Following Tim Tebow into a More Certain Future

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Ordinarily if I were quoting from a newspaper while writing for an audience composed of preservationists, the words would likely originate from an arts and leisure section or a column about high culture or an article about architecture. Currently, however, there’s a story from the sports section that’s relevant to the next “c” word in my series about our traditional building industry: "certainty".

Tim Tebow, the Denver Broncos’ quarterbacking phenom, has assumed a leadership role for his team by creating certainty where there was none. What looked like a losing season in Denver suddenly turned around when Tebow stepped in to help make teammates believe in themselves and in their ability to win.

His example is instructive for businesspeople, too. The future has rarely looked so mysterious. After three years of economic hardship, most of us have lost customers, money and confidence, in that order. None of us is very sure about the future. With a steady diet of bad news, from the European debt crisis to the possibility of a U.S. government shutdown, it’s hard to avoid feeling discouraged, much less feel confident about winning. Even our victories, the few we can claim, have all been hard fought and down to the wire, like the Denver Broncos’ last-minute field goals.

We look at economic forecasts to find certainty, but even these have been wrong lately. Here is the latest from FMI’s “Construction Outlook,” which is as good a prediction as any.

RESIDENTIAL CONSTRUCTION (in millions of current dollars)

NON-RESIDENTIAL CONSTRUCTION

Those are mostly positive numbers, but they might not be strong enough to create certain outcomes. “If you can’t predict the future, create it,” says business guru Jim Collins. Susan Marvin, president of Marvin Windows and Doors, is using Collins’s quote in company meetings as a morale builder. Only worry about that which you can control, she says, and control that. With control comes certainty, or at least the feeling of it.

With all this uncertainty, however, where is certainty to be found? We don’t have to create it all ourselves. There are some facts that bode well for a more certain future in real estate and construction, including the $170 billion traditional building market. According to the U.S. Census, there are 126 million people between the ages of 22 and 46. This is almost twice the number of baby boomers who drove the real estate and construction booms between 1969 and 2005. The sheer number of people entering the work force or entering their peak earning years is encouraging for builders, remodelers, architects, building owners and suppliers.

Moreover, these current and future clients are determined to live their best lives, now, because they grew up with tragedies like Columbine and 9/11. They know there are no certainties tomorrow, so they live for today. Soon, they will choose to move on with their lives—it’s already starting to happen—and moving on includes buying, building and renovating houses and buildings generally.

How do we appeal to these current and future clients? How do we assure them that our products and services are a good bet in an uncertain economic environment? Take a page from Tim Tebow’s playbook. Lead; don’t follow. Think less about what you do and more about what they want.

And because in these uncertain times, our clients are often irritable, moody and indecisive, we need to lead them, with confidence, integrity, clarity and decisiveness. Those characteristics are inspiring. They provide a way to win the game because they create certainty where there was none before.