Wisdom Keys for Life and Business

Part 1

How wise are you?

As many of our long time listeners know from prior episodes, I chose a somewhat unique path of study after high school. Instead of going the fairly traditional route of college, degree, job, I chose zen monastery, martial arts immersion, travel, and training. I did university for a bit but, when compared to the other things I was doing at the time, that experience couldn’t possibly stack up against everything else. Not to mention, I was simply a bad college student. Having experiences was way more important to me at the time than book learning was. In fact, even today, 30 years later, having experiences is still held in higher regard than most other things. 

Nevertheless, one of the most indelible life experiences for me was the experience of being a serious student of a true mentor. We have labels in the appraisal industry that resemble a traditional mentor/protege relationship, but, from my experience and what I’ve witnessed, 99% of those come nowhere close to a true mentorship experience. A mentor in the appraisal industry, or any industry for that matter, is mentoring a trainee or apprentice in some aspects of that particular industry or business. Nothing wrong with that, of course, it’s just not on the same level as an old school mentorship where the mentor cared more about the personal development of the individual than just their aptitude in a particular vocation. In my opinion, at least in the appraisal industry, the term ‘supervisor’ is a better term than mentor, and for the reason I just mentioned. Most people are woefully under trained and incapable of helping a protege grow in all the ways a true mentor cares for an apprentice. I did a two part podcast some time last year called, ‘so you want to be a mentor’, on this topic. 

Nevertheless, over the years I was under my mentor’s guidance and tutelage, I journaled daily and took copious notes on my experience. Years later I was going through my journals from that time in my life and I started to see some themes emerging. The themes that were making themselves visible were what I eventually called ‘wisdom keys’. I had heard somebody else use those words and I felt they fit perfectly what I was seeing from the lessons in my journals. The lessons weren’t nearly as concise and obvious as how I’m laying them out in this episode, mind you. I had to dig through my notes and writings with an open mind and the themes began to emerge. The first theme that emerged, which is the first wisdom key was this:

  1. See everybody and everything is a teacher. 

This is very common positive thinking advice. Almost everybody has heard something along the lines of, ‘there is something to learn from all situations, especially the bad or challenging ones’, which is absolutely true, in my opinion. But, that’s not necessarily what this wisdom key is referring to, at least not completely. It’s definitely part of it. Being that my mentor was a bonafide Zen master and I was immersed deeply in that world and being influenced by the eastern practice of detachment from outcomes, detachment from things, detachment from needs and wants, and detachment from desires, the idea that everything is simply an opportunity to learn from was a moment to moment practice. 

However, the part of the teaching that really opened my mind was how my mentor thought about teaching people. He was a master Aikido teacher as well and he had a particular teaching philosophy which was that everybody already knows everything he is teaching, at least in some form or fashion deep within them, they just don’t know it. His job was not to cram information into them physically, verbally, or visually. He saw his job as trying to strip away the layers of ‘unknowing’ to get to the part of them that knew what to do. When he was successful at doing that the individual would have this very clear ‘aha’ moment that you could visibly see them experience where they recognized that they knew exactly what to do and how to do it. They may have thought that they just all of the sudden understood and could perform the technique, but that’s not the way my teacher saw it. No, he knew that they knew what to do before they did, he just had to get them to remember that it was all within them somewhere, they just needed to find it. 

This was a mind blowing concept to me at the time and it took me a while to fully comprehend what it all meant. I saw it and experienced it on a daily basis though so I embraced it pretty quickly because it essentially turned the educational process inside out. Instead of almost all the responsibility being on the teacher to make the student successful at something, it gives a lot of the responsibility to the student to recognize that they already know what to do somewhere inside of them, they just have to keep stripping away the layers like onion skin until they get to that place where they go, “ahhhhh, yes! Now I get it!”. In the west, we might see that and say, “oh good, they finally get it!”. But a real teacher recognizes that the person already knows what to do, they just haven’t realized that they know it yet. In fact, he would often start out beginner’s classes saying just that. He would tell everybody that they already know what to do, we just have to find that place inside of them where they recognize they know what to do, even if they’ve never seen or practiced these particular Aikido techniques. 

We’re all great teachers, we’re all great public speakers, we’re all successful business owners, we’re all great leaders, we’re all great therapists, we’re all everything we need to be, do, and have everything we could ever want in life and it’s not a matter of cramming info into our limited storage facilities we call our brains before we’ve learned enough to be successful at something, it’s more a matter of stripping away the layers of unknowing and remembering the greatness that already exists within every one of us. The first wisdom key, that everyone and everything is a teacher, is more about remembering that everything we could ever need already exists within us. Help others see that within themselves and you have a hand in changing the world for the better.

The second wisdom key is:

2.  To never complain about what you’re willing to permit.

There is a lot to be upset about in the world. There might be a lot to be upset about in your life. However, this wisdom key comes from the world of radical responsibility. Taking radical responsibility for your life means to accept that everything that happens to and through you is because of you at some level. We may not choose to be in a bad relationship, it might truly feel like this all just happened at some point. But, the reality is that you’re in a bad relationship because of you. You chose the person, for whatever reason, you contribute to the relationship, and, if you’re still in the relationship and you find yourself complaining about it, I would tell you in my nicest voice, shut up or change it. Never complain about what you are allowing or willing to permit. If you’re letting it happen, you’re responsible for it. Shut up about it or make a change. 

This one rings in my head a lot being in the appraisal industry. Appraisers can be a tad ‘complainy’ at times, at least on social media. If they’re not complaining about another appraiser’s work, they’re complaining about Fannie Mae, USPAP guidelines, fees, hybrids, desktops, AMCs, Realtors, lenders, and a few other things. You might be tempted to look at that list and think, ‘well, gosh Blaine, most of those things are not the result of the appraiser, there are some legitimate complaints there!’, to which I would say, ‘shut up and accept them or change the situation’. I didn’t say you can change another person. I didn’t say you can change USPAP or Fannie Mae, that’s not what this wisdom key is talking about. ‘Never complain about what you’re willing to permit’ is a wake up call reminding you that we are always in control of our response to anything and everything in life. It’s a reminder that life doesn’t happen to us, it happens through us and often because of us. If you don’t like something, change it. If you’re not going to make any changes, then shut up about it because anything less than action taken to change it is merely complaining. 

The third wisdom key is:

3. The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine

We could go deep on this one because there is a lot in this wisdom key. However, it’s also fairly self explanatory. If you want to know where you are headed and what’s in your future, it’s fairly easy to just look at what you do on a daily basis. What you do daily is what you are in the process of becoming tomorrow. In business, we talk often about our goals, our activities, our P&L (profit and loss statement), our balance sheet, our 90 day rocks, and several other key things that help us drive the ship, so to speak. Why do we focus on those things? Because all of those things help predict what tomorrow, next month, and next year might look like for us. 

There are some things that we do in life where we get immediate feedback. Throw a tennis ball against a wall and it will immediately bounce back. Eat a half gallon of ice cream, you’ll definitely feel some immediate results and get some kind of feedback, but the long term effects are not known in the moment. The tennis ball has stopped bouncing already, but the effects of the ice cream will live on for a fair amount of time. Do that every night for six months and some of the results will become obvious. Some of the results will still not be visible unless you get a full physical done at a medical facility. Do 10 pushups every single day and there will be a result. Drink 10 beers every single day, there will be a result. Sometimes there are immediate results, and sometimes there are lag results. We look at a P&L statement to tell us what happened last month, lag result. We step on the scale to tell us what happened last week or month, lag result. 

What we do daily is what we are becoming. The secret to your future is hidden in something you are doing daily. Tear apart your day and mine it for the little things you do that lead to positive results, and also the potentially negative ones. Although we often talk about and focus on having some kinds of goals for your personal and professional life, I always recommend breaking those goals down into daily activities and it’s because of this wisdom key. Having a goal to lose 10 pounds or increase revenue by 20% means nothing unless you can break those goals down into the daily activities and routines that will get you there. 

This also ties in with the last wisdom key of never complaining about what you’re willing to permit. If there is something you are allowing that bothers or upsets you, not only do you have the power to change it, but the secret to why things are the way they are is likely hidden in your daily routine. If you want to make changes in your life, examine what you do daily and find the activities that lead to positive results, as well as the ones that may be holding you back. Your arc of activity will determine where you’ll be in six months, 1 year, 5 years, and 10, but the secret is hidden in your daily routine. 

The 4th wisdom key is:

4. Your rewards in life and business will be directly correlated with the type of problems you choose to solve and the value you create for others.

This podcast is all about finding, creating, and adding value whenever and wherever we can. If you’re new to the podcast then this is the perfect introduction to one of the pillars of my teachable point of view and the philosophical foundation of my life, my businesses, and the successes and failures I’ve had in both. In almost every instance where I have failed at something, it can be boiled down, at some level, to not creating or adding enough value and not discerning the type of problems that needed to be solved. In many of my failures, I was the problem and, therefore, very difficult to discern what problem needed to be solved because I was the problem. In other situations, I simply failed to solve the bigger problems that needed solving and, therefore, was unable to add enough value to a situation. 

Wherever I have experienced something one could consider success, it was directly proportional to the type and size of the problem I had discerned needed solving, and then what kind of value I was able to deliver in the process of solving that problem. One of the lessons I have learned over the years when it comes to figuring out the problems to be solved and where to add value is that the type and quality of our questions are vital. Before we can set about to solve big problems and add a ton of value, we have to ask lots of questions in order to determine what problems need solving. I see people and businesses on a daily basis working hard to do what they do best, but often trying to solve a problem that doesn’t need solving. If they would just step back for a few minutes and ask better questions about the needs and wants of their customer they’d see there are better problems to solve for them. If they can solve bigger problems for their clients, customers, and the market, their rewards will be proportional. 

Appraisers complaining about fees in their market are simply not discerning the problems that need to be solved. Low fees in any industry are a dead giveaway that a product or service is commoditized. That means that it is only differentiated in the market’s mind based on price, for the most part. First step, stop complaining about it and start changing how you do business. Second step, ask better questions about what you’re doing, who you’re doing it for, and how you’re doing it. If appraisal fees in your market, on average, are $250, that’s the value that market has assigned to what you do. Either accept it and keep at it, or do something about it. If you can’t change what the market is paying for that product or service, offer something different, change how you go to market, or change who you’re serving with your solution. Those are your options and your rewards in life and business will be directly correlated with the type of problems you choose to solve and the value you create for others. 

The 5th wisdom key and last one for this episode is:

  1. Your significance in business and life is not in your similarity to another but in your differences.

I just mentioned the word commodity and commoditized in the last wisdom key, so this one naturally follows. My friends, we all do the same thing, more or less. We develop opinions about the value of real estate. Your value does not lie in that similarity but in the differences you can provide in the market. By the way, price is always a problem to be solved in the market but it’s one of the least complex of the problems to be solved. Lowering price to be different is the laziest and least creative way to be different and solves a very small problem in the market. The downside of the lower price model is that it trains the market to believe that price is the only differentiator on that particular product. It’s your job to differentiate in a way that teaches the market why price and value may just have some direct correlation when it comes to real estate appraisals. How do you do that? Scripts, languaging, words, marketing, having discussions, giving presentations, making videos, doing podcasts, meeting with the market participants, having marketing materials, and making your clients feel like whatever they paid for your services was a bargain at twice the price. 

There’s a saying that is often attributed to Henry Ford and also to poet Ezra Pound, but the more likely source of this quote is from William Wrigley Jr., who built the Wrigley chewing gum fortune. The quote goes something like this, “Business is built by men who care…care enough to disagree, fight it out to the finish, get facts. When two men always agree, one of them is unnecessary.” Where two companies and services are exactly the same in the minds of the consumer, the cheapest of the two will likely be chosen because the most expensive one is unnecessary. This is the principle of substitution we deal with on every appraisal. Your significance in the market lies not in your similarity to another but in your differences and those differences need to be directly correlated with the big problems you believe you’re solving in the market. Ask better questions, ask them of your clients and customers, figure out what big problems need to be solved, and then devise a solution for solving them that nobody else is doing.

How are you different from every other appraiser in your market? And please don’t say, “I do more research, I put more charts and graphs in my report, my report is more accurate, I still include the 1004MC, I’m smarter, I’m better, I have more letters after my name….” Please! Spare us all the arrogant and conceited bullshit that no client bought, ever! They want you to solve their problems and they’ll pay you at a rate commensurate with the type and level of problem you solve. Rarely these days does a human being ever even read your report or crack the binding. It goes through the UDCP portal, problems and issues are highlighted, a human looks only as far as they need to identify the issue, a revision request is delivered and, once that’s cleared the appraisal goes in a file likely never to be opened again. 

There’s a reason the industry is changing and moving to desktop and hybrid reports and it comes down primarily to speed and efficiency. Appraisers have had decades to ask better questions and solve bigger problems for their clients and, for the most part, they’ve done nothing to solve those problems. Appraisers have been asking the wrong questions for a long time and, therefore, trying to solve a problem that may not really exist. 

Your significance in business and life is not in your similarity to another but in your differences. How are you doing things differently than everyone else? Where does your significance lie, and does it even matter to your clients and the market you serve? Or is it only important in your mind?

5 wisdom keys for life and business. We’ll talk about the next 5 wisdom keys in the next episode. Until next week, my friends, I’m out…

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