PPPPomp and Circumstance - Four P's Episode 159

Zillow, Plutarch's Leadership, The Olympics, and Democracy in Peril

Congratulations to all of the graduates this season at all levels of academia, whether nursey school or medical school. Quite a challenging year. And the same goes for all of us who have been working, as well, but especially those in the medical profession, including my fearless, emboldened, activist wife. She and I have been together for nearly 16 years, and the fact that we keep surprising one another and discovering new things about each other keeps our marriage fresh and exciting. A few days ago, while working on my office, I heard an exasperated cry from the kitchen. You would have thought she swallowed something poisonous. Or maybe a bird flew in the window. But no...

"How is this possible?!?!?" she cried out. "Who knew that Snickerdoodle cookies are actually cinnamon and sugar cookies. Where are the Snickers?!?"

Me: "Umm, what? Of COURSE Snickerdoodles ARE cinnamon and sugar cookies. You thought Snickerdoodles were made with Snickers?"

Her: "There are M&M Cookies made with M&Ms, so why wouldn't Snickerdoodle cookies be made with real Snickers? Am I the only person in the world who doesn’t know this?”

Love is truly about not being afraid to look silly in front of your partner.

And here are a few more things to share and learn this week in no way related to cookies or candy:

  1. Zillow's Search and Discovery

  2. Five Lessons from Plutarch's Leadership

  3. Olympic Race Against Time

  4. Democracy in Peril

Something Professional: Zillow's Search and Discovery

Sure, you know that Google, Amazon and YouTube are three of the biggest search engines for, well, everything, but you may not be aware that another U.S.-based tech company is quickly climbing the ranks as a massive search tool for users: Zillow.

Even with the tumult of the past 18 months, the real estate market remains quite strong strong. Inventory is lean, leading to stable, if not rising, prices. And Zillow remains one of the biggest players not only in the real estate industry, but in the entire digital media space, as well. In fact, April saw the fastest home price appreciation in the history of Zillow's public data and reports.

The Zillow Group continues to see strength in traffic across mobile apps and websites, with visits up 19% year over year in just Q1 of 2021 alone. And the real estate market is showing no signs of slowing down. The company reports that 8.9% of consumers plan to purchase a home in the next six months. Zillow has been around for over 15 years and its product suite is quite strong. And there are still several additional products starting to take off ever since launching Zillow Offers in 2017.

That was when its Premier Agent feature began driving to a more direct connection, a transformation from advertising and listings to actually helping people move. The acquisition of ShowingTime should also serve as a way to increase a specific call to action – easily seeing a certain home at a particular time will lead to a higher close rate. Overall, their goal is to find more high intent partners regardless of the monetization model.

Like so many others, Zillow is becoming a lifestyle brand, as well, and focused on improving Homes operations. The Zillow Offers process is becoming significantly more efficient, better at catching price inflections. Nearly everybody who sells their home checks their Zestimate, so the opportunity is clear going forward.

Now Zillow is marketing to extend consumer awareness as part of the “shop and dream” experience, more brand than performance. Zillow is also on a hiring tear, recruiting for 2,000+ people across the business – technology, marketing, law, accounting, and more – but is still focused on efficiency.

The last step in its plans for domination would be the mortgage business. Zillow is currently building the foundation, with loan officers, tech stacks, and more. The company already has a large purchase and refinance audience through marketplace. And while it's not a major area of current focus, its Rentals opportunities are just as massive. The strength for Rentals is in urban markets, particularly in New York, but suburban markets are showing some promise as well.

Something Practical: 5 Lessons from Plutarch's Leadership

Depending on which source you trust, there are approximately 3 to 5 million books published each year. And while I have no statistics to validate this, I'd estimate that anywhere from 75 to 95% of those books are about leadership. Don't get me wrong. There have been some great ones, but a lot of them just repurpose information, finding new ways to talk about the same principles.

One book that definitively holds its place in original leadership expertise in history is Plutarch's How to Be a Leader. I first read Plutarch for a political science class 25 years ago in college, but I recently re-visited this book after discovering it on my parents' basement bookshelf (along with about 100 other books whose location was unknown to me for at least the past 20 years).

I'm certain most of you have not read this book. Or even if you have, it is not so fresh in your mind. Getting through many of the ancient Greek names was a task unto itself. But the timeless rules of effective leadership have remained relevant even in the two millennia since. The fundamentals of successful leadership haven’t altered at all:

  • Lesson #1: Leaders should want to lead for the right reasons. Lots of people think they want to lead. Some people want to lead because they can’t stand taking orders. Others see it as a path to financial success. For Plutarch, the Capitol city was the center of many decisions, but local leadership mattered as much then as it does today. According to Plutarch, the budding leader should be motivated by a sense of duty and honor – but not an excessive desire for glory and public acclaim. Politicians who are motivated by glory make for tumultuous and unstable societies. Instead of making rational and moderate decisions, leaders grow reckless in their pursuit of fame, and act rashly – often to the detriment of the cities they’re meant to be serving.

  • Lesson #2: Leaders must be of impeccable character. People are far more willing to criticize leaders than to praise them. Fame and the spotlight make it easy to spot their faults, which happens if/when politicians are (rightly) scrutinized. Plutarch highlights Cato, who was motivated by the welfare of Rome, not by the desire to improve his own reputation. On the other hand, Alcibiades quickly gained a reputation for extravagance, recklessness, and indecency. His actions even resulted in his being forced out of Athens – not once, but twice. The Athenians were unwilling to tolerate the glaring flaws in his character and he died in exile.

  • Lesson #3: Leaders should be guided by wisdom and reason. Only once we’ve learned to live in accordance with reason ourselves can we then try to govern others. Seems obvious, right? But Plutarch’s conception of reason is grander and more powerful than our own. In fact, following Plato, he identified the principle of reason with the notion of God. Just as God rules the universe benevolently and in accordance with reason, so, too, should leaders and governors care for the institutions and citizens that they oversee.

    Lesson #4: Leaders must speak eloquently and persuasively. Back in the day, Athens had no king, so whoever wanted to lead Athens had to win over the Athenians. And whoever wanted to do that, needed to do one thing very well: speak. Pericles provides us with an example of a politician who got things right. He had managed to convince his fellow citizens to remain neutral in the battles that were flaring up across Greece, avoiding conflict and holding onto the wealth and security that the city already enjoyed.

  • Lesson #5: With age and experience comes wisdom. From Plutarch's point of view, older leaders actually have a few unique advantages. If a state gets rid of its older, seasoned leaders, replacing them with younger ones, it risks growing increasingly unstable. They thirst for glory, power, and exalted reputations – ambitions that often come into conflict with the welfare of society. According to Plutarch, then, the greater wisdom and maturity of older leaders is their greatest strength. Older leaders are often mild and moderate in their decision-making, ideally suited to take the reins during periods of turbulence and disorder. Older leaders are also of supreme importance in training the next generation to take on the duties of leadership.

So you hear that, young'uns? Listen to your elders and keep us around at least awhile longer.

Something Personal: Olympic Race Against Time

The 2020 Olympics were (rightly) postponed a year ago with the global pandemic still raging. While last summer saw a temporary decline in COVID cases, we knew it was only because people were spending more time outdoors. One year later, and the COVID-19 virus has met its match in the form of a number of effective vaccines. But with many choosing not to get the vaccine (stupidity), or still unable to access it (geography), COVID has not yet been defeated.

The Opening Ceremonies are set to begin in Tokyo in just about six weeks. As of this week, most of Japan is still under a COVID-19 state of emergency. Within Japan, the decision to proceed with the Games have become a hot topic between health officials, Olympic organizers and the Japanese government. The state of emergency has just been extended to June 20. The concern is the speed with which a large enough percentage of Japanese people can get fully vaccinated.

The pace of vaccination has been slow. Japan vowed to administer 1 million doses daily. It currently is only giving 500,000 per day. In fact, more infections and deaths are happening now compared to when Tokyo froze the games in March 2020. Japan's top COVID-19 adviser said, "It's not normal to hold the Olympic games in a situation like this." More than 10,000 Olympic volunteers out of an estimated 80,000 have already quit. If outbreaks should happen, organizers are prepared to go "without any spectators."

I have personal friends who are scheduled to compete in the Tokyo games, and I know how important the opportunity is. For some, it's a once-in-a-lifetime moment for which they've been training all of their lives. For others, it's one last hurrah on the international stage. Athletes are more likely to be willing to take these risks, and are (typically) in better shape to handle it if they came down with the virus. The issue is spread. Organizers believe that the Olympic Village can be maintained like a bubble. The NBA and WNBA successfully showed us how it's done, but that took place on a single campus with far fewer people, and much greater control, than the Olympics (and the IOC) can maintain.

Ultimately, I'm concerned about my friends' health, all athlete, coaches and participants' health, and the larger impact of what an Olympics could do to hamper the battle against COVID. Ultimately, we will win, but this continues to be a marathon, not a sprint.

Something Political: Small Steps Threatening Democracy

Months after Joe Biden's inauguration, the honeymoon is over for Democrats. It's time to sharpen the political focus once again, or the latest victory lap will be meaningless. In his inaugural address, Biden famously said that "Democracy has prevailed." But that was just a battle, not the war... and democracy's advances are already under attack on the right flank.

On a state level, more than a dozen legislatures are imposing new voting restrictions, and Trump allies are gearing up for midterm elections just 16 months away. With long-standing gerrymandering and these newest attacks on voting freedom, Republicans are poised to re-take control of the House of Representatives next year and set the stage for another, more destructive, dichotomous election in 2024.

At the root of these issues are much deeper levels of misinformation and conspiracy theories. And not just theories. (Want an example? Last week, when setting up some ad targeting parameters on Facebook to promote my daughter's t-shirt business, one of the categories for audience targeting is "Political views." When you click in to refine the parameters, the ONLY option is "Conservative / Right-leaning." It's binary: either Conservative targeting or nothing at all.

As Trump allies still continue to push his false claims of election fraud, conservative media and Republican parties support the lies. Another “audit” of votes is under way in Arizona with more states threatening to follow suit. Trump has even stated that he could be reinstated as president later this year.

Right now, local politics will determine how this plays out. State races for Secretary of State THIS YEAR will determine the election officials for the next cycle, as will the assault on voting rights. The effort to change voting rules, which is prompted by the failed effort to alter the election outcome of 2020, sets the stage for future attempts overturn elections. A GOP-controlled House of Representatives could fail to certify a Democratic presidential victory in 2024. This continues to escalate as the biggest threat to American Democracy since Reconstruction’s segregation laws.

Changes like these happen one step at a time. Incrementally. Quietly. They can be east to miss. But they are happening. So take notice, my friends. We cannot underestimate the gravity of this moment in time because what happens over the next few months or year could be the turning point in this battle to preserve our democracy.

Programming note: This is our second-to-last newsletter on Season 3 before the summer hiatus. Schedule your vacations accordingly!

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