Housing's array of big-time challenges--affordability, inadequate labor forces, overly-restrictive land-use regulation, an aging populace, a shrinking appeal among a new, next generation of talent, as well as products and processes that fail--are complex, entrenched riddles that stretch both forward into the future and backwards from the past. They may make us uncomfortable, but we almost take for granted they're not going away.
Successful companies, we've seen, appear to co-exist with these challenges, some even thriving as they forge paths of opportunity through forbidding thickets of resistance, constraint, and diminished returns. They even perform, amidst constant threats and risk to both normalized supply and historical demand, at a level we can call excellent.
Still, although they're massively complex riddles, does that mean the challenges they present organizations in housing, government agencies, and the public are not critical ones? In real ways, they define and quantify need that private and public resources currently leave unmet or underserved.
Unmet or underserved needs tend to--as we've seen with well-known entrants into the tech, hospitality, auto and transportation, energy, and other business sectors--become fertile ground for disruption of businesses.
A big question every business leader--especially those in housing, where processes and products and physical programs for designed and built square footage are all essentially versions of themselves that date back hundreds, if not thousands of years--is "can anything, let alone an innovative entrant, disrupt my business?" A related question, "how?"
An equally important question faces housing's business and thought leaders. If disruption--which can cause successful firms to fail--is the pain, then there are two ways to deal with it: cure it after it appears, or prevent it from occurring. The term associated most closely with either curing the pain of disruption or managing business focus to avoid its occurrence in the first place is innovation.
Innovation, those who fund, develop, design, engineer, and build for-sale and for-rent housing know well, is a tired word. It's been around a long time, and seems to get thrown around meaninglessly anytime somebody does a pretty good job at making the business of delivering housing work.
What does innovation really mean, in an every day making business perform in a sustainably, resiliently profitable way? Is innovation about preventing bad things from happening to one's business? Or is it about developing the ability to heal after bad things do happen?
Is innovation an option for a firm in housing, or is it self-evidently a necessity? Is it always about new things? Or can it be about applying a new way to look at ancestral knowledge? Will innovation at the level of individual parts or components of housing's construction, engineering, distribution, and design models work to secure a resilient path to the future? Or, will we have to learn to re-architect how knowledge works through our organizations and finds its way into the products and services we offer?
For, increasingly, isn't it becoming clear that housing--the business and economics of making homes and communities--is more and more a portfolio of services put on top of real estate, and less and less a durables manufacturing business?
The most important "take-away" for those who enter the HIVE conversation--which we begin on hiveforhousing.com and bring to life at our sold-out HIVE event next week in Los Angeles--is the urgent connection between talk about innovation and actually doing it.
Further, it's likely that no single organization's or individual's clout can and will carry the day to transform housing in relation to its biggest challenges. Already, the community is replete with nodes, with examples, with bright spots of innovation, of solutions, of better ways to invest in, to develop, to design, to engineer, to build, and to sustain homes. Ground-breaking, game-changing, futuristic technologies, data, and human ingenuity have been going on on a localized level forever.
So, the term collaboration, in the sense of strategically architectural, invested, integrative, committed, and unflappable alignment among players large and small emerges as part of a HIVE trifecta of purposes. The conversation assumes open, massively scaled participation and constant infusion of ideas, principles, and real-life instances of where life, physical, biological, data, economic, and technological sciences are transforming housing from its cloudy present to a brightened future.
As I've mentioned, housing's firms, public sector participants, and consumers--even its leaders--have co-existed to some degree with the specter of un-affordability, labor shortages, talent dearth, aging demographics, and organizational rigidities mapping under-served and un-served needs around the fringes of successful businesses.
So, if you're curious about how, why, and where innovation fits snuggly in the middle of your business, be there with us next week. If you want to understand, not only how disruption--the kind that causes good, solid businesses to fail--can occur in housing, but how to manage for it, be there with us next week. And if you want to understand how integrated and collaborative key players need to be in order to address and solve housing's biggest challenges, be there with us next week.
Or risk being left behind by the future.