Disrupt or be disrupted. Almost a year ago, we picked this idea as an organizing principle for our first HIVE for Housing conference event, Sept. 28 and 29, in Los Angeles. Sounds vaguely almost like a threat, doesn't it? It says in no uncertain terms, "or else."

If that's the way our HIVE theme strikes you, it's intentional. Why? We want you, and your team, and your business interests to be around, and be profitable, and continue to make housing a better place--a better place to work, to develop communities, and to solve the nation's and the world's economic challenges--for years and years to come.

To keep pace with how residential development and construction of neighborhoods is changing, leading organizations and leaders must always play for what's around the next corner, for what's ahead, for what's yet unseen but coming.

We latched on to the idea "disrupt or be disrupted"--and programmed our conference agenda around it--for two reasons. One reason was to take stock of a simple, profound, and elegant reality. It is this. Innovation in housing is going on within organizations of all sizes, all stripes, all segments, all vertical silos, and in all processes and outcomes. People are making improvements to ways of doing things everywhere. The catch is, 99% of this innovation is atomized. It's happening on a cellular level in housing, so that improvements to ways of doing things happen without the notice or adoption by other parts of the ecosystem.

What if there were a way--on a sustained basis--for people to take innovations that are going on on a cellular, individualized, atomized level, and pollinate them rapidly across the community? What if your team could learn how another organization addresses chronic operational pain points? What if your organization could source materials that are cheaper, stronger, more environmentally sound, and healthier to make your homes and communities better? What if your engineers could make a stronger, more persuasive case for your on-the-boards neighborhood, by using data and supportive information that have worked in other similar situations and communities? What if you could drop millions of dollars of marketing and advertising support money to the bottom line by learning how data targeting and laser-precision messaging can work both more effectively and efficiently to generate orders or lease-up?

What we take from this reality is a sense of opportunity. What if people in housing had a place to go, that's there all the time, that works as an open source for cross-pollinating, for collaborating, for populating housing's best ideas, practices, and processes? This is HIVE for Housing.

This brings us to the second critical reason for our initiative. Housing, and the United States economy, needs it.

Up to now, housing's recovery since the Great Recession roughly mirrors consumer households' economic recovery. Those in the top 10% in earnings and wealth have been the housing recovery's primary beneficiaries, and the rest not.

However, historically, in the U.S. housing has been an upward mobility engine, a way for people with less to make it into more if they work at it. One of the big questions we face today--in politics, economics, society, and culture--is whether we collectively believe in that principle enough to invest further in it.

People and households with wages that responsibly flow into attainable homeownership financed with loans they can and will reliably pay back have been a bedrock of healthy U.S. economic growth for at least four generations. In the HIVE for housing, some version of that principle, refreshed for the present and future, is possible.

This morning's line-up of Harvard Business Review content, includes a couple of timely, and I think, related insights.

One, right down the "Disrupt or be disrupted" fairway, comes from former HBR editor and author Karen Dillon, entitled "What Airbnb Understands About Customers’ 'Jobs to Be Done.'" Dillon explains the "jobs to be done" phenomenon, coined by innovation guru Clayton Christensen, who observed that customers or consumers don't simply choose to buy goods and services, but rather, they "hire" them to do a "job" that solves for a need in their lives. Dillon writes:

Being cheaper and “good enough” doesn’t guarantee that people will choose your product or service over all others. You have to know what job customers are hiring you to do before you can hope to create the perfect solution for them – one that they’ll choose over all other options.

So, how does this tie back to housing? That basic question we need to keep reminding ourselves of--for whatever segment or tier or category or geography we're trying to serve--is this: how do you want to live in your home? That question works, whether it's a tiny house, a microapartment, an affordable unit, a custom home palace, an urban townhouse, or a master planned community single-family detached starter unit.

How do you want to live in your home? and "What can we do for you so that you'll hire us as your neighborhood and home developer?" are essentially one and the same question.

This brings us to the second highly relevant HBR piece I want to draw your attention to today. It's from the three co-authors of a book, "The Network Imperative: How to Survive and Grow in the Age of Digital Business Models," by two consultants and a professor of marketing, all of whom have ties to the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. The two consultants are from a firm called OpenMatters, Barry Libert (ceo) and Megan Beck (digital consultant), and the professor is Yoram Wind. The three ask the question, "Why Are We Still Classifying Companies by Industry?"

I've wondered that for a while about housing. Housing is really many industries, ranging from real estate, to manufacturing, to retail, to distribution and logistics, to services, including financial, health, security, educational, etc. Libert, Beck, and Wind write:

Our research has shown that companies that build and manage digital platforms, particularly those that invite a broad network of participants to share in value creation (such as how we all add content to Facebook’s platform or that anyone can sell goods on Amazon’s), achieve faster growth, lower marginal cost, higher profits, and higher market valuations. For organizations like these, business model is a better way of identifying competitors and comparing performance.

Consumer household members "hire" housing players for the job, not just of producing physical assets, but for creating value over time in the form of health, safety, wealth, education, and community connections. Towns and jurisdictions "hire" housing players to do the same--to build assets, increase value, and create community vibrance.

This suggests that if our business leaders look at housing in terms of the business models they make and propagate, it would be a hybrid of all four of the business model types Libert, Beck, and Wind bullet out here:

  • Asset Builders make and sell physical things
  • Service Providers use people to offer services
  • Technology Creators generate and deliver intellectual property (software and data)
  • Network Orchestrators facilitate transactions and interactions within a network

What a unique challenge and opportunity for leaders in housing. That's why we hope to see you with us in just over five weeks at HIVE.