TrueNorth Development
President

Scott Sedam, president of TrueNorth Development (www.truen.com), spends most of his time working in the trenches with builders, suppliers and trade contractors. His Lean Builder blog appears weekly at HousingZone.com. He welcomes your feedback at scott@truen.com.

Lean Building Blog: There is no future in pessimism

Our business picked up in late 2011, started the New Year off well, and we were deluged at the IBS show, beginning with a standing-room-only presentation on Lean Design. Our first quarter is strong and 2nd quarter looks even better. Builders seem to now have sufficient confidence that they want to get their processes “Leaned-up” to meet current and projected growth. We have a long list of clients who are reporting sales being up way above the  national average of 8% reported for January and on into February. Yet the question persists … is this recovery for real?

In the past week I connected in person with 3 guys I have known for a long time in the business. One is president of a very successful builder in the Northeast. Another, a long-time consultant in the mid-Atlantic states. The third is a purchasing director for a well-known Texas builder. What do all 3 have in common? Besides being 3 old-white-guys like me, they are all three quite pessimistic about the country in general and the homebuilding in particular. I really like each of them, but I told all three, in turn, that they were depressing me!

I have never been able to track down who gets credit for first saying, “There is no future in pessimism” but I have been saying it for as long as I can remember, all the way back to high school. Pessimism has simply never served me well, whether trying to find a job, change a culture, build a company, sell a project, raise a family or pursue personal goals. So much of life and work is about expectations and it seems inarguable to me that optimistic people adopt higher expectations for themselves and try to set higher ones for those around them – and who does better, achieves more, and stays happier? Those with high expectations or those with low expectations?

Sure, I know the argument that if you avoid high expectations, then you won’t be disappointed with yourself or those around you when they are not met. And yeah, I know all about, “under-promise, over-deliver.” But who gets excited about that? The best in business and life comes when you promise high – and deliver even higher. That means risk, of course, and so many – especially corporate-types – are bred to be risk-averse. Low-risk people and organizations might find some financial success, but they aren’t the ones working hard to make the world a better place or achieving great things.

The results of our work in Lean the past 5 years have been spectacular – far exceeding even my high personal expectations. I bet the company on it. Using good process, the savings that builders working with their suppliers and trade contractors have identified are now well over $100,000,000. Untold thousands of jobs have been saved. If I – and our clients – approached this from a pessimistic, “they will disappoint us” mindset, just how much do you think we would have found? No, an optimistic process that says, “Yes, we will improve, yes we will solve and prevent problems” has produced great results. And I feel the same about our country. Right now the big ratings on radio and TV go to the pundits that continually rip apart every attempt to change, grow and innovate. I am not one of those who believe the “good old days” represent some lost utopian dream. I believe the best is yet to come for both the country and our building industry. The strong builders, those willing to change and grow are emerging from the housing recession smarter, tougher, stronger and more profitable. None of them I know are finding their future in pessimism.

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