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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

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?

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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.

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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.

#TakeAction

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Opinion Editorials

Managing bipolar disorder and what I wish my employers understood

(EDITORIAL) This editorial offers a perspective on living with bipolar disorder in the workplace, giving employers insight into how to support similar team members.

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bipolar disorder

I met Jacob Martinez (Jake) a few years back at one of our offline events. He is an eager and ambitious person that always wears a smile (and seriously, it’s an infectious smile), always seeks to help people around him, and is kind and positive at every interaction.

In his most current effort to help others, Jake asked what I thought about his writing about his new bipolar disorder diagnosis, something that most people hide and pray no one discovers. But not Jake. As he dug deeper into the rabbit hole of available information, he realized there was little available discussing how this diagnosis impacts career paths, and almost nothing available to help employers to understand the nuances.

And let’s face it – there are plenty of people hiding their diagnosis, and employers that could be missing amazing talent simply for not understanding how to accommodate.

The following is about Jake’s journey with his diagnosis, how it has impacted his career, and his ideas on how hiring managers and business owners could interact with people living with bipolar disorder in a way that keeps their talents in full use on the job. This isn’t scientific and the suggestions aren’t based on some HR seminar, no, it’s meant to give you unique insight that most people don’t share – I want you to read this through Jake’s eyes. It’s a brave look into working with this challenge:


As someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, I’ve struggled to find resources that would help individuals like myself jumpstart our careers and learn to navigate working full time with a mental health disorder. Most generalized stories about mental health disorders and the workplace focus more on how things didn’t work out and not on how they started or advanced their careers.

Many give examples of individuals with mental disorders in high-ranking positions who end up leaving their specialized field to work as part-time cashiers or other less stressful and less triggering roles in order to seek a better work environment for their mental health.

I’ve also found that there is a lack of resources for employers when it comes to helping employees with mental disorders. Not many employers are prepared to do so, nor have this skill in their wheelhouse. Without this knowledge, training, and experience, how could they understand the struggles of what it’s like to work with a mental disorder and be expected to provide the necessary support to help their staff?

Many factors contribute to this being overlooked or left unaddressed, such as the stigma behind people with mental disorders in a work environment, or simply because no one knows how to talk about it. When I apply for jobs, I always ask myself “Do I put in an application that I am someone with a condition that needs reasonable accommodations? Is that even an option?” How would I even begin to ask an employer to understand what I am going through? And while I’m still figuring this out and working through what my diagnosis means for my career, I’d like to share my experience and start talking about it.

Like many young individuals, I started college bright-eyed and with a hopeful outlook. I navigated internships, jobs, and full course loads but only to exit with a mountain of debt and depression that can be best described in a meme. Many, with no prospects out of university and an average GPA, end up working menial jobs to get by, hoping for their big break.

For me, this time was spent at Torchy’s Tacos, a local Austin Texas favorite. My luck finally came through when I found a new opportunity. I thought to myself, how hard could it be to deliver packages to people? Especially in a city like Austin where anyone could make a business out of cleaning cat litter boxes. This company, I thought, was going to be my lucky break – my jumping-off point. And it was for about a year. That is until my bipolar diagnosis came in.

Suddenly dealing with bipolar disorder…

I experienced sporadic shifts between depression and hypomania. With my diagnosis came a new understanding of what my limits and strengths were. I understood that stress only made it worse but that physically moving around was the best way to cope with it. Working in a warehouse-type environment allowed me to run around, helping to melt my stress away physically.

But when it came down to job performances, some weeks were better than others.

When I did well, management would make comments like, “I like this new you,” or “whatever is happening, don’t change it.” But nothing was said when I didn’t do so well. Comments continued to dismiss the real issue that I was heading towards an uphill climb of mania. And as I climbed higher and higher, more mistakes began to happen – small ones that added up beyond anything I could control. With each and every episode of mania or depression I had, the trust I had taken time to build and cultivate slowly began to fall apart.

Then came the drop – an episode of depression so deep that it’s hard to recover from. For myself, this began as a result of multiple episodes and when several “options” were laid out on the table by my employer.

First, my employer recommended that I take Family Medical Leave Assistance (FMLA). For someone like myself who never knew what FMLA was, I didn’t know where to start and what this meant. No one told me I would not be getting paid and that I would have to use my sick and personal time off to supplement my income. As someone who has built their identity around working, taking time off felt like an attack on my identity at the time.

Subsequently, I was also told I could be released for making any mistake (no matter how small or slight), attempting to change the work culture, or requesting anything unreasonable such as requesting time off for anything other than medical. My manager also called my episodic shifts a “stunt.”

Every time he said this, I lost faith in him, and he lost trust in me.

Some of the hardest words someone with a mental disorder can hear from a manager or mentor are, “When you pulled that stunt, I can’t trust you anymore” and “we will no longer be working together if you do that again.” His words cut deep and only made each episode worse—finally leading me to turn in my two-week notice.

During my time there, none of my managers ever asked if something was wrong when warning signs showed up. They just assumed that I had already checked out and given up. I felt like a cog that was replaceable and could easily be overturned. Trust was required to help me battle my mental demons, and in this case, that trust was broken on both ends. No one came out of this on top, coping skills were not utilized as they should have, and no one reached out like they said they would.

After reflecting on this experience, here’s what I’ve learned and wished my employer did:

Trust: Trust is earned, not given as the adage goes. But for an employee living with bipolar disorder, trust is given before it is earned. I made the choice to trust my employer (and my entire team) by opening up about my mental health and battles – I had to. And while not everyone may be prepared to open up about what they’re dealing with internally, it can help.

Doing this tells people that you’re asking for help and are making yourself ready to receive it. It signifies your willingness to allow others inside. This can be beneficial to you as it helps your team members become better at recognizing warning signs and understand when to check in to see if you need help. My recommendation here to anyone working with someone who has a mental disorder: Listen if we choose to open up, don’t be dismissive of our efforts, and trust us when we ask to carry more for the team.

 

Don’t assume: Someone opening up about a diagnosis can’t expect everyone at work to have a background in psychology or psychiatry and to understand when comments like “I like this new manic you” are harmful and dismissive.

Not everyone is going to be interested in researching and learning how best to help a team member who is dealing with a mental health disorder. So, don’t assume that they know.

What would have helped me and maybe changed my situation would have been to be more honest and direct about my specific needs upfront. For employers, try to also understand our needs and limits with stress. Ask your employees directly what they need from you in order to make them feel more comfortable. Another way of tackling this would be to ask your employee about some of the coping strategies they are learning in group therapy sessions. If you know your employee is going to group therapy, if you feel comfortable with it, check in with them and encourage them to keep up with those sessions. When assigning unique projects or extra tasks, it’s also helpful to explain what you are asking and offer employees the best ways to achieve it.

 

Ask for and give reasonable accommodations: In my case, I eventually learned that taking time off was not an ‘attack on my identity’ as I had previously felt. I learned to accept it as part of living with bipolar disorder and know when to ask for it. Pushing for myself was empowering and was the best thing that could happen in that given moment.

So, if you’re someone who struggles with bipolar or other depressive mental health disorders, the best thing you can do to help yourself, while building courage and confidence, is to speak up and be your own advocate. Ask for accommodations.

For employers with a team member struggling with a mental disorder, when it comes to giving that team member time to themselves, it should never be a fight or argument. Change the schedule, do what you can to make accommodations, and support someone who needs time away for treatment.

 

Give helpful feedback: In my experience, my previous employer either avoided giving me feedback completely or made dismissive comments like, “I don’t know what the hell happened…”, followed by something positive. Like many others who suffer from bipolar disorder, ineffective and unclear communication can easily lead us to spiral from misinterpreting details and having self-doubt.

I would have benefitted from receiving clear and specific feedback, whether that was immediately after a mistake or as a conversation during team lunch. This small amount of open dialogue could have allowed us as a team to resolve conflicts, improve teamwork, help me build my self-esteem, and improve my performance.

 

Show appreciation and have open dialogues: What is equally important for employers to do is to let us know that you are paying attention to and appreciate our efforts, regardless of how small or large of a task we complete. In a warehouse, things are extremely routine, but it doesn’t take a lot to thank someone for trying.

A few small words and gestures could have been really helpful in breaking me out of a depressive funk or a manic episode and can certainly help someone else in the future.

 

Practice mindfulness: At this moment, let’s check in with our emotions. In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT Therapy), some of the questions they ask are about checking in with your emotions and your thoughts. Are you in control of your thoughts or are they in control of you? Are we still in touch with our emotions? Perhaps we are cross at ourselves for playing the victim to our mind’s frustrations?

When it comes to mental disorders, employers need to be more understanding of what their employees are going through. However, we as individuals should also be able to look inwards and see what we are feeling. Core mindfulness is a skill to develop no matter what position you work in or what you’re dealing with. Mindfulness teaches awareness of thoughts and feelings, the focus on the here and now.

From my experience, learning to control my thoughts and emotions is an effective way of dealing with my bipolar disorder. While it took time to discover, I learned that my mindfulness practice was running around the warehouse and moving. This allowed thoughts to flow in and out of my mind without having to give them any power over me. Knowing this made me feel stronger and clearer. Finding a mindfulness practice to help you cope takes time and experimenting – so try different things and figure out what works for you.

 

Ask for help: If you’re struggling with a mental disorder at work, there is nothing wrong with asking for help. That help may look differently for everyone, be it talk therapy, telling a co-worker, or taking time off. Either way, sometimes the best way to help yourself is to start asking for help. If you’re someone who has a co-worker struggling with a mental disorder, pay attention and reach out to them if they need help.

While I’m still learning to navigate my bipolar disorder, this experience has taught me (and hopefully others) some helpful lessons. I have learned to manage it better and am continuing to advance in my career path.

My hope is that companies make a more concerted effort to improve their training on mental health disorders in the workplace. I also hope that by sharing my story, I can help others with bipolar disorder to excel at work.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer slowing you down? Does it make a simple job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment to improve your productivity.

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better equipment, better work

What is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes.

In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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