Question for you.
What are housing's five biggest solvable challenges?
Would you say that one of them contains the word "labor"? If you were to start to describe a "solvable challenge" related to a current state of imbalance between predictably efficient labor capacity and the need for it, how would you phrase it?
Would you say that one of those solvable challenges contains the word land, and in particular, this finite resource's use for residential shelter? Knowledge and market asymmetries, political and regulatory encumbrances, and timing mismatches suck blindly committed capital into its vortex, up-cycle or down. By what margin might we improve the use of capital by looking at land and lots as a solvable challenge? And again, how do we phrase the question?
One of those solvable challenges might just include the term "design." For design, when it works, works both to solve everyday problems--such as safety, comfort, durability, access to air, water, warmth, coolness, etc.--and to, in a more vaunted role, invent desire, spark craving, cause aspiration to move people off the dime toward some greater, bolder aim. How would you articulate housing's most "solvable challenge" around design?
Affordability is at the crux of another of housing's "solvable challenges." An election year ahead will cloud, and layer, and inundate the word, with definitions and applications, misappropriations, and, sadly, lies. Affordability and action come down to choices, priorities, reason, if we want them to. We need to stop considering basic needs housing and workforce housing as "affordability" initiatives we may or may not be able to afford. What we need to understand is that safe, healthy, durable housing for people is something we can't afford not to do.
Building and product failures must be among those high-ranking "solvable challenges." Humans know, and have known how to make safe, efficient, habitable, sustaining shelters that can stand for centuries amidst the full brunt of nature. But how would you, today, state the full sentence that qualifies building and product failures as one of housing's biggest "solvable challenges."
That there are no pure-play housing or home building companies on the list is, unfortunately, no big whup. We do see the names of some of housing's more important manufacturing suppliers, BASF, Siemens, DuPont, General Electric, JP Morgan, Apple, Google, and the ubiquitous Fidelity Investments.
What we think, though, is that if you peel back the top layer of what BCG is calling innovation, and look at four underlying themes that make a leader in this area, there are learning opportunities for home builders. The rising need for innovation speed, lean innovation, enabling technology-enabled innovation, and understanding how a business core relates to its adjacent opportunities and challenges--these are precisely the thread of barriers, impediments, inertial areas, and traps that have bedeviled residential construction now for a half century or more.
Take each of those four factors, and apply some of the thinking around them to the five "solvable challenges" I mentioned above. What would begin to happen when innovation's spark and juggernaut-style momentum kick into gear.
This is why Hanley Wood plans to introduce HIVE, our new 2016 event, in September. What housing and community development doesn't need is just another new "thought leadership event." What it needs is an agenda, a conversation, and a platform to address and solve housing and neighbhorhood-making's biggest problems. Between now and then, I need your help to boil down, refine, and crystalize an articulation of housing's five biggest solvable challenges. It starts where it needs to start, by recognizing where we are today in simple, real-world, rigorously candid terms. That's how we begin housing and residential construction's most innovative era ever.
Help me get to square one. Answer the question. To repeat: What are housing's five biggest solvable challenges?