‘We keep repeating the same flawed processes with the same leadership groups’ writes Barry Jessup for Property Week

One of the defining factors in determining the eventual impact that Covid-19 will have on the world, will be the ability for countries and medtech to collaborate in designing and producing at scale an effective vaccine. This is problem-solving under the highest possible pressure, knowing that every day that goes by without a solution will likely cost thousands of lives. Achieving a successful outcome will no doubt require the cooperation and collaboration of governments and companies across political boundaries, languages and philosophies.

I can only imagine the pressures that these challenges bring, but it is amazing how something as intense as the coronavirus epidemic can focus the mind, both on what is ultimately important, but also on the basics of what is needed to solve difficult problems.

Real Estate is terrible at problem-solving. Awful. At the start of every year, every decade, we list out the biggest issues facing the sector, and they are always the same: housing crisis, planning delays, environmental impact, modern methods of construction, etc. And at the end of each year we realise that we have achieved absolutely nothing and the issues remain not only unresolved, but largely unaddressed.

Does anybody ever really stop to think why we keep failing? There are a lot of well-meaning companies and people in property trying to make a difference, but we are all playing in the margins. The type of incremental changes that we are pursuing are noble, but ultimately small in ambition, and consequently small in achievement. We have digitised community consultation to reach the silent majority; developed new housing tenure types; and adopted modularised construction. But these marginal gains are really only scratching the surface.

But we shouldn’t be surprised that we don’t solve problems. We keep repeating the same flawed processes with the same leadership groups, all with similar profiles, experiences and frames of reference. Again and again. This has to change.

Much progress has been made over the last couple of years in raising and addressing the shocking lack of diversity in our industry. Most of the commentary around diversity has been based on representative and ethical principles, both of which are extremely valid. But I have seen very little discussion around the opportunity to unleash the power of diversity in ideas-creation and problem-solving.

We will have a much better chance of finding solutions for these issues if we encourage collaboration and dramatically increase the proportion of women, ethnic minorities, millennials and people from outside the real estate sector in these key debates. This ‘outsider’ input has been sadly missing, and only be embracing these voices can we hope to effect change.

Given the urgency surrounding Planet Emergency and the escalating housing crisis, we can no longer rely on ‘Incremental Innovation’; we need ‘Radical Innovation’ and we need it fast.

I don’t think it is any coincidence that a lot of the most successful and pioneering individuals in property originated from outside of the industry, often with no property-related formal training. How can we open up our industry to more outsiders?

It is interesting to monitor the Sidewalk Labs approach to development in Toronto. The recent launch of their Proto-Model X “digital proof of concept” for their mass timber solution for tall buildings is an example of trying to take an Incremental Innovation and turning it into a Radical one. So it can be done.

The impact of Covid-19 will only be minimised through collaboration between multiple diverse countries, companies and individuals, all bringing something different to the table. Hopefully the real estate sector can take note.