Weekly Book Scan
Every once in a while, when I’m reading something wholly unrelated to work, I come across the most interesting insights into property ownership.
This week I’ve been wading through the terrifying, foul-smelling world of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. The book is a muckraking (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) look at the meatpacking industry of Chicago at the turn of the 20th Century. Not even a third of the way into the book, I find the immigrant family I’ve been following through the harrowing process of settling in Chicago’s Packingtown neighborhood are screwing up the guts to buy a home. They’ve only been in America for something like a week, they can’t speak English, and they’re already counting up the downpayment. The process is fascinating; I recommend reading the whole thing (you can access it for free online at the Gutenberg Project; the whole home-buying storyline begins in chapter four). But I wanted to share with you a portion that occurs after they buy the place and begin “feathering their nest” in chapter five. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve bolded the parts I loved:
They had bought their home. It was hard for them to realize that the wonderful house was theirs to move into whenever they chose. They spent all their time thinking about it, and what they were going to put into it. As their week with Aniele was up in three days, they lost no time in getting ready. They had to make some shift to furnish it, and every instant of their leisure was given to discussing this.
…The next day they went to the house; and when the men came from work they ate a few hurried mouthfuls at Aniele’s, and then set to work at the task of carrying their belongings to their new home. The distance was in reality over two miles, but Jurgis made two trips that night, each time with a huge pile of mattresses and bedding on his head, with bundles of clothing and bags and things tied up inside. Anywhere else in Chicago he would have stood a good chance of being arrested; but the policemen in Packingtown were apparently used to these informal movings, and contented themselves with a cursory examination now and then. It was quite wonderful to see how fine the house looked, with all the things in it, even by the dim light of a lamp: it was really home, and almost as exciting as the placard had described it. Ona was fairly dancing, and she and Cousin Marija took Jurgis by the arm and escorted him from room to room, sitting in each chair by turns, and then insisting that he should do the same. One chair squeaked with his great weight, and they screamed with fright, and woke the baby and brought everybody running. Altogether it was a great day; and tired as they were, Jurgis and Ona sat up late, contented simply to hold each other and gaze in rapture about the room. They were going to be married as soon as they could get everything settled, and a little spare money put by; and this was to be their home—that little room yonder would be theirs!
It was in truth a never-ending delight, the fixing up of this house. They had no money to spend for the pleasure of spending, but there were a few absolutely necessary things, and the buying of these was a perpetual adventure for Ona. It must always be done at night, so that Jurgis could go along; and even if it were only a pepper cruet, or half a dozen glasses for ten cents, that was enough for an expedition. On Saturday night they came home with a great basketful of things, and spread them out on the table, while every one stood round, and the children climbed up on the chairs, or howled to be lifted up to see. There were sugar and salt and tea and crackers, and a can of lard and a milk pail, and a scrubbing brush, and a pair of shoes for the second oldest boy, and a can of oil, and a tack hammer, and a pound of nails. These last were to be driven into the walls of the kitchen and the bedrooms, to hang things on; and there was a family discussion as to the place where each one was to be driven. Then Jurgis would try to hammer, and hit his fingers because the hammer was too small, and get mad because Ona had refused to let him pay fifteen cents more and get a bigger hammer; and Ona would be invited to try it herself, and hurt her thumb, and cry out, which necessitated the thumb’s being kissed by Jurgis. Finally, after every one had had a try, the nails would be driven, and something hung up. Jurgis had come home with a big packing box on his head, and he sent Jonas to get another that he had bought. He meant to take one side out of these tomorrow, and put shelves in them, and make them into bureaus and places to keep things for the bedrooms. The nest which had been advertised had not included feathers for quite so many birds as there were in this family.
Let me know if you have any favorite fiction that addresses the real estate industry. I’m always looking for an excuse to read!
OK, I’m going to be honest: I don’t read Huffington Post. There. I said it. It just felt like, because this blog is about what we’re reading, if would be weird if I didn’t say that. Anyway, I have my reasons, and let’s say most of them come from an aversion to the overuse of ALL CAPS and multiple exclamation marks.
Phew. That said, I truly enjoyed hearing HuffPo Chair/President/Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington speak at Inman Real Estate Connect this month. She talked about the topics she’ll address in her next book, which is broadly about unplugging from a constantly-on life.
As I’m reflecting back on what I heard in New York that day, I’m also reading through a sliver of the hundreds of 30 Under 30 applications we received for the 2014 competition. This year we asked applicants about their business challenges, and so many responded that time management and work-life balance have been real struggles. So now seems like a perfect time to share Huffington’s excellent observations and tips with you.
Now that the market is red-hot in many areas across the country, agents are still trying to do it all like they did when things were slow. Huffington’s message to real estate pros was this: It’s a different market, and we need to adjust.
“We have all focused so much on surviving,” Huffington said. “Its really exciting to be alive today.”
So, what’s changed? First, we all need to stop talking about sleep deprivation as a badge of honor. Huffington told an anecdote about meeting an unnamed gentleman for dinner who boasted of only getting four hours of sleep. She thought to herself that, if he had bothered to get five, the dinner conversation would have been a lot more interesting. Similarly, instead of praising the guy in our office who never takes lunch, she said, we need to start re-framing.
“Ultimately, we all need to redefine success,” she said. “You should be really worried [about those people] because they can’t be possibly making good judgements… Leadership is about seeing the icebergs before they hit the Titanic, and you’re not going to be able to see the icebergs if you’re sleep deprived.”
And it’s not just sleep, either. Huffington said we’re all spending a little too much time on our devices. She talked about how liberating it was, during a week without social media, when she realized that she could eat something without taking a picture of it.
“They make [these devices] deliberately addictive. It’s not accidental,” she said. “There has to be an AA for devices. You know, ‘Hello, my name is Ariana and I am a tech addict.’”
According to Huffington, the real problem with devices isn’t what your mom told you when you were a kid about too much screen time ruining your eyesight. Mobile devices by their nature divide one’s attention, which creates more stress and only provides the feeling of being more productive.
“Multitasking is a complete illusion. You are doing neither [task] well,” she said. “As a result, we’re not giving anything 100 percent.”
Huffington does have science backing her up on that assertion, and she referenced plenty of recent studies and stats regarding how this always-on lifestyle is negatively impacting our health and bottom lines. For me though, the most compelling reasoning behind moderating our connectivity was psychological. For many, myself included, always being tuned in reflects a worry of the unknown. After all, how can I possibly anticipate what will malfunction in the future if I don’t have a live stream of the present constantly in front of my eyes?
“Things will go wrong in our lives,” Huffington assured the crowd. “It’s much harder to deal with them in advance, in your head, before they happen.”
Cue deep breath. Spread smile. Repeat.
So, the question to which you’re all dying to hear the answer: Will I read Huffington’s new book when it comes out?
Maybe. We’ll see what the font looks like.
There’s nothing like traveling for a conference to put you behind in your work. Sorting through all my notes from attending Inman Connect earlier this month, I realized I heard from a whole bunch of really smart authors in New York. It seems unfair to hog all this juicy knowledge to myself, so I’m starting the share-fest off with Dana Ardi, the author of The Fall of the Alphas: The New Beta Way to Connect, Collaborate, Influence—and Lead.
Ardi is a corporate anthropologist, meaning she looks at corporations in a similar way to that which Margaret Mead approached the Samoan people or Franz Boas looked at Native Americans.
“I look at all the social mores,” she said during an interview at the general session. Ardi examines a company’s physical space, as well as their values, sense of humor, diversity, and more. She’s looked at everything from big multinational corporations to the military. When she examines large organizations, she often finds “layers of management that prevented people from spreading their wings.”
“People kept coming into my office for consultation and they were really unhappy,” she said. “They just didn’t like the politics… or they felt like they were silenced.”
Sound familiar? If so, you should tune in. Her new book sets out to show how these corporate environments can be changed. I haven’t read her book yet, but at Inman Ardi cited examples from Zappo’s holacracy, where they’ve gotten rid of job titles, to how West Point is trying to see itself as an orchestra, where everyone has a vital role to play. She also told the audience that the one question everyone always asks her is “That all sounds good, but can you teach old dogs new tricks?”
Well, things are changing, but of course, it’s easier said than done. Ardi remembered one head of a Fortune 100 company telling her that he was ready to act on her recommendations by putting out a memo and telling people that’s the direction the company was going to go. She said that story illustrated the problem with the classic top-down CEO approach to change.
“The CEO is a classic reactor,” she said. Instead, if managers and executives want to make changes, they should start with their own conception of the place from which company-wide change should emanate. “It has to do with a lot of retraining yourself to be a better listener…You have to replace ego systems with ecosystems.”
While this type of change can make for a more collaborative, productive, and creative environment for everyone, one main benefit that accrues to a business that embraces this philosophy is attracting younger people to the fold.
“The next generation knows no other way,” Ardi says. “They’re used to collaborating… that’s their social system.”
Anyway, I hope to check out Ardi’s book for myself soon, but I thought I should get this out there so you could pick it up for yourself if you’re so inclined. Also, you can read my technology coverage from Inman here and here, and read what I learned about global real estate while I was there. And stay tuned for more of my notes from Inman right here on the Book Scan Blog.
So I’ve been working on this project called Street Cred with the our pals over at Doorsteps, a platform that works with real estate pros to educate and empower home buyers. It’s basically all about how REALTORS® are truly experts at explaining why their neighborhood/city/town/state is a great place to live, and it talks about all the ways these practitioners are using technology to be what amounts to ambassadors for their communities. I’m pretty excited about it. You should check it out.
Anyway, these awesome practitioners got me thinking about how tough it can be to be a “relo.” You know, those unfortunate folks who have to move across the country because their company is basically forcing them to relocate? Who on earth would be more in need of the services of an expert neighborhood ambassador than these poor saps?
Well, just before the holidays I got a book written by one of those poor saps. Except she is not taking it laying down. In her new book, Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves, Diane Laney Fitzpatrick gets into the nitty gritty of these ugly, cross-country relocations. How do you help your kids adjust to the new surroundings? What do you do when the movers say the truck is too full? How do you keep the home inspector from seeing that spiraling mouse who’s trying to run away with a mousetrap clamped to his head?
Oh, sorry. Did I neglect to mention that this book is also hilarious? Sure, we’ve all got hellish moving stories, but Fitzpatrick has nine moves worth. She breaks the tales up by inserting snarky but surprisingly-helpful advice, such as:
- Joining extra-curricular clubs, gangs, and cults will make your children happier.
- Moving your car can be complicated. Abandoning it in a bad neighborhood before you move should be at least considered.
- Avoid anyone who has inherited your former home. You don’t look all that good.
- Don’t rely on your dog for any sympathy whatsoever.
- Set the tone for your family with cheerful but firm leadership. Think Hitler with packing peanuts.
Along with all the tongue-in-cheek recommendations, Fitzpatrick does have some advice that you wouldn’t necessarily think of if you haven’t been through nine moves. For example, she points out that movers generally won’t pack up anything liquid or aerosol. Seems like a minor detail, but won’t you just be the hero when you channel Fitzpatrick and remind your next client to stop buying 5-gallon jugs of canola oil from Costco and “get busy drinking that liquor” before they move out?
If it’s empathy for relos that you’re looking to cultivate within your heart, consider this true statement you may never have considered: People who are moving feel homeless. Not just because they’re not sure which address they should give people when asked. It’s because they’re constantly having to pack up the kids and dog for a showing, or because everything they need right now is in boxes, or because they’re just feeling downright insecure about not knowing what their next domicile will look like. And that’s a very vulnerable place. You’ll have a new understanding of what all this feels like after reading this book. But Fitzpatrick is good-natured throughout, never whining or wallowing, even when discussing the finer points of whining and wallowing. It’s a tough line to straddle, and she does it like a woman who’s completed two out-of-state moves as a pregnant mother.
Got any hellish moving stories of your own? Share them below!