Song of the Day #4: Okay Kaya - "Habitual Love"

There are so many great young artists making debuts these days. It’s amazing to hear a song on Spotify’s recommended or daily playlists, go to look up that artist to hear more of their work, and realize that they’re brand new.

Okay Kaya is on of those artists. “Habitual Love” is a melancholy meditation on keeping the spark alive in a relationship (or not), but the introspection takes place over a loping base that makes it feel almost like a slowed-down dance hit. There are a few more good songs on this new, debut album, but this is the one that really jumped out.

Problem Solving Through a Funnel

Lately, I've been listening to this podcast by the guys at Bigger Pockets, a real estate investment social network that aims to educate and connect people on the topic. Or so I've heard from the podcast - I've never actually poked around the site. The podcast has generally been a good way of getting more familiar with the thinking and terms that go into purchasing property and using it as an investment vehicle. That said, it also often validates my fears about the profession, since the focus is almost always on personal profit. Any discussion of benefiting others tends to be post-rationalizing of the same actions that are supposed to make you rich.

One interesting concept that has come up on the podcast is the idea of a "funnel", which can apply to advertising, finding deals, or really almost anything. The basic idea is that most of what you're going to do isn't going to work, so you need to cast as wide a net as possible and play the numbers game. For instance, Grant Cardone, in the episode below, describes how in a hot, crowded market like the one today, you need to review far more deals than you might otherwise. He claims that he reviews 100 deals, goes into contract on 5, and closes one. That’s quite a ratio. So in that market, if you're trying to compete with the guy, he says if you've only ever seen 6 deals, there's no way you're going to get a good one. 

Though its said in a pretentious, guru-like way, this really does seem like good advice. And daunting advice. The key point is that it isn't just a skill game - you have to play the odds. And the more you see, the more you evaluate, the better your odds will be. It feels daunting because it makes the idea of getting partially into real estate, or developing a partial specialty, feel inadequate. We are increasingly living in a world of specialists, and generalists or hybrid practitioners are at a serious disadvantage unless there’s something about that interdisciplinary approach that produces its own advantage. One challenge here is that while this probably is the case, it takes much longer to develop a meaningful level of competency in many different areas than it does to develop a specialty in one. In other words, it takes longer to reap the benefits of expert generalist practice. It isn’t necessarily the case that specialists have a long-term advantage, but they certainly have a short-term one, at least when operating as part of a large enough operation.

Developing a wide funnel is crucial in either case, but maybe one key element that isn’t discussed as often is the quality of the items entering the funnel. Sending out mailers to try to land a real estate deal might create a wide net, but it’s a poor quality one. This is where we might expect some benefit for the thoughtful generalist, who is able to leverage different relationships and spheres of influence to produce fewer, but higher quality inputs.

On Contentment

One of the great implicit dichotomies of being a person is that in order to grow you must be discontent, and if you are content you have no impetus to grow. This seems almost tautological; if you are fully satisfied, what internal mechanism would provoke change?

The difficulty in this assumption is that few of us actually are content. And thus, we want to grow and become better. This desire takes many forms - wanting to be more disciplined, healthier, more outgoing, and so on. And there is an underlying assumption that achieving these things will make us happy. The understanding that this is rarely the case has become so widely accepted that to repeat it feels unnecessary.

But it has given rise to another approach as well. Much of the contemporary thinking around mindfulness and meditation encourages us to disconnect our sense of well-being from those things considered to be external - career success, relationships, finances, and so on. We can be content as a precondition to our engagement with the world. 

In 1654, Blaise Pascal wrote: “All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone". In looking that up again, I actually just discovered an article on a study that showed that a majority of people would voluntarily administer an unpleasant electric shock when forced to sit in a room alone, without other stimuli. The point being: we are apparently very bad at being content as a precondition. And yet, it has become the current condition to strive for. 

Perhaps part of the resistance we have to preconditional contentment is that it renders all subsequent phenomena meaningless. If I can be fully happy looking at nothing, I can't be any more happy looking at cherry blossoms. Why would I be less happy looking at a landfill? The idea could be that rather than achieving ultimate contentment (which seems to be the Buddhist approach), we ought to aim for merely a state of neutral+. To shift our default approach to the world from one of persistent nagging anxiety and fear to one of optimism and gratitude. Within this framework, it's easy to see how positive experiences could still lift you up and negative ones drag you down. 

But to what extent are emotions non-relative states? Could one operate in a default state of neutral+, striving to achieve ecstatic moments, but insulated from any emotion on the negative side of the spectrum? Would this just reframe the spectrum and shift our emotional responses accordingly?

A possible way out is the introduction of time as a variable. The challenge - to return to the original issue - is to be content, and yet still grow. Could we be perfectly content with ourselves and our situation in the moment, but want something different in the future? On a lazy summer day, we don't wish for winter. And yet, few of us would want an endless summer of unchanging days (I'm looking at you, LA). Instead, we are perfectly content with where we are in the cycle of the year. And we anticipate that come the snow, we will be content again. 

In this way, perhaps the most effective strategy is to understand the cycle of our lives, and to dig deep into what we might want to be, want to do, or want to have in the cycles to come, and yet, to recognize that where we currently are is exactly where we are supposed to be. It's almost a reversal of the preconditional state of contentment. Rather than being content and then going into the world to act, we first act and then seek contentment within the framework of our actions. An analogy I use often is that our lives are like a giant ship - they have inertia, and are slow to change course. And yet, their course is long, so navigation is not a full time job. The captain must periodically check to ensure that they are still on course, but can then go about other business. They can relax because they are headed in the right direction.

Song of the Day #2: Drake - "Nice For What"

Whoa, Drake with the banger. I first heard this yesterday on a playlist by Chance the Rapper and thought, "Man, how did I miss this on Drake's older stuff?". I'm not always a fan, but with tracks like this it's hard not to be. It's pretty amazing when an artist can just be like, "Oh you want hits? Fine, I'll take a break from my art to drop a smash for the masses." This, my friends, is that smash.

Certifications

It's hard figuring out what you want to do. Particularly if what you want to do is to have a positive impact on the world. Architecture as a profession has a lot going for it - great offices, cool culture, tangible output. But it's increasingly hard for me to feel like the work itself is meaningful. At the end of the day, someone is going to design something within a narrow range of parameters, and whether or not we get to add our own particular twist to it feels more like self-indulgence than real impact. There are certainly opportunities to add real value, but the secondary question then becomes: where does that value go? 

I'm certainly glad that my office is attempting to think critically about this, and that I have the privilege of being a part of some of those conversations. Development and planning seem like ways of exerting greater influence on the value proposition, so I'm optimistic that there's interesting work ahead.

So in one sense, I'm eager to move beyond architecture. I've been looking for development podcasts though, and one of the issues that immediately jumps out is that developers often come across as a lot more one-dimensional than architects. I'm sure I've only been exposed to a small sample size, but the conversations have entirely turned on profit and business strategy. Maybe the impact and non-profit developers just don't have time on their hands to make podcasts. But it's hard to contemplate going into a profession so driven by profit and so oriented around sales (both externally, through the literal sale of properties, and internally through the drive to find investors, convince city boards, etc.). That does not seem like a particularly fun day-to-day. 

But then, neither does drawing details in Revit.

Song of the Day #1: Ra Ra Riot - "Water"

Ra Ra Riot isn't one of my favorite bands in general, but their vocalist, Wesley Miles, and Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend formed Discovery a few years back, a more unique, electronic heavy project that put out one of my favorite albums for a while. "Water" was co-written by Batmanglij, and it shows, as the clear standout on Ra Ra Riot's new album. Currently the best song in the world.