’s use smoking as a quick example. Say you start smoking when you feel stressed. In that habit cycle, your queue would be stress. You feel stressed and your trained response to that would be to grab a cigarette. After lighting up, you would get the brief buzz of the nicotine. So the stress queues the action of smoking which delivers the reward of the buzz.

    Interesting right?

    Try to apply that to your life or your customers . . .

    Better yet, let Duhigg do it.

    My favorite example from the book actually involves a retailer in a mall setting. Cinnabon is a national purveyor of molten, gooey cinnamon rolls that seem to melt in your mouth. They may be one of the most unhealthy foods on the planet, but they are just plain fantastic. Cinnabon knows this and uses habit to bring in customers. In their case, they know that the queue for someone buying their naughty treats is the smell of a fresh baked cinnamon roll. That enticing aroma of doughy cinnamon can bring a man to his knees. So, Cinnabon tries to maximize that aroma for its potential customers. They will actually pick their location within a mall to maximize the delivery of that aroma.

    That’s why you will see Cinnabon a good bit away from the food court. Amidst the odors of teriyaki chicken and beef burritos, the alluring cinnamon can be lost. So Cinnabon will locate a good bit away from the food court and put their ovens close to the window. That way the maximum amount of smell is wafting out of their store front and it isn’t muddied by other smells.

    It’s half evil and half genius. They are tapping into the queue of the smell to get the action of purchasing the roll for your reward of the taste.

    Beyond the implications of retail, I think habits are what make our daily lives. As the saying goes: You are what you repeatedly do. In the end, our actions are just a collection of habits. And all of us have some habits we would like to correct. So, you can use the Queue-Action-Reward process, alter any one of the three, and create newer, better habits. Or, if you are perfect, use the knowledge to help your customers or clients (as Cinnabon did, kinda).

    This book and its concepts may not be a life-changer like Compound Effect or Win Friends, but I think it’s a great read full of interesting anecdotes and well worth your time.

     

    Power of Habit in Two Sentences: All habits, both positive and negative, can be broken down into three steps: Queue – Action – Reward. If you wish to change a habit (i.e. the “Action”), then tweak the queue or the reward and watch your habit either improve or disappear.

    Pros: Interesting read with good anecdotes to illustrate points. Very good personal and professional applications if you chose to use the information that way.

    Cons: A bit scientific and cerebral. May be be a little overwhelming for those uninterested in brain biology and cognitive habits.

    Target Audience: Anyone who has habits, I suppose.

    This book is best for: Those stuck in the grip of bad habits (or a single bad habit), those looking to cater to or manipulate the habits or others (retailers), or those ambitious to improve their habits

    Overall Rating: ♦♦♦♦ (out of 5)

    Here is the Amazon link to buy this book:

    Ratings Guide

    ♦ = Not worth your time

    ♦♦ = May be worth your time if it is specific to your industry or interests

    ♦♦♦ = A decent book and worthy addition to your library depending on your interests

    ♦♦♦♦ = A great book and an excellent addition to your library.

    ♦♦♦♦♦ = One of the all time classics. A must-read for anyone and everyone.

     

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  • Why I Use a Pseudonym

    Is this me? Nope.

    Let’s take a moment to discuss pseudonyms and three reasons I use one.

    I wouldn’t say I’m a huge Dave Ramsey fan. I certainly like the guy and think his mission to stop the debt-happy insanity in our country is admirable. But I’m not really his target audience. I’m a finance guy that hates debt. His messages don’t add much value.

    I do love my wife. And she wanted to take Dave’s Financial Peace University before we got married. Long story short, we took FPU for 8 weeks at Wieuca Rd Baptist. As I suspected, I didn’t get much out of it in terms of financial tools, but I did get a great book recommendation.

    Ramsey tells a story of talking to the wealthiest man he knows, a multi-billionaire, and asking for the man’s recommendation for “the greatest book on investing someone can read.” The billionaire’s response is one of the only things that stuck with me from those 8 weeks.

    This nameless billionaire claimed that the greatest investing book of all time is . . . .

    The Tortoise and the Hare

    “Cool. But, Duke, why are you writing about Dave Ramsey and children’s books in a post about pseudonyms?”

    Because, kind stranger, I write with a pseudonym because of The Tortoise and the Hare. The theme of tTatH is “slow and steady wins the race.” I agree with that wholeheartedly, but I would amend it slightly:

    The best way to go far is to NEVER go backwards and NEVER stop.

    The tortoise won the race because he never stopped, never slowed down, never deviated from his path, and never took his focus off his goal. That’s my intention for my career. A thousand small, steady, focused steps toward my goal.

    A legal battle over postings on a website could fall under the category of “step backward.” A pseudonym tacked on the end of any post allows plausible deniability to any author and places any legal burden on The Atlanta Property Journal and the parent company that owns it. Both the APJ and the parent company have excellent legal counsel and can protect themselves from nasty words like libel and slander.

    If you have read any posts on this site, then you know we aren’t in the business of talking smack or trashing anyone. This is a forum for ideas, discussions, book reviews, trends, and anything else interesting that affects commercial property in Atlanta. This ain’t TMZ and I’m not Perez Hilton. But I have been around long enough to know that there are plenty of unethical people and ambulance chasers who will sue you just for fun. So, I protect myself and the writers of the APJ.

    I have access to every account that runs through this site and can claim that any author of the site could post under any name. So all liability comes back to the company and never to the author. It may seem like a small distinction, but it is the difference in the company paying $20,000 in legal bills and my friend paying $20,000 in legal bills. That’s a big difference to me.

    You can't find me.

    So, the main reason I write under a pseudonym is to protect myself and my authors from legal liability. I never want anyone associated with me and my business to be forced to take a step backwards in their career because of some article. That’s the main reason, but there is another reason:

    Environment

    Writing under a pseudonym allows an author to feel more free and open in her writing. If you know that you, your family, and your employer are all protected legally from your writing, you can be totally open and honest with your work and not feel the need to pull punches or water down your content. It may just be a subconscious trigger, but people who are comfortable with writing the truth tend to write more truthfully.

    And I can promise you this: More open authors are more interesting authors. And more honest content is more interesting content.

    The APJ was created to foster an environment where people can come to be real and truthful about whatever vexes the CRE world. Keeping the attorneys away from everybody will help nurture that. Tip-toeing around the truth for fear of hurting anyone’s feelings leads to overly-vague and philosophical content. If you can’t get specific and detailed about something you end up sounding too general. On the other hand, if someone wants to come in and start talking noise and being terrible . . . they’re blocked. Piece of cake and I sleep like a baby.

    The third and final reason I use a pseudonym is humility. Maybe I am the only one who struggles with this, but I can be a tad prideful. I like to think how smart I am or how great my accomplishments are and that gets me into trouble. (In moments of clarity I actually believe that anything I accomplish is simply because God allowed it, but that is another post for another time.) Whenever my focus starts turning to accomplishments I lose focus and become the hare.

    So, I don’t want my name on this site. If this site and it’s affiliates have success, I want the success attributed to them not me. Otherwise I might start thinking how great I am and trying to “promote my personal brand.” I’m not that great. My friends and partners are great. They deserve to be lauded.

    Anyway, those are my three reasons for using a pseudonym. Do they make sense? Do you think I’m crazy? Tell me in the comments.

    – Duke

  • Random Thoughts

    fatal-pics

    Crunched for time early this week, so I will stay random.

    1. I realized this weekend that CRE pros are like actors. Just because you can make some money on a deal doesn’t mean you should take it. You want to be Daniel Day-Lewis, not Eddie Murphy. (Sorry Eddie! We cool?)

    2. I still need to be convinced that there is demand for a BILLION DOLLAR gambling complex in Norcross. It’s a cool idea, but Norcross? I’m from Gwinnett County, but Norcross? We’ll see.

    3. Shout out to DDR for the SetUpShop concept they have been experimenting with here in Atlanta! Basically it’s like co-working space for retailers (kinda), and apparently they are killing it with those favorable lease terms.

    4. Who’s jacked up about the Brookhaven cityhood vote? I’m ashamed to say that I have no opinion since I don’t know enough about the pros and cons. What a terrible resident I am. maybe I should write a post about both sides . . . .

    pseudo-thoughts

    5. Decatur might as well be Macon. There is no direct way for me to get there from my home in Brookhaven or my office in North Buckhead. I know they have tons of tasty treats and may be the most walkable part of Atlanta, but I could get to the airport in 20 minutes and get on a plane to Dubai before I arrived in downtown Decatur.

    6. There has been some speculation that I am Duke Long‘s son. It is a fabrication. “The Duke” is my pseudonym that is used to preserve the liability of any of my employers or clients who disagree with my posts. My real name is Ron Mexico (and if you don’t get that joke then you ain’t from ’round here).

    7. By the way, if you haven’t checked out www.CRE-Apps.com yet, do it. If you are under 40, it will get you jacked up about the future of tech in our industry. If you are over 40, you will probably be unimpressed and mutter something about face-to-face interaction blah blah blah.

    8. I’m only half kidding about the over 40 thing. I have found many boomers and older Gen X-ers embracing and encouraging technology as a medium to transform and streamline our industry. But I find still more in that age bracket who like to talk about walking to work in the snow, life before the internet, and reading proformas by candlelight. Personally, I love when people refuse to embrace tech changes. That clears the path for me to have an obvious advantage over them.

    9. I’m reading The Power of Habit and it’s pretty good. Look for a review in the next week or so, but after reading most of it I still submit that “He with the best habits, wins.”

    10. I just hired a virtual assistant to help manage my schedule and research tasks and she has already saved me a tremendous amount of time over the last few weeks. It’s amazing how much I can accomplish when I don’t have to focus on the stuff I hate (research, data entry, paperwork, etc.). She is selectively looking to add clients. So, if you are interested, post in the comments and I will hook you up.

    That’s your weekly dose of random, kids. Now leave Daddy alone and let me get back to causing trouble.

    – Duke

  • Book Review: Atlas Shrugged

    Image Courtesy Amazon.com

    You may ask why a site about commercial real estate would need a review of a book by Ayn Rand. Fair question.

    I would argue that Ayn Rand is not really an author. She is a philosopher, and, more specifically, an economic philosopher. She happened to write a few books in her career, but her main occupation was philosopher. Her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, is essentially a treatise on economic theory and the free market economy. Therefore, this book is extremely relevant to commercial real estate and all of the industries interconnected with it.

    Let me begin my review by saying that I think Rand is an exceptional philosopher and an amazing woman. I have written about her before and I hope that I conveyed how exceptional she truly was while she lived. Whatever I may say about her book, she was one of the more gifted philosophers of the past century and deserves credit.

    Having said that, I’m not sure I would ever read Atlas Shrugged again. It was interesting and entertaining . . . for the first 500 pages or so. Actually, I listened to it in my car on 50 CDs. So I should say that it was interesting for the first 25 CDs.

    I read my fair share of books. Last year I finished more than 20 different titles. So I have learned over time that there are certain writing styles I prefer. For example, all of the books that I read not named “Harry Potter” are non-fiction and business books. So I tend to enjoy a writing style that is heavily factual and balances interesting anecdotes and facts (think Michael Lewis and Malcolm Gladwell).

    Therein lies my problem with Rand.

    Atlas Shrugged (and The Fountainhead) is a work of fiction. All of the characters and situations came from Rand’s vivid imagination. She has an exceptional talent for detail and description. She can take your breath away with her knowledge of the steel industry down to the grittiest detail of bolt sizes on industrial smelters.

    But I don’t really care about the bolts.

    I just want to know what Francisco and Hank Reardon are doing at the mill when one of the smelters over-heats and threatens the entire mill. Just tell me what happened, what they did, and why. That’s all I need. All of the superfluous details are . . . superfluous. Remember, I’m a business book reader. I want a quick anecdote, lessons learned, and how to apply it to my life. If Dagney’s lapels match the bluest hydangea on a wet spring day . . . I don’t really care. I want facts and lessons and I want them in as few words as possible. I highly value brevity and, as a writer, appreciate the skill it takes to develop the balance between description and brevity.

    Maybe the simplest way I can critique her is as follows: Rand is an exceptional philosopher and an average writer.

    You can probably tell that this isn’t necessarily a problem with Rand. It’s just my preference. I simply don’t prefer her writing style.  As I said, I value brevity and concision. She doesn’t. I only need Jim Taggert to speak a few times to know that he is an idiot and a dangerous man. Rand has him speak 200 times and beats that dead horse. To each her own.

    So, while I may not prefer her writing style, I strongly admire her philosophical reach and wisdom. She ardently promotes individual achievement while vehemently condemning those who would bring down the achievers around them. She abhors people like Jim Taggert who believe they are entitled to success and money and need only bring giants down to make themselves feel tall. I agree with her.

    She would hate that the top 5% of income earners in the US pay 60% of all taxes. She hates Robin Hood.

    Frankly, I can understand where she is coming from. As an aspiring high-achiever, I would be pretty peeved if I worked my hands to the bone to make a small fortune and then was made to feel guilty for my success, called greedy, called privileged, or called lucky. That would probably piss me off. I’m not trying to make a political stance or anything, but I can see how you would be upset if you worked that hard only to be called “lucky.”

    I can also see how it would be frustrating to have Uncle Sam take a disproportionately large chunk out of my income apple. The country is telling me:

    Hey! You! Successful rich guy/girl! You owe us a big piece of those huge paychecks you are bringing in! That’s our money! We know how to use it better than you would anyway!

    Yeah, it’s safe to say that would make me pretty unhappy. Rand gets that. And the whole premise of her book is: What if those high achievers and successful leaders refuse to cooperate? What if they just all walked away? What if the best and brightest people on the planet all quit and walked away because they were tired of the government taking their money and then changing the rules of the game they play? What would you do then? Who would you tax to pay your government bills?

    Interesting concept, right?

    I thought so too. And Rand does a fine job of taking that question to its most extreme conclusion. To ruin the ending for you: they all do quit, the world “stops”, many people die, and then the do-ers have a clean slate to start over with. You know they will build something great, because that’s what do-ers do.

    Rand has recently seen a burst in popularity as the current political party in the White House has been promoting regulations and ideas that tout “social benefit” or “the greater good” or “helping the less-privileged” while seemingly hampering individual achievement (cough, rights, cough). Rand uses weasels like Jim Taggert and Orin Boyle as the hideous underbelly of “social responsibility” and uses Dagney Taggert, Hank Reardon, and John Galt as her ideal men and women who value achievement and individualism above all else. When you learn the difference between these two groups of people, it’s easy to see why her popularity is peaking.

    So, in that sense, I’m glad I read the book. There are some deep philosophical waters to wade through in Atlas Shrugged and I enjoy discussing them with others who have read it. The $29.99 question is: Should you read it?

    Maybe.

    If you have more patience than I do, enjoy ornate descriptions, or just have an unhealthy obsession with philosophy, Atlas Shrugged is probably worth the price. If not, take this review and other reviews, get the main point, and apply it to your own life however you please.

    Either way, beware of Robin Hood and those who wish to punish the successful.

     

    Atlas Shrugged in Two Sentences: What if all of the achievers and brilliant men and women of the world went on strike? What would happen if they stopped the engine of the world and left it to people who make a living off the greatness of others or off the guilt of the successful?

    Pros: Very interesting philosophy on economics and free market capitalism, very detailed descriptions of industries like railroads and steel, well written dialogue

    Cons: Loooooooooooooooooooooooooooong, at times redundant

    Target Audience: Anybody in any country over the age of 16, I suppose

    This book is best for: Readers interested in philosophy and economics and who have the patience to learn about it through the medium of business fiction

    Overall Rating: ♦♦ (out of 5)

     

    Ratings Guide
    ♦ = Not worth your time
    ♦♦ = May be worth your time if it is specific to your industry or interests
    ♦♦♦ = A decent book and worthy addition to your library depending on your interests
    ♦♦♦♦ = A great book and an excellent addition to your library.
    ♦♦♦♦♦ = One of the all time classics. A must-read for anyone and everyone.
  • Book Review: Keepers of the Castle

    Keepers of the Castle:Real Estate Executives on Leadership & Management

    Image Courtesy Amazon.com

    Image Courtesy Amazon.com

    Meh.

    In Keepers of the Castle: Real Estate Executives on Leadership & Management, author William J Ferguson argues that all great leaders in real estate share a few common threads in their leadership styles. I say he argues, but really he allows them to argue for themselves. In essence, KOTC is just a series of interviews with current and former executives in the real estate industry. Ferguson writes 10 or 15 pages to describe the common threads, but just ends up re-quoting the executives he’s about to quote in depth. He really doesn’t write much himself at all. Therein lies the strength and weakness of this “book.”

    As an aspiring leader in this industry, I find it infinitely fascinating to read the advice and opinions of the champions of real estate. I sincerely treasure the wisdom they are able to share from the triumphs and failures that have spanned long careers. I am a bit of a knowledge-junkie and learning from the lessons of others is always a wise use of my time.

    On the other hand, this “book” doesn’t really read like a book. It reads like a newspaper. Because each chapter has a different theme, many of the interviewees have multiple entries in the book and each chapter has ten or twenty different mini-sections. Jim of Company A will talk for 3 pages about hiring the right people and then Tom from Company B will talk for 5 pages about compensating people. Long story short, there is no flow at all. When I say flow, I mean that there is no cohesive sense of story or purpose from page to page or chapter to chapter. It’s structured like a collection of 150 short stories.

    Again, the stories, anecdotes, and pearls of wisdom are fascinating. But the choppiness and lack of flow between each interviewee makes this a difficult and cumbersome read. You will never get lost in the world of this book as you may in a Michael Lewis book or even Peter Drucker. It’s too choppy and segmented for that and I found myself struggling to finish it.

    All in all, I would say that this book is a worthwhile addition to the library of the CRE professional. But I would recommend this as a bathroom reader or daily devotional. Don’t try and struggle through a chapter a day or you will find yourself stifled and lost.

    Plus, Ferguson committed the cardinal sin of combining the home building industry with the commercial real estate industry. That always bothers me.

    Keepers of the Castle in Two Sentences: Most of the successful leaders in the real estate industry share a few traits in common in their story. If you take time to hire the right people, compensate them fairly, treat them well, and keep the needs of the customer/client as a paramount issue, your company will enjoy success to the fullest.

    Pros: Very interesting advice, tons of big names from the industry, good ideas worth knowing

    Cons: Too choppy, segmented, and difficult to read for pleasure

    Target Audience: Aspiring real estate executives or executive teams

    This book is best for: 30 and 40 somethings in real estate who want to know 1) how to lead their organization and 2) what truly matters on the road to business success.

    Overall Rating: ♦♦ (out of 5)

    Here is the Amazon link to buy this book:

    http://www.amazon.com/Keepers-Castle-Executives-Leadership-Management/dp/0874201012/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329754947&sr=8-1

    Ratings Guide

    ♦ = Not worth your time

    ♦♦ = May be worth your time if it is specific to your industry or interests

    ♦♦♦ = A decent book and worthy addition to your library depending on your interests

    ♦♦♦♦ = A great book and an excellent addition to your library.

    ♦♦♦♦♦ = One of the all time classics. A must-read for anyone and everyone.

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