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Individuality in the Property Industry Must be Kept Alive

Blog article by Jonathan Goldstein, Cain Hoy

Individuality in the Property Industry Must be Kept Alive

David Bowie’s sudden death in January this year sent shockwaves through the music industry and wider community. For days, social media was flooded with emotional homages to the star. Newspapers, TV and radio stations across the globe paid him solemn and heartfelt tribute.

Without a doubt, Bowie’s was a rare musical talent. His elaborate costumes and flair for reinventing himself were daring, defiant and subversive – it was his unapologetic individuality that captivated us so completely and made him such an icon.

Yet, in the corporate world, the same rules do not seem to apply.

Young people entering the business world today seem to have been made uniform by the constant examinations demanded of them by schools. Creativity is innate but it must be nurtured. A steady stream of exams, beginning at a formative age, reduces the possibility for divergent thought, as children try to match what they think teachers or examiners want to hear. The concept of thinking creatively then becomes increasingly unnatural, even actively discouraged.

Reinforcing uniformity

In an over-regulated society where automation and standardisation are championed, the practice of making everyone uniform for the purposes of assessment is eroding individuals’ inclination towards nonconformity.

My daughter recently applied for a summer internship. In place of an interview, the online recruitment process required her to answer a series of questions posed by a computer; she was given three minutes to record and submit each answer.

I found this astonishing. Rather than delivering her answers to another person – which would have allowed her to assert personality – she was forced to converse with a machine. Individuality is something that the corporate world, particularly the property industry, once prized. At what point did we decide that an ability to interact with other humans should no longer play a part in determining a candidate’s suitability for a job role?

We are increasingly concerned with saving resources and efficiency. When recruiting new staff, companies now prefer to save money and time by replacing face-to-face interviews with video interviews, online assessments and applications. Unusual candidates are filtered out at the early stages without having a chance to prove themselves in person.

The role of technology and social media

The proliferation of social media has also had a part to play. Although social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube present users with the opportunity to express unique opinion, research from the Pew Research Center (USA) suggests that social media reinforces a societal tendency to avoid expressing an opinion in public if we do not think others will be in agreement. It is a form of herd mentality known as the ‘spiral of silence’.

Moreover, the nature of social media platforms is such that we are almost exclusively presented with ideas similar to our own: we follow others – friends, organisations or celebrities – because we agree with them and, in doing so, we rarely come into contact with online content that contradicts us or challenges us to think differently.

Uniformity in the Property industry

The consequences of this phenomenon are already apparent in the property industry. Agents are predominately white, male and middle class; they have had similar upbringings and similar educations.  Accordingly, their opinions are largely similar. When everyone is already in agreement, there is little motivation voice ideas that go against the grain.

To some extent, it is a lack of awareness of the property industry as a career path that has fostered this conformity amongst agents. The Reading Real Estate Foundation found that the majority of UK students studying Real Estate at top universities have been privately educated and two-thirds already have connections in the business. Conversely, students from non-traditional backgrounds rarely consider a career in property because it is rarely presented to them as an option.

Unwittingly, the property industry has reduced variety in new recruits. As a result, there has developed an ingrained fear of departing from established processes and procedures. Nonconformity and eccentricity are scarce, even avoided. The property sector was once abounding with creative and charismatic people who, in today’s world, might very well be considered unemployable. If this continues, I struggle to imagine from where the entrepreneurs and inspirational characters of tomorrow will come.

Fostering individuality in the property industry

In an effort to counter this movement, at Cain Hoy, have made an effort to seek out original thinkers and we are brimming with entrepreneurial spirit. We have partnered with Stephen Conway, of Galliard, a singularly charismatic man who is not afraid of doing things differently.

We must not allow charisma, eccentricity and originality to disappear from the property industry. Diversity of individuals and opinions, fresh thinking and open mindedness can benefit companies and industries greatly.

We should take David Bowie as our example and not only practise individuality but encourage it in others. As Bowie did, the corporate world must reinvent itself and refuse to conform to the creeping standards of sanitised uniformity.

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