Think Outside YOUR box


I have heard the term for years. I am sure you have too. It’s one of those catch phrases that consultants use. To me the expression means to look at something from outside your current realm of influence.

When Jared Diamond first came out with his book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, I was enthralled. The book gave me an entirely new perspective on everything around me.  Now the three series documentary is on NetFlix and Gail and have been watching it again. If you have not read the book or it has been a while since you did – I suggest a reread – or at least check out the series on

Some of you may be getting my newsletter for the first time, and you may be thinking, “What does this have to do with real estate?”  Exactly my point. I love to look at my business from a new perspective.  An anthropological look at civilization’s history was just the kick in the head my brain needed to get a new perspective on my business.

But: In order to think outside the box you must first recognize what your box is.

All of us live in various communities. Certainly Gail and I live in Florida. We also live in Fort Myers, but we also live in “parent community”, the “real estate community”, the “grandparent community”,  the “developer community”, etc. We, like you, wear many hats, or live in many “boxes”.  Most likely our perspective is confined and guided by these influences, by these boxes. 

For many years, I was in the plastics business. I sold plastic film to the diaper and sanitary napkin industry all over North, Central, and South America. I was immersed in that business. My “box”, if you can believe it, was diapers and sanitary napkins. For years business was wonderful because Latin America was my oyster. My pearl was that 20 years ago most of Latin American babies were not using diapers and their Mom’s were not using disposable sanitary napkins. The business grew like crazy. We built capacity, and after a few years we needed more business. In order to find it, I needed to look outside the box. I went to trade shows for totally unrelated fields to “think outside the box”. I actually went to wood working shows, metal conferences, health conferences, rubber conferences. I went searching for new markets, new uses. Eventually, I started supplying house wrap, roofing membranes, protective films for packaging and more. In order to grow and succeed, I went looking for needs to fill in new communities. I thought outside my box. 

In the real estate in South Florida we have three big “engines” that power our market. Retirement, Tourism, and Healthcare. In Lee County we also have Education, In order to best understand the real estate market, it is helpful, for example, to get out of the “real estate box” and immerse yourself in retirement, healthcare, tourism, or education. Get a few from outside this box and get involved in another.

This week two sales people from a local newspaper called on me to sell me advertising space in their chain of newspapers.  This was their “box”. In fact “advertising” was not even their box. Their box was newspaper print advertising. (A pretty small box.) I asked about how they tied into the internet. (They didn’t.) I asked about what they knew about how I advertised. (They didn’t know how I advertised.) These guys were so stuck in their box all they could offer me was blank space for a fee and I was to fill it with copy. 

In an earlier newsletter I talked about investment advisors that tell you that they will review your entire investment portfolio, but never even mention real estate. Stocks and bonds are their “box”. You need to learn what box people you deal with are in so you can adjust your thinking. Don’t let them trap you into their box. 

Lately, my box has been closing in on me. One way I surely get out of that box is to spend time with my grand children, Adi and Jacob are eleven, and Ryker and MacKenzie are 7 and 3 months. Talk about not knowing your “box”? ; children are so refreshing because their thinking is so open to outside influence. I love probing their minds and suggesting to them new ways to look at things. We could all learn by spending a few hours with a child. Yes, they have their “box” but it is a very open and colorful one. Oh, how wonderful it would be to have such an open mind!

To help get our of my box I leave the office and do a walk about or “run the traps”. I visit people, get new exposure, and sometimes just new perspective from others near my box like builders, bankers, doctors, and professors.

We can learn from everyone. I absolutely love to meet buyers of our homes. This week, at dusk one evening, I was touring some clients into a project. As we were driving out someone was driving into the parking lot. I rolled down my window and motioned for the driver to stop. The lovely woman was a bit startled that I would stop her. I asked her with a smile if I could sell her a condo or something. She replied that she already bought one and could not wait to move in. Since I had the key I asked her if she would like to go into her unit. She was thrilled. Frank and Ellen and I went with Barb to tour her soon- to-be new condo. Now you must understand that I have been looking at these condos almost every month or so for the past year.  But I was anxious to see it though her eyes. I got to look at the condo from her “box”. Her perspective was different from mine. She saw her furniture. She saw security in the impact resistant hurricane windows. She saw the lighting. She saw how her clothes would fit in the closet. She saw her husband in his favorite chair. She saw her HOME.  You see, I knew my “box” was as the builder and developer. I was eager to see the condo from her viewpoint. In order to build, design and sell better condos – nothing is more important. 

In real estate I counsel my agents to become the ultimate experts in “one thing”. It might be a neighborhood, a type of financing, or a type of buyer.  It’s not as important WHAT it is but that they have an expertise that can share their perspective on and that they can build on.

Know your “box” and know how to get out of it. You will learn and grow. Know the “boxes” of your friends and the people you deal with. You will be better for it.

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