May 17, 2019

A Novel Approach to Selling

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” – Jane Austen. That sentence is one that I can recite from memory as the guilty pleasure of Pride and Prejudice is a book that I return to time and time again. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have read the book 20 times or more in my life. The plot never changes, obviously, but the richness and context certainly reveal a new side of the narrative on each perusal.

The frank description of human behaviour, manipulation, intrigue and heartache over the business of marriage – which was very much a business in Austen’s eyes – offers some of the best and worst examples of humans in society. The work is sometimes passed off as a frivolous story, however, it was actually something of a landmark field guide for young women seeking to avoid an unadvantageous marriage, of which there was no escape in Austen’s era.

Novels are so much more than a depository of words or a narrative. Indeed all art has a role to play in helping us to make sense of our complex social worlds. Art is important to help us understand what is going on (it’s crazy out there), and it is arguably even more relevant than ever before.

In real estate, our work as marketing agents is as much more about capturing the story and the meaning of lifestyle in the concept of a particular property than it is about listing a set of building specifications. Helping buyers to find and make meaning of value is a fundamentally human part of our work.

The skill or ability to ‘make meaning’ or ‘find sense’ is listed as the number #1 ‘skill’ for workers in the 2020 Future Skills Research Paper, published by The Institute for The Future within the Apollo Research Institute.

Defined as ‘the ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed’, sense-making is a soft skill that escapes the grasp of smart machines. If we look at the underlying intelligence skill that is required for humans to make ‘sense’ – it requires the merge function. The merge function allows humans to take one concept, and apply them to another concept, to create a new – third – concepts.

In Pride and Prejudice, Austen takes marriage, takes social class, takes the bargain of business, takes contract negotiation, takes the law of estates and succession and fuses that all into narrative so that young women might gain an understanding of their role in a family’s wealth creation as well as their relationship to property and AS property.

“Maybe this is why we read and in moments of darkness return to books; to find words for what we already know,” said Alberto Manguel, the Argentine novelist.

Unlike the readers of Austen’s era, leisure is leaner and reading – or the time it takes – is a luxury we don’t have. Time is the only truly democratic currency that exists and quite like cash, many of us feel like we may not be able to afford the leisure of reading. The lean amount of time available for reading sets us apart from Austen’s characters; who all seemed to get a lot of reading done.

So technology is proffering a shortcut for the time and leisure poor. Although it can’t replace our ability to make meaning, it is helping us to find it faster. The online audiobook library ‘Audible’ exists so that we can listen to ‘reading’ while doing other things like driving, exercising and cleaning. The German based ‘app’ Blinkist, exists so that the essence of a book is distilled to its key concepts and outline – a bit like Cliff’s notes for non-fiction books.

The popularity of having someone else make meaning for us is evident in the Blinkist App has had over $35M of funding to scale and perform a distillation of more books.

It’s efficient, but when I think about the balance of words beyond the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice, the executive summary experience feels pale and impoverished. Perhaps there is also the risk that someone might find a different meaning in the words than I would have and so my thoughts my views and my actions might be informed by someone else’s sense – rather than my own.

Our individual sense-making is fundamentally how we understand, shape and move the world and it massively impacts our identities. What becomes of a society where identity is homogenised by a central library of distilled meaning – a uniformed interpretation of core ideas and no magic in the margins.

“A person who won’t read has no advantage over a person who can’t” – Mark Twain. So read. Read non-fiction and read novels. Read and imagine. Read and reflect. Read and discard but above all else read.