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Opinion Editorials Worried About Dollars, Not Sense




How would you feel if the professional organization you belonged to was making your job harder to do?


What would you think if the organization you paid dues to in order to look out for your best interests was involved with a company that was looking out for their pocketbooks at the expense of yours?

Keep on reading and you’ll find out… launched an AVM entitled “What’s Your Home Worth” a few weeks back. It allows consumers to put in an address and see an estimated market value for it. The widget is on the home page, as well as next to every listing displayed on the site. Obviously, they’re putting it in front of consumers as much as they can in order to promote it.

So what’s the big deal? A few things:

The new just made your job as a Realtor harder.

The values they’re spitting out are anywhere from somewhat to completely inaccurate. They are no better than Zillow or any other AVM out there. In fact, in many instances, Zillow was much more accurate.

As Realtors, we all know how much fun it is when our clients want to argue our opinion of a property’s value against a “Zestimate” or some other inaccurate AVM. Now we also have to argue against and an organization we’re directly affiliated with.

In addition, many consumers will likely believe that the values somehow have the input of the 1.3 million Realtors in the US (after all, it is called “Realtor”.com). Once they see just how inaccurate the values are, do you think that think that consumers will view give Realtors more or less credibility than before?

So why make our jobs harder and devalue our credibility even more?

It’s all about the Benjamins… Remember folks, this ain’t no not-for-profit charity. Real estate is a trillion dollar industry with millions of dollars of online advertising dollars at stake. And what compels companies to spend their advertising dollars on your site?


And what brings traffic?

Things like “Zestimates” and “What’s Your Home Worth”.

Does it truly help consumers? No. Does it truly help Realtors? No. Does it put money into the pockets of Yes. Doesn’t sound quite right, does it?


So how about do this…

  1. Let Zillow and all the other sites out there that have AVM’s continue to make money off of their Zestimates and further discredit themselves as a source for accurate information.
  2. Focus on providing consumers the most accurate data and help interpret that data and show how to apply it in real life. This will help bring credibility to “Realtor” name in general.
  3. Start worrying about retaining Realtor members as well as attracting new ones by looking out for their best interests. We’re the ones who pay dues to keep you around in the first place, remember?

P.S. Sorry to for picking on them again.

Danilo Bogdanovic is a Real Estate Consultant/REALTOR(R) in Northern Virginia and author/owner of and Danilo serves on various committees with the Dulles Area Association of REALTORS(R) and the Virginia Association of REALTORS(R).

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  1. Barry Cunningham

    June 19, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    You are talking about an organization that has Larry Yun as it’s economic prognosticator you know? What do you expect?

  2. Benn Rosales

    June 19, 2008 at 7:46 pm


  3. Frank Jewett

    June 19, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    It could be worse. The California AOR’s new website crashed on opening day. For several days they posted an anonymous apology (stand up leadership?), but now that’s gone, too. C.A.R. 2.0, we hardly knew ya!

  4. ines

    June 19, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    I just don’t get why they don’t ask for our opinion, do a poll, test it out first, put some thought behind it. It’s a shame.

  5. Jim Little

    June 19, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    Do we want to get into the question of the R word in domain names?
    Just more NAR doing what it does well.

  6. Eric- New Orleans Condos and Lofts

    June 19, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    They try harder and harder but are following behind the real estate leaders. Most of the Brokers in this area compete with then and beat them with local knowledge and sites. At one time they were the only dog. Now they have to use google Ad sense to help people find the site.

  7. Jim Lee

    June 19, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Forget the sacred “R” word Jim; NAR is off to bigger and better acronyms now like “MLS”

  8. Jay Thompson

    June 19, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    You don’t even want to get me started on Try opening an independent brokerage and see how many hard sell unsolicited phone calls you get from them. I f’ing hate them. And I’m really not a hater….

  9. Bill Lublin

    June 20, 2008 at 5:29 am

    Danilo; Interesting post – though the comments surprised me. In an arena where we usually see a lot of conversation about the importance of transparency and providing what the consumer wants, we’re saying that we should be gatekeepers of this data (which I agree with by the way)

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like AVM’s I would disagree with with you that Zillow is more accurate – I would actually call it less inaccurate – becase I havent found one yet that is close to my opinion in any area where I work – and the whole idea of the AVM is flawed because it is a result built on inadequate data –

    That being said, if we take for granted that REALTOR.COM’s model is not as good as its competitors, but throw in an “inevitability” factor (consumers want it, many sites will have it, therefore it is inevitable that they will also) can we really fault them for exploring this as a feature of their site? I haven’t seen a post about how crappy Zillow, or Cyberhomes or any ohter AVM site is so far , even though we may all agree that they are not accurate nor benefcial to the consumer. (Though in all fairness, maybe I just missed them)

  10. Bill Lublin

    June 20, 2008 at 5:38 am

    @Jim Little and Jim Lee You guys are mixing apples and oranges here – The use of the trademarked word REALTOR is permitted by memners but restricted and montiored no differently then the use fo the words CENTURY 21, COLDWELL BANKER, KELLER WILLIAMS, ERA, etc etc etc. As a franchisee, I pay tons more to the franchisor then I do in NAR dues and they are exremely rigorous in their enforcement of their rights as a trademark holder (which they have to be inorder to maintain their rights) My company’s name is CENTURY 21 Advantage Gold – and when I write it, I am required by my fanchise agreement ot use all caps in the work Century, though when I use the phrase Century 21 other then in my company name I am required to type it in sentence case. Is that any more restrictive then the use of the word REALTOR allowed to the members of NAR? I don;t think so. And if you think their C&D letters are bad, when we registered Advatage Gold as a trademark, I got a letter from Americam Airlines who were trying to protect their use of the American AAdvantage frequent flyer program – does that make them foolish (the two terms and their uses are not even close)

    As far as the MLS isue, it seems from your comment that you just dont understand the sitution. The use of those three letters is not a trademark issue, it is a “true picture” issue. If the letters are being used in a manner which is not misleading to the public, there is no problem – For example, the URL “IamnotanMLS” would not in any way be misleading. But other uses could be misleading, and WE ALL HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO PRACTICE OUR BUSINESS IN AN ETHICAL MANNER WITHOUT MISLEADING THE PUBLIC (sorry for yelling, but this seems really hard for people to get).

    Thanks for playing

  11. Jim Lee

    June 20, 2008 at 6:06 am

    You know Bill, you’re absolutely correct. The MLS domain name issue does seem really hard for people to get.

    A big part of the issue is making a ruling so long after the fact AND making it retroactive (defacto), not to mention only being able to enforce it against NAR members.

    The general public, aka aggregators and lead sellers are still able to use it with impunity since of course NAR has no control over what they do.

  12. Bill Lublin

    June 20, 2008 at 6:48 am

    Jim – Thanks for telling my I was absolutely correct – that’s so rare for me. Could I aks you for a letter to my wife verifiyng that at some point in the universe that occured?

    Its really not an issue of being retroactive. Its more a matter of clarification. If you were doing something wrong, and didn’t know it, wouldn’t you want someone to tell you so that you could stop?

    And in terms of enforcement and membership. I actually am proud that I hold myself to the standards of the Code of Ethics – I believe that its a good thing – and I’m proud of my colleagues in the business who do the same. Its one of the reasons I think being a REALTOR matters.

    I’m not worried bout what someone else does. I believe that its what I do that matters, not what others do. If someone else wants to mislead the public – let them – it won’t take me down that road.

  13. Mack in Atlanta

    June 20, 2008 at 6:57 am

    Danilo thinks that is more accurate, Bill thinks that is less accurate and I think that in my basic trade area that I am more accurate. needs to promote the REALTORS, God knows we pay them enough!!!!!

  14. Jim Lee

    June 20, 2008 at 7:40 am

    Just one more point and we can then agree to disagree on this subject.

    You more than most understand that any violation of Article 12 occurs at the local level and you are likely familiar that several associations and boards across the country have had Article 12 violations filed and hearings held with widely varying results.

    I know that these hearings and the results are theoretically confidential but if the alleged offending website remains some months after the hearing it’s reasonable to assume that some respondents won and some lost.

    How do you and NAR reconcile the uneven enforcement of the MLS issue, i.e. why is OK in one city and is not in another?

    I’m only using those cities for illustration purposes, I have no knowledge of any proceedings or the outcomes.

    Just curious.

  15. Mack in Atlanta

    June 20, 2008 at 8:05 am

    Jim – to expand on your example, is the public site of Georgia MLS, one of the listing services in the metro Atlanta market and does not appear to be a part of the listing service for Chicago.

  16. Jim Lee

    June 20, 2008 at 9:58 am

    I only used those cities for illustration Mack.

    “I’m only using those cities for illustration purposes”

    The point and the question for Bill is why is it OK for to be allowed in one board or association and to be found in violation in another when both are prosecuted (hypothetically speaking) under the same new SOPs to Article 12 of NAR’s COE.

    Same NAR, same COE violation allegation, different results.

  17. Bill Lublin

    June 20, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    Makc – Thanks for your input and actually creating the basis for the explanation

    As I said earlier, its about being misleading, not using those three little letters. In Mack’s explanation of the as the public face of an MLS, that is in no way misleading. In other examples that I have seen, an individual or company that is not an MLS organization has created a URL to make it look to the consumer searching the Internet that they were clicking on an MLS site. For example the page seemed to be a landing page owned by someone who moetized by renting it as a place to launch to other sites. When I landed on that one, I felt annoyed and misled. I would imagine that a consumer might feel the same way.

    As far as different panels having different findings, I don’t have a problem with that. The practice of real estate is local and in different areas, panels might find different ways. Heck, even in the same board, different panels might find in different ways, just as judges or arbitrators might hear two similar cases and have different verdicts. However in any case, the participants are provided with a due process, and are given an opportunity to make their presentation to the panel as best they can.

    Same NAR, same COE violation allegation, different panels, different results is the same as
    Same LAWS, same violation allegations, different judge or jury, different results.

    Aren’t they both ok?

  18. Danilo Bogdanovic

    June 20, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    Bill – I am not saying that we should hold on to the information. Quite the opposite, I’m a huge fan of transparency, practice it in my real estate career and believe that all agents, brokers, Realtors, NAR, etc should be much more transparent than they currently are.

    What I am saying is that we should provide ACCURATE information. Consumers don’t just want information. They want accurate information. When you search a term on Google, are you looking for any information or the most relevant and accurate information?

    What said with it’s “What’s Your Home Worth” feature was “screw accuracy” and followed in Zillow’s and other AVM’s footsteps of providing inaccurate information for the sake of traffic/money.

    It’s pathetic that an organization with “Realtor” in it’s name that’s preaching “Realtors are experts” turns around and provides inaccurate information, makes us all look like morons and makes our jobs harder.

  19. Eric Blackwell

    June 20, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Hey Danilo;

    You owe them no apology. It is they, who owe us one.

    @Jay–No doubt. I am on the receiving end WAY to many of those…

    @Mack- Spot on. AVM’s do NOT work. You cannot set the price for the house without SEEING it and having a good idea of the value of others in the area. And yet they persist with their pipe dream…wonder what is in the pipe? (grin) Sad part is, they bought it with our money.

  20. Dan Connolly

    June 20, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not a big fan of NAR, but when I went to the site and put in my address, it said the range was from 265K to 875K and went on to say directly below the range of solds:

    “To find the specific value of your home and a strategy to make it worth more you should contact and work with a real estate professional in your area. Click Go to locate a REALTOR® near you.”

    To me that is not quite like an estimate of value, and I don’t really have a problem with it. Zestimates, on the other hand assign an exact dollar value without any immediate disclaimer, unless you dig on the site for it, and to me, that’s a problem.

    Of course on the low sales were townhomes and I was asking for single family homes, but that was probably the listing agents fault, putting them in the wrong section to trick some people into looking… and on the site they go back 18 months for comps, because I guess the news hasn’t drifted up to the Ivory tower yet that appraisers are only concerned about the last 6 months….

  21. Paula Henry

    June 20, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    Danilo – This is a conversation for the ages. basically sucks the $$$ out of Realtors and provides less than adequate service.

    AVM’s can not evaluate a property like a Realtor in the field day in and day out. They only make our job more difficult with their inaccuracies.

    It is so important to provide accurate information about homes we list. I’ve seen time and again, one agent depends on the previous information provided, who depended on the previous agents information and so on it goes. How difficult is it to measure a room correctly; to detail the specifics.
    We owe it to our clients and owes it to us to display the information we provide accurately.

  22. Paul Francis

    June 21, 2008 at 5:47 am

    Despite all of the complaining, just continues to go in the wrong direction. I have not even looked at it for such a long time until you brought up the widgets being placed near every listing.

    YUCK! It’s cluttered with so many crappy, annoying banner ads they deserve to continue sinking.

    New home builders, etc..etc.. Way too many obvious attempts to distract visitors. And is supposed to help us sell our listings?

  23. Paul Francis

    June 21, 2008 at 5:53 am

    Ok.. I had to try it out for a neighborhood I specialize in. The square footages for the homes listed as comparables were not even correct — and I sold one of the houses! What’s up with that???

  24. Jennifer in Louisville

    June 21, 2008 at 6:02 am

    The Big R should be advocates for REALTORs, but the persons calling the shots on it aren’t leading the way in the real estate profession. They seem to be trying to play catch up by implementing other sites ideas (which by the way – weren’t any good to begin with).

  25. Mack in Atlanta

    June 21, 2008 at 6:13 am

    @ Dan- You wrote – “To find the specific value of your home and a strategy to make it worth more you should contact and work with a real estate professional in your area. Click Go to locate a REALTOR® near you.” The way I see it will just use this to sell more cities or zip codes for $500 to $1,000 a month. Why should we have to compete with them?

  26. Bill Lublin

    June 21, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    @ Mack – My comment about Zillow was that I found it less inaccurate in comparison to another AVM – not that I found it accurate at all – And as any real estate professional would point out again – without seeing the interior there’s just no way to know- I would like to saa all of these AVMs go away, I think however that consumer demand will keep them round. I think the best thing that we could see would a number of them on the same page. They would all disagree about the value on the same page, demonstrating to the consumer that they should be getting a real estate professional over to figure it out with them.

  27. Eric Blackwell

    June 21, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    GREAT idea Bill! I will take that one on…(grin) Why don’t WE put them on the same page. We KNOW that they are mostly fiction…

    A compare your home’s value page on a blog with a Zesstimate, Trestimate and a Restmate! (others?) and followed up with a ….

    Want to know what it’s worth for REAL? Call me 555-5555 (hehe)

    Could be fun! Would generate some buzz as well



  28. Bill Lublin

    June 21, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Eric – That’s exactly the deal – let’s do a page called REAL OR NO(T) REAL with avatars of really hot women holding aluminum cases – when you click on each one you get a different valuation on your home, but between each one, you get an offer from an investor to buy before you see the next number- (I can want to be the Banker on that show

  29. Eric Blackwell

    June 21, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Too funny! And it could be any value from .01 to $1MM , Howie…

    Open the next case! Yikes! Your value went down ;-(

    Sad truth is though that people DO rely on these fictional figures to their detriment.

    Would make a GREAT cartoon for a blog post, though. Hey Russ….hehe

    Thanks for cracking me up, Bill!

  30. Braxton Beyer

    July 17, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    NAR is absolutely ridiculous. They are a good lobbying group and that is about it. Everything they try to offer consumers or agents just gets in the way.

  31. Bill Inman

    July 28, 2008 at 3:06 am

    I have had issues with for years. As the “Official web site of the National Association of Realtors” it does not provide a service for me a NAR member. Any service to include a simple Realtor search excludes every Realtor that does not pay up. The information that allows them to exist is information I have acquired and put into my local MLS, and then I am expected to pay for my information to be displayed and links back to me. charges more than any other web site for their services and they have more third party advertisements than any other web site I have seen. We (Realtors) have rolled over and played dead for years and have allowed OUR associations to take advantage of us…we pay large dues for an association that is to work for us, not us for “them”…nobody will respect us until we respect ourselves.

  32. Kaw Manyur

    November 13, 2008 at 11:58 pm is a joke, and always been… it shows what kind of “professionals” run it (down)…

  33. Mark Antonowsky

    May 10, 2009 at 7:53 am

    I agree completely with Bill Inman! I’ve been boycotting for about 5 years now. To think our own trade group website, given the importance of the internet to real estate, would operate the way it does i.e., blackmail agents to pay extra to have our listings contain OUR contact info, when any other IDX, zillow, yahoo, trulia, etc provides that info without charge, while selling and displaying banner advertising along with our listing content, is despicable!, to put it simply, sucks.

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Opinion Editorials

Follow these steps to change a negative mindset into something of value

(EDITORIAL) Once you’re an expert, it’s easy to get caught in the know-it-all-trap, but expertise and cynicism age like fine wine, and can actually benefit you/others if communicated effectively.



Man on couch drawing on ipad representative of change to the negative mindset.

In conversation with our friend John Steinmetz, he shared some thoughts with me that have really stuck with us.

He has expanded on these thoughts for you below, in his own words, and we truly believe that any individual can benefit from this perspective:

Over the last few years I have realized a few things about myself. I used to be trouble, always the dissenting opinion, always had to be on the opposite side of everyone else.

Then, I started reading everything I could get my hands on dealing with “how to change your attitude,” “how to be a better team player,” etc.

Over the course of that time I realized something. I realized that there was nothing wrong with me, only something wrong with how I communicate.

Unfortunately, once someone sets the context of who you are, they will never see you as anything else. I was labeled a troublemaker by those who didn’t want to “rock the boat” and that was that.

In my readings of books and articles by some of the most prominent technical leaders, they all had something in common. Paraphrasing of course, they all said “you can’t innovate and change the world by doing the same thing as everyone else.” So, in actuality, it wasn’t me, it was my communication style. For that reason, you have to say it out loud – “I will make waves.”


There are two things I reference in physics about making waves.

  • “A ship moving over the surface of undisturbed water sets up waves emanating from the bow and stern of the ship.”
  • “The steady transmission of a localized disturbance through an elastic medium is common to many forms of wave motion.”

You need motion to create waves. How big were the waves when the internet was created? Facebook? Just think about the natural world and there are examples everywhere that follow the innovation pattern.

You see it in the slow evolution of DNA and then, BAM, mutations disrupt the natural order and profoundly impact that change.


Where I was going wrong was, ironically, the focus of my career which is now Data. For those who do not know me, I am a product director, primarily in the analytics and data space.

More simply: For the data generated or consumed by an organization, I build products and services that leverage that data to generate revenue, directly or indirectly through the effectiveness of the same.

I was making the mistake of arguing without data because “I knew everything.” Sound familiar?

Another ironic thing about what I do is that if you work with data long enough, you realize you know nothing. You have educated guesses based on data that, if applied, give you a greater chance of determining the next step in the path.

To bring this full circle, arguing without data is like not knowing how to swim. You make waves, go nowhere, and eventually sink. But add data to your arguments and you create inertia in some direction and you move forward (or backward, we will get to this in a min).

So, how do you argue effectively?

First, make sure that you actually care about the subject. Don’t get involved or create discussions if you don’t care about the impact or change.

As a product manager, when I speak to engineering, one of my favorite questions is “Why do I care?” That one question alone can have the most impact on an organization. If I am told there are business reasons for a certain decision and I don’t agree with the decision, let’s argue it out. Wait, what? You want to argue?

So, back to communication and understanding. “Argue” is one of those words with a negative connotation. When quite simply it could be defined as giving reasons or citing evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share one’s view.

Words matter

As many times as I have persuaded others to my point of view, I have been persuaded to change mine.

That is where my biggest change has occurred.

I now come into these situations with an open mind and data. If someone has a persuasive argument, I’m sold. It is now about the decision, not me. No pride.

Moving forward or backward is still progress (failure IS an option).

The common thought is that you have to always be perfect and always be moving forward. “Failure is not an option.”

When I hear that, I laugh inside because I consider myself a master of controlled failure. I have had the pleasure to work in some larger, more tech-savvy companies and they all used controlled experimentation to make better, faster decisions.

Making waves is a way of engaging the business to step out of their comfort zone and some of the most impactful decisions are born from dissenting opinions. There is nothing wrong with going with the flow but the occasional idea that goes against the mainstream opinion can be enough to create innovation and understand your business.

And it is okay to be wrong.

I am sure many of you have heard Thomas Edison’s take on the effort to create the first lightbulb. He learned so much more from the failures than he did from success.

”I didn’t fail. I just found 2,000 ways not to make a lightbulb; I only needed to find one way to make it work.” – Thomas Edison

It is important to test what you think will not work. Those small failures can be more insightful, especially when you are dealing with human behaviors. Humans are unpredictable at the individual level but groups of humans can be great tools for understanding.

Don’t be afraid

Turn your negative behavior into something of value. Follow these steps and you will benefit.

    1. Reset the context of your behavior (apologize for previous interactions, miscommunications) and for the love of all that is holy, be positive.
    2. State your intentions to move forward and turn interactions into safe places of discussion.
    3. Learn to communicate alternative opinions and engage in conversation.
    4. Listen to alternative opinions with an open mind.
    5. Always be sure to provide evidence to back up your thoughts and suggestions.
    6. Rock the boat. Talk to more people. Be happy.

A special thank you to John Steinmetz for sharing these thoughts with The American Genius audience.

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Opinion Editorials

Millennial jokes they let slide, but ‘Ok Boomer’ can get you fired

(EDITORIAL) The law says age-based clapbacks are illegal when aimed at some groups but not others. Pfft. Okay, Boomer.



Boomer sad

A brand new meme is out and about, and it’s looking like it’ll have the staying power of ‘Fleek’ and ‘Yeet!’

Yessiree, ‘Okay, Boomer’ as related to exiting a go-nowhere conversation with out-of-pocket elders has legitimate sticky potential, but not everyone is as elated as I am. Yes, the Boomer generation themselves (and the pick-me’s in my age group who must have a CRAZY good Werther’s Original hookup), are pushing back against the latest multi-use hashtag, which was to be expected.

The same people happy to lump anyone born after 1975 in with kids born in 2005 as lazy, tech-obsessed, and entitled, were awfully quick to yell ‘SLUR’ at the latest turn of phrase, and I was happy to laugh at it.

But it turns out federal law is on their side when it comes to the workplace.

Because “Boomer” applies to folks now in their mid 50’s and up, workplace discrimination laws based on age can allow anyone feeling slighted by being referred to as such to retaliate with serious consequences.

However for “You Millenials…” no such protections exist. Age-based discrimination laws protect people over 40, not the other way around. That means all the ‘Whatever, kid’s a fresh 23-year-old graduate hire’ can expect from an office of folks in their 40s doesn’t carry any legal weight at the federal level.

And what’s really got my eyes rolling is the fact that the law here is so easy to skirt!

You’ve heard the sentiment behind #okayboomer before.

It’s the same one in: ‘Alright, sweetheart’ or ‘Okay hun’ or ‘Bless your heart.’

You could get across the same point by subbing in literally anything.

‘Okay, Boomer’ is now “Okay, Cheryl” or “Okay, khakis” or “Okay, Dad.”

You can’t do that with the n-word, the g-word (either of them), the c-word (any of them), and so on through the alphabet of horrible things you’re absolutely not to call people—despite the aunt you no longer speak to saying there’s a 1:1 comparison to be made.

Look, I’m not blind to age-based discrimination. It absolutely can be a problem on your team. Just because there aren’t a bunch of 30-somethings bullying a 65 year old in your immediate sphere doesn’t mean it isn’t happening somewhere, or that you can afford to discount it if that somewhere is right under your nose.

But dangit, if it’s between pulling out a PowerPoint to showcase how ‘pounding the pavement’ isn’t how you find digital jobs in large cities, dumping stacks of books showing how inflation, wages, and rents didn’t all rise at the same rate or defending not wanting or needing the latest Dr. Oz detox… don’t blame anyone for pulling a “classic lazy snowflake” move, dropping two words, and seeing their way out of being dumped on.

The short solution here is – don’t hire jerks – and it won’t be an issue. The longer-term solution is… just wait until we’re your age.

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Opinion Editorials

Decision-making when between procrastination and desperation

(EDITORIAL) Sometimes making a decision in business can loom so large over us that we delay making them until it’s absolutely necessary. Why?



decision-making between procrastination and desperation

I need to confess something to you

So, a little confession’s good for the soul, right? I feel like I need to confess something to you, dear reader, before we jump right into this article. What follows is an article that I pitched to our editor some months back, and was approved then, but I’ve had the hardest time getting started. It’s not writer’s block, per se; I’ve written scores of other articles here since then, so I can’t use that as an excuse.

It’s become a bit of a punch line around the office, too; I was asked if I was delaying the article about knowing the sweet spot in decision making between procrastination and desperation as some sort of hipster meta joke.

Which would be funny, were it to be true, but it’s not. I just became wrapped up in thinking about where this article was headed and didn’t put words to paper. Until now.

Analysis by paralysis

“Thinking about something—thinking and thinking and thinking—without having an answer is when you get analysis by paralysis,” said St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Matt Bowman, speaking to Fangraphs.

“That’s what happened… I was trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, or if I was doing anything wrong. I had no idea.” It happens to us all: the decisions we have to make in business loom so large over us, that we delay making them until it’s absolutely necessary.

Worse still are the times that we delay them until after such a time as when making the decision no longer matters because the opportunity or market’s already moved on. So we try to find the avenues for ourselves that will give us the answers we seek, and try to use those answers in a timely fashion. Jim Kaat, the former All-Star pitcher said it well: “If you think long, you think wrong.”

Dumpster Diving in Data

In making a decision, we’re provided an opportunity to answer three basic questions: What? So what? And now what?

The data that you use to inform your decision-making process should ideally help you answer the first two of those three questions. But where do you get it from, and how much is enough?

Like many of us, I’m a collector when it comes to decision making. The more data I get to inform my decision, and the sufficient time that I invest to analyze that data, I feel helps me make a better decision.

And while that sounds prudent, and no one would suggest the other alternative of making a decision without data or analysis would be better, it can lead to the pitfall of knowing how much is enough. When looking for data sources to inform your decision-making, it’s not necessarily quantity, but an appropriate blend between quantity and quality that will be most useful.

You don’t get brownie points for wading through a ton of data of marginal quality or from the most arcane places you can find them when you’re trying to make an informed decision. The results of your ultimate decision will speak for themselves.

“Effective people,” said Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, “know when to stop assessing and make a tough call, even without total information.”

Great. How do I do that?

So, by what factors should you include (and more importantly, exclude) data in your decision-making?

Your specific business sector will tell you which data sources most of your competitors use already, as well as the ones that your industry disruptors use to try to gain the edge on you.

Ideally, your data sources should be timely and meaningful to you. Using overly historical data, unless you’re needing that level of support for a trend line prediction, often falls into “That’s neat, but…” land. Also, if you’re wading into data sets that you don’t understand, find ways to either improve (and thus speed) your analysis of them, or find better data sources.

While you should be aware of outliers in the data sets, don’t become so enamored of them and the stories that they may tell that you base your decision-making process around the outlier, rather than the most likely scenarios.

And don’t fall into this trap

Another trap with data analysis is the temptation to find meaning where it may not exist. Anyone who’s been through a statistics class is familiar with the axiom correlation doesn’t imply causation. But it’s oh so tempting, isn’t it? To find those patterns where no one saw them before?

There’s nothing wrong with doing your homework and finding real connections, but relying on two data points and then creating the story of their interconnectedness in the vacuum will lead you astray.

Such artificial causations are humorous to see; Tyler Vigen’s work highlights many of them.

My personal favorite is the “correlation” between the U.S. per capita consumption of cheese and people who died after becoming entangled in their bed sheets. Funny, but unrelated.

So, as you gather information, be certain that you can support your action or non-action with recent, accurate, and relevant data, and gather enough to be thorough, but not so enamored of the details that you start to drown in the collection phase.

Trust issues

For many of us, delegation is an opportunity for growth. General Robert E. Lee had many generals under his command during the American Civil War, but none was so beloved to him as Stonewall Jackson.

Upon Jackson’s death in 1863, Lee commented that Jackson had lost his left arm, but that he, Lee, had lost his right. Part of this affection for Jackson was the ability to trust that Jackson would faithfully carry out Lee’s orders. In preparing for the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson approached Lee with a plan for battle:

Lee, Jackson’s boss, opened the conversation: “What do you propose to do?”

Jackson, who was well prepared for the conversation based on his scout’s reports, replied. “I propose to go right around there,” tracing the line on the map between them.

“How many troops will you take?” Lee queried.

“My whole command,” said Jackson.

“What will you leave me here with?” asked Lee.

Jackson responded with the names of the divisions he was leaving behind. Lee paused for a moment, but just a moment, before replying, “Well, go ahead.”

And after three questions in the span of less than five minutes, over 30,000 men were moved towards battle.

The takeaway is that Lee trusted Jackson implicitly. It wasn’t a blind trust that Lee had; Jackson had earned it by his preparation and execution, time after time. Lee didn’t see Jackson as perfect, either. He knew the shortcomings that he had and worked to hone his talents towards making sure those shortcomings were minimized.

Making trust pay off for you

We all deserve to have people around us in the workplace that we can develop into such a trust. When making decisions, large or small, having colleagues that you can rely on to let you know the reality of the situation, provide a valuable alternative perspective, or ask questions that let you know the idea needs more deliberation are invaluable assets.

Finding and cultivating those relationships is a deliberate choice and one that needs considerable and constant investments in your human capital to keep.Click To Tweet

Chris Oberbeck at Entrepreneur identifies five keys to making that investment in trust pay off for you: make authentic connections with those in your employ and on your team, make promises to your staff sparingly, and keep every one of them that you make, set clear expectations about behaviors, communication, and output, be vulnerable enough to say “I don’t know” and professional enough to then find the right answers, and invest your trust in your employees first, so that they feel comfortable reciprocating.

Beyond developing a relationship of trust between those who work alongside you, let’s talk about trusting yourself.

For many, the paralysis of analysis comes not from their perceived lack of data, but their lack of confidence in themselves to make the right decision. “If I choose incorrectly,” they think, “it’s possible that I might ________.” Everyone’s blank is different.

For some, it’s a fear of criticism, either due or undue. For others, it’s a fear of failure and what that may mean. Even in the face of compelling research about the power of a growth mindset, in which mistakes and shortcomings can be seen as opportunities for improvement rather than labels of failure, it’s not uncommon for many of us to have those “tapes” in our head, set to autoplay upon a miscue, that remind us that we’ve failed and how that labels us.

“Risk” isn’t just a board game

An uncomfortable fact of life is that, in business, you can do everything right, and yet still fail. All of the research can come back, the trend lines of data suggest the appropriate course of action, your team can bless the decision, and you feel comfortable with it, so action is taken! And it doesn’t work at all. A perfect example of this is the abject failure of New Coke to be accepted by the consumer in 1985.

Not only was it a failure to revive lagging sales, but public outrage was so vehement that the company was forced to backtrack and recall the product from the market. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way they’re supposed to.

You have to be comfortable with your corporate and individual levels of risk when making a decision and taking action. How much risk and how much failure costs you, both in fiscal and emotional terms, is a uniquely personal decision, suited to your circumstances and your predilections. It’s also likely a varying level, too; some decisions are more critical to success and the perceptions of success than others, and will likely cause you more pause than the small decisions we make day-to-day.

In the end, success and failure hinge on the smallest of factors at times, and the temptation is to slow down the decision making process to ensure that nothing’s left to chance.

Go too slowly, however, and you’ve become the captain of a rudderless ship, left aimlessly to float, with decisions never coming, or coming far too late to meet the needs of the market, much less be innovative. Collect the information, work with your team to figure out what it means, and answer the third question of the series (the “what”) by taking action.


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