“We’re gonna party like it’s 2019!” doesn’t roll off the tongue.
Nor, for builders of new homes and communities, does it seem likely that the year ending—2019--will go down in home builder business annals among the more raucous moments of unbridled exuberance that defined Prince’s “the devil may care” anthem to the eve of Y2K.
We envision looking back at the moment as a bridge, connecting the past to our futures. The end of 2019, the end of a decade, and somewhere amidst the United States’ single longest stretch of economic recovery--it’s a moment to take stock, to find the teachable. To move forward onto the bridge.
The bridge spans a bottomless crevice—obsolescence, disruption, irrelevance, insolvency, oblivion. On one side of the bridge, where we are and have been, we’re on a “knowing curve.” This is curve tracks with a trajectory of knowledge, canniness, and experience builders draw upon, tapping into generations who came before and what they’ve proven, time and again, to work. It’s “the way we do things.”
Why? Well, banks, municipalities, code inspectors, trade crew supervisors, and a host of others in the byzantine handoff-to-handoff-to-handoff work sequence that we call home and community design, development, investment, planning, and construction choose “the way we do things.”
Discomfort with any other way gets expressed in the form of refusal of capital, denial of permits, abandonment by skilled labor crews, delayed building cycles, etc., leading ultimately to a firm’s inability to do what it’s set up to do—build homes and make money.
On the other side of the bridge is a “learning curve.” The learning curve—steep though it is, with its share of failures, flailing, and frustration—calls on our primal instinct to explore, discover, venture into new, uncharted turf.
The bridge allows us to cross back and forth, giving us access to both the knowing curve and the learning curve.
By the end of 2029, will lots, labor, materials, and lending continue to bedevil builders as the Four Horsemen of chronic and existential risk to budgets, bottom lines, and business models?
Our bet is no, even as fundamental as those four essential resources are to our business and operational models today and for all the millennia that such has been the case. The reason is that at this moment, on the eve of this decade, we’d bet that our futures—and their learning curve—will more meaningfully determine the viability and sustainability of businesses and business models than the past.
Note, I’ve been referring to “our futures,” as more than one, and the past as singular. We can envision, at any time, multiple futures.
- There’s one that happens to us if we continue to pursue status quo
- There’s the one we prepare for as evidence suggests we evolve
- There’s the one we help shape as agents of change
As we look at our futures, and housing’s job in how they may play out, we must think of now, its challenges and crises:
- The mismatch between the expense of assembling resources to make homes and communities, and what households earn.
- The mismatch between sheltered space’s impact on the environment and nature’s capacity to re-generatively support its balances
- The mismatch between skills, jobs, expertise, etc. and their sustainable ability to produce value enough to support households’ needs and dreams.
Anywhere you look these days, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, healthcare, policy, etc., we face existential challenges—to leadership, to buildings, to society, to business models, to communities --with varying notes of urgency, immediacy, impact, and desperation.
The bridge connects the knowing curve with the learning curve. It’s a false dilemma that we have to pick one or the other. Instead, we probe the challenges to probe them for how we might do the next right thing.
- Why I care
- How I behave
- What I expect of myself
- How might we … [fill in your statement for achieving a solution to a seemingly impossible problem] ?
We don’t look ahead to 2030 in the sense of a typical a la carte range of options. Rather, we look at our futures the sense of our need to act today. Today--this moment on the bridge that crosses from knowledge to learning--we need to seize on this lingering chance to give some of the future we’ve already taken back to our children. Their children. We owe action; we owe behavior, we owe doing and being accountable, to them. Isn’t that essential to “the way we do things?”