The self-assembly of custom nanocomposite arrays.
Courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory The self-assembly of custom nanocomposite arrays.

Inch ahead.

Catch an instance of random kindness in the act.

Call out an example of courage, of exceptionally good judgment, or of commitment beyond the call of duty. Do it today.

Commend an effort that results in improvement. Now, this very afternoon.

Celebrate the elimination of waste--of time, of materials, of others' energies, of money. Salute a new bold idea to serve customers, to support fellow team members, to reach out to the local community--schools, nursing homes, church groups--with a helping hand (provided you keep yourself and others healthy and safe).

Particularly in a time of loud and crippling distraction--when anxiety and fear underlie all the noise--leaders mark and honor progress. Progress, not perfection, is worth back-flips of jubilation these days. There's a very good reason people say that housing can improve society. It's because housing is made up of people who--each in their way--work to improve the world around them.

Why?

Our No. 1 challenge today is grounding people and motivating them around what is real. Real risks. Real obstacles. Real opportunity. Real reward.

How to motivate team members--whether times are helping or adverse--is a known. Frederick Herzberg's definitive analysis, dating back to an initial Harvard Business Review article in 1968, tells us the two primary motivators are "achievement and recognition of achievement."

You can inch forward, mark progress, achieve focus, and recognize achievement today. No need for the latest update on the spread, containment plans, economic boosters, or any other news cycle tidings related to global pandemic COVID-19.

You see, contagion can work both ways. Yale sociologist Nicholas Christakis suggests that, as humans, we're wired in our DNA for good. Doing it today can be catching, and can take on a life of its own, and can offset distraction and noise that's not in our greater interest. When we do good, we feel good, and it rubs off on ones around us.

We know this. The real human "public health" damage of novel coronavirus and the business, economic, social, and cultural chain reactions that public health risk set in motion are two separate forces. Nobel economist Robert Shiller talks here about an "epidemic of fear" as distinct from the "epidemic of coronavirus." The real and the surreal have decoupled. Supply shock? Demand shock? Oil shock? It's our job now to bring people, our people, one person at a time back to the real. For the moment, though, the real and the surreal each have their own trajectory.

Both will pass. It will get better. The two--right now, unanswerable--questions are how quickly, and how much worse may it get before it does get better. If we look at where things originated, we can imagine the peak of infections occurring within the next several weeks, followed by either a rapid or gradual decline in cases and consequences. True, the narrative has just gotten going in the past week or two in the U.S. However, a peak will come--not in months, but rather, a countdown of weeks--and then an ebb.

We'll return then to the passel of challenges, of adverse conditions, of stresses as well as tailwinds and positive trends we had before this whole contagion blew up our plans, business models, operational assumptions, and range of options and constraints. Those fundamental obstacles and favoring circumstances and those talented, driven, committed team members will be there then to make good things happen. Consumers, customers, companies, communities, and countries will rebound from this, some more sharply than others.

I had a boss once 20 years ago, and even today--as the chief financial officer of one of Silicon Valley's biggest tech gaming enterprises in the world--he'd very likely remember a single moment we shared late one night at the office.

He was preparing a deck for the CEO to show--the following morning--financial performance, tactics, and a strategy. As he looked across the spreadsheet cells for revenue and expense trends, he wondered aloud how he'd address revenue shortfalls across a certain time period followed by a "hockey stick" jump in revenue later in the year.

"The numbers here, here, and here are just geography, chief," said the head of finance to our boss. "The story is the story. Factor in for timing, and it is what it is."

Timing and geography are well-understood in the high-stakes world of real estate finance, where at any given moment the person you're talking with may have priorities--and accompanying risk management instincts--that extend 36 months from any present moment.

The issue at hand is "bringing forth" among those who look to us as leaders a confidence that we can step back from the surreal chain reaction, and reenter the real world of matters we can have a say in, impact, and celebrate.

So, rather than expect you and your team to "jump fences" and solve now for all of the uncertainty and doubt and volatility that has so shaken confidence, simply inch forward. Take a moment to shout out to someone for being willing and able to improve something now, however slight the improvement may be.

That will have a calming multiplier effect that you'll find to both help tamp down the intensity level of distraction and one that motivates others, and then others who look to those others, and so on across your team members, companies, partners, and customers.

What better time than now to embrace where and how leadership matters so critically to your firm--large or small--being able to do what it does by design. Either you do it that way, or live with the consequences that come with doing things by default.

Home builders tend to be clear-eyed when it comes to working to manage and improve what they control and prepare for and deal well with what they don't.

Design thinking allows them to do both more effectively. No doubt, we'd like more agency right now than we have; externalities are taking on lives of their own.

This is where your intentions, your actions, your willingness to "inch forward" matter.

We'll be featuring design thinking in all its applications and impacts in our upcoming Builder 100 Conference. This conference--which you can register for here if you are an executive with a home building enterprise that closes more than 150 homes a year--takes place on May 11-13, at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, Dana Point, Calif.

A word now about our plans for the 2020 conference.

The Builder 100 events team, our parent company Hanley Wood and Meyers Research, and our ownership and board of directors, are carefully monitoring developments in the response to the coronavirus crisis, and how COVID-19 may affect our essential mission to serve our audiences and clients, and to assure the well-being of our employees and team members everywhere. At present, given that we are still 62 days out, our plan is to go ahead with the event--provided we can host a safe and healthy conference.

Please stay tuned here, as we will keep you updated on our plans and provisions related to this meeting. If you have registered, or are thinking of registering, and have concerns, please email me directly at [email protected] ....

Meanwhile, inch a little bit farther ahead tomorrow.