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A Business Predicated On A Lie Will Crumble When Exposed…

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wolf-in-tech-clothing.jpgImagine… I developed a concept, got a few coders together and soon a new software is born. From Beta, I take the product around the country to VCs showing off the new software, but explain to the VCs that they aren’t investing in the software, it’s more of an idea- software as the bait. We use the software as bait to potential real estate consumers, offer a guide online that agents can add to and develop for us, and make friends with Realtors all across the country by offering very inexpensive advertising. We let the Realtors, agents and hell, we’ll even let the customers build the software’s database for us by adding their home or listing for free!

It’s pure Genius. Why? Because Mr. VC, once the software’s back.end is complete or close enough, we now have built the country’s first all inclusive national listing service. We’ll make BILLIONS! We’ll even advertise our software’s statistics as fact so that we could possibly control the perception of markets! It really is UBERGENIUS! Except for one tiny flaw– When and if that ever happened, the entire real estate world would rise up against me. They would cry foul and dismiss any credibility my company had. The country as a whole would never trust a single thing I said, and you, Mr. VC could lose millions- but… I still think you should invest in me because we’ll simply change the name, the branding and, bam!- we now have the largest private consumer driven listing service… add in the option to buy and sell homes online without an agent and those pesky Realtors will never know what hit’em. Imagine…

Old hack don’t make it unimaginable:

Sellsius said…

Is the result that Zillow is moving toward a National MLS? – With owners cajoled into entering the listing data and doing the work for zillow? Brilliant plan?

Real Estate 2.x said…

Considering their are 6.5B people on earth… every man woman and child on earth must visit Zillow 2.0 times EACH per year in order for Zillow to generate the profits, via an advertising model, that will create the profits to support the market value that will pay back the investors.

My take… Advertising is not really their model.

An online client built by a tech, and developed by agents and consumers… Seems harmless, right?

***Thanks David (w/Zillow) for Engaging the conversation…

Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network for tech and entrepreneurs, proudly celebrating 10 years in publishing, recently ranked as the #5 startup in Austin. Before founding AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation and also acquired several other firms. His resume prior includes roles at Apple and Kroger Foods, specializing in marketing, communications, and technology integration. He is a recipient of the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), has built partnerships and bridges between tech recruiters and the best tech talent in the industry, and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular monthly networking events. Benn does not venture into the spotlight often, rather believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits, develops, and gives all credit to those he's empowered.

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23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. David G from Zillow.com

    May 23, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    Hi, it’s David from Zillow.

    Advertising is our model.

    To get where this is all headed, think through the analogy of how your blog relates to google. Yes, by blogging and adding content to the web you give google more search results to show their users and they do get stronger … but that’s obviously not a good reason to stop blogging. Quite the opposite … google adds value to your blog by sending people to it. Likewise, participating in Zillow is a win-win game that will deliver clients to your real estate business. It’s that simple.

  2. B. R.

    May 23, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    But is your model in the end a national consumer driven listing service? We could put all this hocus pocus mumbo jumbo to bed if you can say no.

  3. jf.sellsius

    May 23, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    Consider also Zillow’s initial mantra– to become the “Kelley Blue Book” for homes. This mantra reveals their notion that homes can be commoditized and valued like cars. Forget that cars are depreciating assets and homes are generally appreciating assets. If the perception becomes the reality, brokers become dispensible—just tuck your “public endorsed” Zillow Blue Book under your arm and go home shopping.

    Zillow has since backed off this mantra, realizing, I think, that real estate agents won’t advertise on a site that has this philosophy. But the fact that they use zestimates to create housing trends reports and graph zestimates tells me they still believe the mantra.

  4. David G from Zillow.com

    May 24, 2007 at 11:54 am

    BR –

    The answer is no, other than “national”, that is not an accurate description of Zillow at all.

    Zillow is a media company, so the best analogy to a legacy player would be to compare Zillow to the real estate section of a national newspaper … or to a real estate focused TV channel. That’s actually an analogy we use internally and so my boss, Spencer, will often refer to Zestimate values as our first “hit show”.

    Let me try to better explain what we’re doing …

    First, and since you asked about it, Zillow is obviously national. We do have international ambitions and I look forward to the day that we have the development resources available to work on that expansion. For now though, there’s still lots to be done in the US.

    Zillow gives listing agents and sellers the ability to post a home for sale on the site — it is free. This feature is analogous to newspaper classifieds where many agents and sellers advertise their listings today – except on Zillow, it’s free. In that sense, craigslist might be a better comp.

    Zillow is a consumer-centric real estate website. We are convinced that by putting the real estate consumer first, we will best serve our industry clients who advertise on Zillow. This was a bold bet but it seems it was the right decision at the right time.

    Zillow is “driven” however by the members who participate in the site. According to our user surveys, that group includes about 600K real estate professionals who visit the site monthly (out of more than 4M users). On Zillow, you will notice that those professionals are in the driving seat of most of the deals being discussed. Zillow reflects what is happening in the real estate industry — most houses are sold by Realtors and most buyers have representation. The conversations on Zillow reflect this reality.

    Further, while free postings are a major feature, you’re missing a big part of the Zillow picture if you are only thinking about listings. Zillow is a living database of all homes. All homes, not just those for sale. Some have Make Me Move prices, others are actually for sale. Most homes have Zestimate values and some owners have even published their own estimates. Many owners have uploaded gorgeous pictures of their house – even though many of those homes are not for sale.

    I hope that gives you a better idea of what we’re about. If not, try the site out to get a better feel for it … if you do, I’d love to hear your feedback. If you ever need my feedback in future, feel free to email me (at the email address I provided with my comment).

  5. B. R.

    May 24, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    David, I certainly appreciate your reply to the question. I hear your call to look at the bigger picture, but I think a lot of people are. The bigger picture as it relates to positioning ourselves in this new and inventive age. Realtors as you know are not always large Brokerage houses, they are every day average hard working folks trying to compete with 8 Million dollar budgets (Trulia).

    The bigger picture question has been, today it is friendly commerce, but is tomorrow something totally different? We have to be able to trust innovators that they are not innovating to exclude, but to include. When bloggers do research your site, which many of us have, we see things such as disclaimers hidden under links. The so-called breach of privacy allows strangers to Zestimate your home or allows agents to add a listing unknowingly to expose a lower Zestimate than the agent should sell the home for. A tool to the buyer yes, but harmful to the seller as I am sure Rich found out when he exposed a lower value on his own home. So here are the bottom line questions we’ve all had:

    1. Why not make it absolutely clear when creating a zestimate that it cannot be removed?
    2. Why not allow an owner to have his Zestimate removed if he so disagrees with it?
    3. Why not make the novelty of a Zestimate known (in no uncertain terms) upfront?

    Transparency is key as you techies always say- so help me clear the air once in for all on these three questions with three concise answers…

    BR

  6. jf.sellsius

    May 24, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    Number 2 recognizes that home owners should be free to market THEIR ASSET as they see fit. If, as Zillow admits, the zestimate is only a “first step” why would they leave a first step sitting right next to the last step—the pricing of the home for sale. We have lobbied for this opt-out right (we even ran a poll on it—unscientific of course) & I think if owners were heard they would want this right.

  7. David G from Zillow.com

    May 24, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    BR –

    It’s a pleasure. I strongly recommend you use the google/blogging analogy above as a framework to better understand your opportunities online and to reevaluate who your competition is. You are probably passing on some business opportunities based on your current understanding of the real estate web sites.

    To answer your follow-up questions:
    1) Users don’t create Zestimates, our software does. The only estimate a user can “create” on Zillow is an “owners’ estimate”. Owners’ estimates can be removed or made private whenever the owner chooses.
    2) Owners can not remove Zestimates because the Zestimate is not published for the owner’s exclusive benefit. Remember that we decided to be the consumer-centric player in real estate. That strategy, for better or worse, implies treating all visitors to our site equally. So naturally all visitors have equal access to all Zestimate values. Transparency is something we don’t just give lip-service to.
    3) Because that’s not true. As you know, the system that produces Zestimate values is an AVM. AVM’s are very clearly not “novelties”. The reality is that AVM’s play many important roles in the real estate industry and that they are now also useful to consumers while researching their next transaction. Zestimate values do not however compete with or replace the need for a Realtor’s CMA or an appraisal and that fact IS very clearly communicated on our website.

    A Zestimate value can not hurt a seller’s deal. A seller or listing agent may hear a low Zestimate value quoted in negotiations but that’s all those conversations are; they’re negotiations. As you know, negotiations are nothing new to this industry. If it’s not a Zestimate value, buyers will use an odd comp or tax assessors value to argue for a low-ball offer. A competent Realtor will never loose a negotiation to a buyer who is quoting a Zestimate.

    Please spend some time on our website and form your opinions of Zillow based on first-hand experience of what we do. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  8. jf.sellsius

    May 24, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    Re 2)
    That’s the problem. The zestimate is not published to benefit the seller (it’s for the buyers’ benefit). Finally some truth about Zillow’s unconcern for homeowners/sellers. (That’s progress)

    Zillow is not consumer centric. it is buyer centric—remember how Z came to be–B&F were BUYERS. If zillow considered sellers, it would give them the opt out right to remove CLEARLY WAY OFF zestimates (look up Steve Olshan in the Zillow blog archives). And it’s the owner/seller whose home is used as bait to attract visitors and ad dollars to Zillow. If you’re using my home to attract your ad $, you should give me, the owner some rights, don’t cha think?

  9. David G from Zillow.com

    May 25, 2007 at 9:26 am

    JF. Come on. I said it’s not for the sellers _”exclusive”_ benefit. There’s a significant difference. If you’re going to quote me, get it right.

    It’s interesting you think Zillow is buyer-centric when many industry commentators say the opposite. The truth, as is well illustrated by that disagreement, is that Zillow strikes a great balance as a neutral destination where buyers, sellers and their agents are on an equal footing.

  10. jf.sellsius

    May 25, 2007 at 10:54 am

    David,

    Forget industry commentators. Ask owners and sellers and listing agents if they would want the right to exclude a “grossly inaccurate zestimate”? Afraid they might say YES?

    Run a poll if you really want to know how owners, sellers and listing agents feel about this & whether they think zillow’s refusal to allow it is to their benefit? We did.
    https://tinyurl.com/22a73a

    You say you’re for transparency. Zillow should put its money where its zestimate is?

    I’ll wager the results will show it is not to a home seller’s benefit to have an inaccurate zestimate anywhere near their home. Do you really think this is a benefit?

  11. jf.sellsius

    May 25, 2007 at 11:16 am

    PS to David

    I was not quoting you (see, no quote marks). I was making the point that sellers do not get ANY benefit from a grossly inaccurate zestimate. Period. When you say zillow will not allow owners to remove any zestimate– that is NOT a benefit to the seller, in any way shape or form, if the zestimate they want to remove is totally bogus.

    If I was quoting you I would have said you said,
    “A zestimate value can not hurt a seller’s deal” and ask, “does an inaccurate zestimate help the seller?” or “has zillow never received a complaint that the inaccurate zestimate DID hurt a seller?

  12. Sock Puppet

    May 26, 2007 at 12:05 am

    Isn’t it just too hot in Texas to own a balaclava for anything other than bank robberies?

    -Athol

  13. B. R.

    May 26, 2007 at 6:27 am

    HA yeah, you would pretty much pass out right after “stick-em-up” from heat stroke.

  14. louis cammarosano

    May 26, 2007 at 7:51 am

    As I see it Zillow is consumer centric so that it can create a consumer to consumer real estate portal and eventually collect a transaction fee for matching consumers to consumers who sell houses to each other.

    The make me move feature is nothing more than FSBO under another name-FSBILLO or FSBOLLOW if you like.

    Does Zillow spend millions developing features for consumers all just to sell banner ads to its limited 3-4 million visitor a month person audience?

    Since there is no money in advertising to consumers Zillow takes realtor ad money – they have to show their VC’s some revenue.

    Since they need listings for consumer interest they take realtor listings.

    The Kelly’s blue book shine is off Zillow as Yahoo’s recent selection of a relatively unknown company whose core business is not even real estate (Reply) and a start up (eppraisal)to provide side by side instant homevaluations with Zillow highlights that what Zillow is doing is nothing special.

    That Reply, yes, the automotive lead generation company, can also run public data through an algorithm and spit out a valution highlights that what Zillow is doing is nothing special and not worthy of the hype they have created simply by taking last millenium’s technology and wrapping it in a big “Z”. “Zestimates” E-“Z” ads etc.

    Now the next big hype from Zillow is the (non) creation of a national listing Zite -all for the benefit of the consumer just so they can sell banner ads? How many decades would it take selling banner ads to recoup just the first $53 million they raised from investors?

    I don’t believe that Zillow would raise $53 million just to do that. I believe they want to change the real estate industry, take a cut of the action (just like they did with Expedia) and make Zillions.

    Does Zillow seriously want us to believe they can provide cool consumer features and make money selling banner ads? Sounds like every other “Web 2.0” company with a money losing “business model”.

    Zillow is much Zmarter than that, perhaps they are just not Zaying Zo.

  15. Jeff Brown

    May 26, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    Anyone who doesn’t see through the ineffectual mask of Z-holdup going on, isn’t paying attention.

    Zillow is the guy in high school telling the Realtors, the girl next door, “No, really honey, I do love you. Let’s go back to my house, nobody’s home.”

    It’s amazing there’s even a debate about this. But, like the girl next door, Realtors REALLY want to believe. 🙂

  16. David G from Zillow.com

    May 29, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    All –
    Zillow is a media business and we have no plans to change that model. Media companies have always played an important role in real estate; consider that most newspapers have an entire section devoted to homes. Many of the media products used by today’s real estate consumer are online. If you’re still advertising in your local paper or sending out flyers – but your listing or your ad is not on Zillow – you should reevaluate your marketing plan.

    Louis –
    “there is no money in advertising to consumers”
    You could not be more wrong. Advertising to consumers is a 200 billion dollar industry in the US alone. Someone is making a lot of money (GOOG, YHOO, NYT etc.)

    Jeff –
    Honestly, I’m surprised. Do you believe the work you do for your clients can be replicated by a website? I don’t buy that.

  17. Louis Cammarosano

    May 29, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    Hi Jeff

    Thanks for your comments. I think that in order to gain significant advertising dollars from banner ads the audience must be of significant size.

    Currently, Zillow’s traffic ranks behind Realtor.com, HomeGain.com, MSN Real Estate, Remax and other real estate sites.

    The problem with the real estate consumer is they generally buy homes infrequently so the audience at any given time never reaches the tens of millions.

    Google and Yahoo make money selling ads because they reach hundreds of millions of consumers.

    The Zillow approach of getting consumers interested in visiting Zillow, not just when they are selling or buying a home, should increase visits and page views so you can sell ads.

    Certainly an online company can make money with advertising. It seems to me that the scale required is not attainable by one real estate web site.

    Given that instant Home Valuations are a commodity-a point highlighted by Yahoo’s inclusion of Reply (whose core business is not even real estate)and start up, eppraisals.com to provide instant home valuations side by side with Zillow-Zillow’s hopes for cornering the consumer market for Homevaluations is diminished and the limited audience of consumers interested in homevaluations becomes splintered.

    abc realestate and cyberhomes also provide instant homevalutions.

    HomeGain also has a instant homevalation tool-brought back from the last century’s tour of duty 1999-2001.

    Good luck making money selling ads around instant home valuations.

    Louis

  18. Jeff Brown

    May 29, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    David – Honestly, I’m surprised. Do you believe the work you do for your clients can be replicated by a website? I don’t buy that.

    Not my meaning at all. I was only commenting on what I think Zillow’s zup to. 🙂

    I think your ultimate goal is not anything short of putting buyers and sellers together for a fee.

    A website can’t begin to do what I do.

  19. jf.sellsius

    May 29, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    David,

    What if my buyers are reading the classified section of my newspaper (you know, that “entire section” you said is “devoted to homes”)—shouldn’t I continue to advertise there?

    PS When can we expect that zillow poll on the right to exclude inaccurate zestimates from homesellers’ homes?

  20. Agent Scoreboard

    June 8, 2007 at 11:55 pm

    WOW!!!

    Lots of venom at Zillow. Really I don’t see what the problems is? Who cares if zillow has a Zestimate on 123 Zikes Street. How does that affect your business? If they create a national MLS so what? Good! Its good for competition and if NAR wasn’t so busy protecting the status quo they should have created that years ago. The aggregation of listing data and traffic creates economies of scale that lowers the cost of property marketing for all involved.

    I remember when Rich was back being secret about Zillow, I actually was in a group of people that had a conversation with him at Inman. He said, how would the real estate industry be impacted by price transparency? Consumers and real estate professionals could see the gaps in the market between selling prices and asking pricings in a closer to real time manner, allowing people to quickly identify trends and make better investments in property and housing. I almost hugged him!

    I’m not sure why people care about Zillow’s valuations, as a broker https://www2.dre.ca.gov/PublicASP/pplinfo.asp?License_id=01379165 whose actually closed more than a few deals, in a few states. My biggest valuation problem was, “That house down the street just sold for $600,000, My house is worth that too, right?” Well that “house down the street” is 5 years newer and 350 sqft larger, and didn’t sell for 600k, but that what is was listed for.” There is a data vacuum that the realtors have held the keys to for far too long. I say give consumers all the data they want… let them pick the model that works best for them, and we can work with them.

    I don’t believe Zillow can successfully make a transition to “brokerage” maybe a cool FSBO site that includes some risk mitigation tools like transaction management and legal review. So… great! Do you think its going to take the place of agents? I doubt it. The appearance of McDonald’s didn’t kill the restaurant business, it just a filled a need of a time strapped society. Zillow is one company’s response to a societal need. Its not the first and wont be the last.

    You should thank Rich and Dave… I do, they have kept the dialog going and its great…consumers are talking and so are we, that’s how we’ll make things better..

  21. jf.sellsius

    June 9, 2007 at 9:56 am

    Good points Scoreboard. As an agent, inaccurate zestimates just create the same problem as the neighbor down the block. SO agreed. But I am looking at them from a different perspective—the refusal to recognize ANY rights of a homeowner/seller/listing agent to market their asset with outside interference. If I stood in front of your open house, nicely dressed, with a sign that said this house is only worth (pick a number that would annoy you). That to me is intereference, especially if that number is dead wrong. There is a BIG difference between publishing public data, solds (good) and creating an inaccurate value that is then attached to my home without my consent. As a homeowner it just rubs me wrong.

    Oh yeah, did you hear the latest zillow plan —display how much money is in the owner’s bank account so buyers know if they need to sell & can negotiate a better price. (joking folks)

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Opinion Editorials

Basic tips on how to handle common (and ridiculous) interview questions

(EDITORIAL) There will always be off the wall questions in an interview, but what is the point of them? Do interviewers expect quick, honest, or deep and thought out answers?

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interview

We’ve all been asked (or know of friends who have been) some ridiculous interview questions:

  • What type of fruit would you be in a smoothie and why?
  • If you were stuck on a deserted island, what is one item that you couldn’t live without?
  • Could you tell us a joke?

Sound familiar? You may have worried about stumbling in your response, but the reality is, you will receive questions in an interview that you may not know the answer to. Many of us sweat bullets preparing for interviews, trying to think through every possible scenario and every question we might be asked. Usually the hardest part about these questions is simply that you cannot prepare for them. So how do you approach questions like these?

First and foremost, you have to be comfortable with the uncomfortable and do your best to answer them in the moment. Interviewers are not expecting you to know the answer to these question. Instead, they are literally looking to see how you handle yourself in a situation where you may not know the answer. Would you answer with the first thing that comes to mind? Would you ask for more information or resources? What is your thought process and justification for answering this question? Please know that how you answer this particular question is not usually a deal-breaker, but how you handle yourself can be.

Now, with more common questions, even though some can  still feel ridiculous, you have the opportunity to practice.

“What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

They want to be able to see that you have confidence and know your strengths – but also that you are human and recognize where you may have areas of improvement, as well as self-awareness. This isn’t a trick question per se, but it is an important one to think through how you would answer this in a professional manner.

If you’re not feeling super confident or know how to answer the strength question, it may be worth asking your friends and family what they think. What areas of business or life do they feel comfortable coming to ask you about? Were there subjects in school or work projects that you picked up really quickly? This may help identify some strengths (and they can be general like communication or project management.) One great way to delve in to your strengths is to take the CliftonStrengths Test.

“Your CliftonStrengths themes are your talent DNA. They explain the ways you most naturally think, feel and behave.” It gives you your top 5 strengths (unique to you), as well as a detailed report on how those work together and amongst groups. Per the research from Gallup, they say time is better spent on growing your strengths than trying to overcome your weaknesses.

The thing with the “What is your weakness?” question is that you cannot say things like “I really cannot get up in the morning!” or “I absolutely hate small talk!” – even though those may be true for you. They are looking for a more thoughtful answer demonstrating your self-awareness and desire to grow and learn.

They know you’re human, but the interviewer is looking for what you’re doing to address your weakness. An example of a response may be, “I have struggled with advanced formulas in Excel, but have made sure to attend regular workshops and seek out opportunities to practice more functionality so that I can improve in this area”. Another example might be, “I have a very direct type of communication style and I have learned that sometimes, I need to let the other person share and speak more before I jump to a decision.” Many times you can also find some great insights in self-assessment tests too (like DISC, Myers-Briggs, Enneagram for examples).

“Why do you want to work for this company?”

Let’s be real. Companies want people that want to work there. They want you to be interested in their products/service because that usually means you will be a happier employee. You should be able to answer this question by doing some company research, (if any) drawing from your personal experience with the company, or getting “insider insight” from a friend or colleague who works there and can help you understand more about what it’s like to be employed by that company.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

All companies have goals and plans to make progress. They ask this question to see if you, a potential future employee, will have goals that align with theirs. Jokingly, we are all curious about how people answered this question back in 2015…but in all seriousness, it is worth asking yourself and thinking through how this company or role aligns with your future goals. This question is similar to the weaknesses question in that you still have to remain professional. You don’t want to tell them that you want to work there so you can learn the ins/outs to then go start your own (competitive) company.

Take a few minutes to think about what excites you about this job, how you can grow and learn there, and maybe one piece of personal (hope to adopt a dog, travel to India, buy a home) but it doesn’t have to be anything super committal.

When it comes to behavioral interview questions, these are also much easier to prepare for. You can take out your resume, review your experience, and write out 3 examples for the following scenarios:

    • Handled a difficult person or situation
    • Decided steps (or pulled together resources) to figure out a problem/solution that was new to your team or organization
    • Brought a new idea to the table, saved expenses and/or brought in revenue – basically how you made a positive impact on the organization

These are very common questions you’ll find in an interview, and while interviewers may not ask you exactly those questions verbatim, if you have thought through a few scenarios, you will be better conditioned to recall and share examples (also looking at your resume can trigger your memory). Bring these notes with you to the interview if that makes you feel more comfortable (just don’t bring them and read them out loud – use it as a refresher before the interview starts).

Practicing is the best way to prepare, but there’s always a chance that you’ll get a question you might not know the answer to. Do your research and consider asking friends (or family) about how they’ve handled being in a similar situation. Ultimately,  you have to trust yourselves that you will be able to rise to the occasion and answer to the best of your ability, in a professional manner.

Whatever you do, please also have questions prepared for your interviewers. This is a great opportunity to help you decide if this is a right fit for you (projects, growth opportunity, team dynamics, management styles, location/travel, what they do for the company/what are they proud of/how did they choose to work here). Never waste it with “Nope, I’m good” as that can leave a bad final impression.

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Opinion Editorials

Be yourself, or be Batman? A simple trick to boost your self-confidence

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) “If you can’t be yourself, be Batman.” We’ve heard it before, but is there a way that this mentality can actually give you self-confidence?

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Batman symbol has long been a way to boost self-confidence.

The joke with scary movies is that the characters do stupid things, and so you scream at them. No you dumdums, don’t go FURTHER into the murder circus. Put down the glowing idol of cursed soda gods and their machine gun tempers. Stop it with the zombie dogs. STOP IT WITH THE — WHAT DID I JUST TELL YOU?

We do this as the audience because we’re removed from the scene. We’re observing, birds eye view imbued ducklings, on our couches, and with our snacks. Weird trick for horror movies to play — makes us feel smart, because we’re not the ones on meat hooks.

But if a zombie crashed through our window, like RIGHT NOW, the first thing we’re going to do doesn’t matter, because that thing is going to be stupid. So so stupid. You can’t believe how stupid you’ll act. Like, “I can’t leave behind my DONUT” stupid, as a zombie chomps your arm that was reaching for a bear claw you weren’t even really enjoying to begin with. “Oh no my DOCUMENTS I can’t leave without my DOCUMENTS.”

There’s a layer of distinction between those two instances — removed versus immersed. And really, this colors a lot of our life. Maybe all of our life. (Spoiler: It is all of our life.)

It’s Imposter Syndrome in overdrive — the crippling thought that you’re going to fail and be found out. And you tell yourself that all the little missteps and mistakes and mis…jumps are entirely your fault. Feedback loops reiterates, and then you get paralyzed. And man, what a time to be alive — what with the world on fire — to start up a self-deprecation engine shame machine. No way our self-confidence is suffering now, right?

The point is: You — as a being — experiencing things first hand is the perfect time to see your shortcomings. You can’t help but do it. You are living in your skeleton meat mecha human suit, and all the electronics in your head strangely remember all the times you struggled. And weirdly, if you look at someone else in the exact same situation you were just in, you suddenly have this powerful insight and awareness. It happens naturally. It’s why you think I would never head on down to the basement in a creepy mansion. Watch any cooking competition show to see this in action. Armchair quarterbacks, hindsight 2020. It’s all the same.

But when it’s just you and you’re doing things in real time? You lose focus, you stumble, and you wonder why it’s suddenly so hard to make rice, or why you fell for the really obvious fake punt.

So where does that leave you? How do you solve this problem? There are ways. But the journey is arduous and hectic and scary and difficult. Time tempers your soul over and over, you harden in ways that build you up, and you become better. The process is ages old.

I bet you’d like at least… I dunno, there’s gotta be a small trick, right? Life has secrets. Secrets exist. Secrets are a thing. Let’s talk about one to boost your self-confidence.

Stop seeing things in first person, and instead, talk to yourself in the third person. Yes, just like George did in that episode of Seinfeld. Don’t say, “I need to finish the project today.” Say “Bob needs to finish the project today.” If your name is Bob, I mean. Substitute in your name. In effect, you are distancing yourself from the situation at hand, as you begin to view it from outside yourself.

Studies have shown that doing this causes a fascinating side effect — an odd insulating barrier that can give someone just enough distance from the problem at hand, which in turn lets someone more calmly examine the situation. Once that is achieved, a plan can be written and executed with great results.

There’s some research demonstrating this concept, and as truly crazy as it sounds, marked improvement in behavior has been measured when participants are told to think of themselves as a different person. It’s like the “fake it ’til you make it” principle — suddenly you’re sort of cheering on this other person, because you want them to succeed. It’s just that in this case, the other person is still you.

I’ve heard the concept also said that “your current self can give your future self an easier life if you work hard now.” It seems like distancing functions on that wavelength — that by thinking you are supporting some other entity (and even when that entity is still you), some empathetic mechanisms spring into play, and your natural desire to see success rebounds back onto yourself. This is you eating your cake, yet something still having cake.

So that’s magic in and of itself, right? I want you to try it. Don’t think in terms of what you have to do, but what you watching yourself will do. All these fun tiny benefits concurrently happen — encouragement, pressure removal, controlled thought, drive, momentum, and motivation. It’s all there — a trail mix built out of emotions and psychological buffs. And they’ll all fire off at once and you’ll start noticing how much better you feel.

Here’s the best part — we can take this further. At least two different studies have shown with children that thinking of an alter ego and then distancing creates even stronger outcomes. Now we’re not just hyping ourselves up — we’re hyping up an impressive figure. Batman is already taking down jerks. So what if you say you are the night and combine that with self removal? Even in children, the conclusion was fascinating. When they were given a menial task to complete, those who were told to believe they were Batman had an improvement of 23% in focus and productivity over a group who was given no directive. Even without the consequences of adult life and its inherent complexities, children naturally showcased that they work harder if they undergo an alter ego transformation. Now you’re not just there for yourself, you’re there for Batman himself.

“But that’s just children.” Ok, well, it works in adults too. Beyoncé and Adele would psych themselves up by creating onstage personas that were confident, successful, fearless versions of themselves. It’s an act within an act, with a performer further elevating themselves away from reality through the substitution of a personality built and engineered for success. Set aside that these are powerful, fierce, intimidating entertainers in their own right; the focus here is that they also used this mental trick, and it worked.

(There’s an aside here that I think is worth mentioning — in the midst of performing to a crowd, you are 100% in control, and I think this simple realization would help scores of people with their fear of public speaking; a concept to write about another day.)

Distilled down: If you think you’re a hero, you’ll act like one. Easier said than done, but give it a try by taking yourself out of the equation, even if for a moment. You’re not changing who you are so much as you are discovering the pieces of innate power you already had. You aren’t erasing yourself — you’re finding the hidden strength that’s already there. Having a way to kickstart this is perfectly fine.

The ultimate goal with all of this is to build the discipline that lets you begin to automatically engage this mode of heightened ability – that you’ll naturally adopt the good parts into life without the need for ramping up. Armed with that, you’re unstoppable.

Life — as a series of interactions and decisions — can be gamed, to a degree, with tiny and small shifts in perspective. Dropping a surrogate for yourself gives you enough room to have the chance to take everything in, and augmenting this concept further with the thought of having an alter ago creates even wilder possibilities. Psychologists are finding that this sidestep phenomenon can potentially help in different areas — improved physical health, learning how to better handle stress, emotional control, mastering anxiety, and a host of others.

So put on a mask, and then put on a whole new self. It’s almost Halloween anyway.

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Opinion Editorials

Don’t forget about essential workers in a post-COVID world (be kind)

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) As the world reopens, essential workers deserve even more of our respect and care, remembering that their breaks have been few and far between.

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Tired essential workers wearing an apron leans against the doorframe of a cafe, eyes closed.

Anxiety about returning to work post-COVID-19 is real. Alison Green, of Ask A Manager, believes “much of that stems from a break in trust in the people and institutions that have shown they can’t be counted on to protect us.” Green also goes on to remind us that a lot of people don’t have the luxury of returning to the workplace – the essential workers who never left the workplace. The grocery store clerks, janitors, garbage collectors, and healthcare providers, just to name a few. As the country reopens, we have to be more sensitive to these essential workers, who often are left out of the discussion about safety, work norms, and benefits.

Essential workers got lip service during the pandemic

At the start of the pandemic, the essential workers were hailed as heroes. We appreciated the grocery store workers who tried to keep the shelves stocked with toilet paper. We thanked the healthcare workers who kept working to keep people healthy and to take care of our elderly. I remember being more appreciative of the person who delivered my mail and the guy who came and picked up the trash each week. Now that the pandemic has been with us for more than a year, these workers are still doing their jobs, just maybe not so tirelessly.

Some of these workers don’t have sick days, let alone vacation days for self-care, but they are still making it possible for their community to function while being treated with less than respect. They’ve weathered the pandemic while working in public, worrying about getting sick, dealing with the public who threw tantrums for policies beyond their control, and managing their health while employers didn’t enforce safety measures. I’d hazard a guess that most of the C-level executives didn’t bring in any of their essential employees when writing new policies under COVID-19.

Bring essential workers into the conversation

In many cases, it has been the workers with the least who are risking the most. In Oklahoma, even though Gov. Stitt deemed many industries as essential, those same workers had to wait until Phase 3 to get their vaccine. Please note that elected officials and government leaders were eligible under Phase 2 to get their vaccine. Society pays lip service to the essential workers, but in reality, these jobs are typically low paying jobs that must be done, pandemic or not. In my small rural town, a local sheriff’s deputy contracted COVID-19. The community came together in fundraising efforts to pay his bills. It’s sad that a man who served the community did not have enough insurance to cover his illness.

As your office opens up and you talk to employees who are concerned about coming back to the office, don’t forget about the ones who have been there the entire time. Give your essential workers a voice. Treat their anxiety as real. Don’t pay lip service to their “heroism” without backing it up with some real change. As offices open up to a new normal, we can’t forget about the essential workers who did the jobs that kept society going.

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