One of the many joys of my work is being able create and innovate with some of the most intelligent men and women in the country. I was so engaged one afternoon last week with a group of real estate professionals in Tennessee when one of my companions uttered what in retrospect seems to have been a genius observation. As the group labored its way through a particularly strenuous discussion regarding the current industry environment, one of the participants, Sam Martin of Chattanooga, preceded a comment by saying, “I consider myself a student of our industry, but I fear there are not too many of us.”

The brilliance and validation of Sam’s comment is being reflected in way too many discussions, blogs, presentations and discussions among individuals associated with today’s real estate industry. There is now a growing sense within our community that something is very wrong and has been very wrong for a long time. At first we blamed it on the crash of the market, then the recession, and then the market. Even more recently, it was the economy. But as each of these faceless causes has passed, our attention has remained focused on the seemingly undeniable fact that perhaps our problems lie closer to home that these global issues.

An extremely relevant essay by Professor Donald Simanek of Lock Haven University casts light on the subject.

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a student as one who studies, an attentive and systematic observer. Dr. Simanek takes the definition of a student a bit further. He suggests that being a student means engaging in what he calls “the four A’s”: attitude, academic skills, awareness and accomplishment.

But Simanek goes even further. He adds the following characteristics to his definition of being a student:

Self-discipline. The successful student will learn to budget time, and use it efficiently and will do the things that need to be done, when they must be done, whether or not one feels like it at the time.
Initiative. In short, doing things without being told. The student doesn’t wait for assignments to read ahead in the textbook or to seek out and study related books to gain understanding.

Breadth of interests. Great environments provide great opportunities to broaden interests and explore new things. But those who confine themselves to the things they have always done, avoiding anything new and unfamiliar, will squander a valuable opportunity.

An open mind is a mind receptive to examination of new ideas and facts. Having an open mind does not mean that one jumps on the bandwagon of every new fad. A better characterization of an open mind is one that is willing to dispassionately and rationally analyze new ideas, weighing them objectively against established knowledge and the facts at hand.

A critical habit of mind. Life is more than the retention of dated information. It includes the ability to acquire new information, to critically evaluate that information, and to correctly and effectively use it. With so many information sources at our disposal in this computer age we are awash in information, and in danger of information overload. But much of that information is fraudulent, worthless, incomplete or just plain wrong. It has always been so. One of the benefits of being a good student is the ability to see through false and unfounded claims and outright deceptions.

Perceptiveness. The more you learn, the more perceptive you become. One learns to “read between the lines.” The good student no longer needs everything spelled out; but can fill in missing details. They aren’t dependent on being shown; they can puzzle things out for themselves.

Objectivity. Non-students take an “egocentric” view, expecting everything to have some relevance to their needs or desires. Non-students impose strict interpretations on things they learn, and avoid learning some things because they don’t seem important at the time. Students learn that mere unsupported personal opinions have no value in a professional discussion. Students learn that the world does not revolve around them.

Today’s American real estate industry is facing one of the most critical periods in its long history. The current crisis is not the product of a market or an economy, but rather our insistence on viewing these circumstances from the perspective of our individual best interests. We have seemingly lost touch with our legacy of working together and more importantly our ability to combine our mental resources.

We have begun to keep the company of and to pay tribute to an increasing population of pirates, predators, foragers, pillagers, plunderers and more than a few fakes. None of these individuals or their gangs intend to contribute to the common good of our industry, but seek to take advantage of the current situation and the confusion that it has created.

The crisis is being exacerbated by many of very individuals that have been charged with protecting the industry and ensuring its successful future. In today’s hostile and conflicted real estate industry, it is no longer possible to tell friends from enemies by the color of their uniform or the name of their organization.
Protecting ourselves moving forward will require us to reenergize our lost skill of thinking and acting like the students of our own destiny. It is time to come together and bring “the four “A’s into our professional lives.

  • Maintain a positive attitude and use the light that it provides to think your way through the current confusion.
  • Drag your academic skills out of yesterday’s closet and put them to good use. Learn about the amazing dynamics and forces of today’s real estate marketplace.
  • Be aware of what is really happening in the industry and market around you. Be aware of the less-than-noble agendas of so many of those who would suggest that their mission lies in protecting you.
  • Understand that today’s real estate marketplace is generating a whole new set of opportunities, competencies, rules and relationships. Don’t be guided by the course and rules of 2004. They will only serve to ground you on the shoals of irrelevancy.
  • Be a person of accomplishment and achievement. Take your life off of hold and reconnect with the passion and excitement that brought you into the industry in the first place.

Victory or defeat in the battles that lie ahead will not come from compromising values and ethics under the guise of protecting the status quo. Victories will come from real estate professionals who approach their futures like students—by engaging their minds and potentials into a new marketplace. Defeat will come from those who refuse to be students of their own destiny and cast their lot with others who confuse protecting the status quo with moving the industry forward.