Adapt or accept the consequences: Why we need to ask better questions and work together for a better industry

When it comes to adapting to challenging environments, it can pay to take some inspiration from a constant source of change: nature. Here, Elite Agent Managing Editor Samantha McLean explains how we can take this inspiration to collaborate and create competitive advantage in business.

At the same time as a large chunk of the Australian real estate industry has re-established its usual ‘migration’ patterns (read: European summer holiday), there are about 40,000 humpback whales also on their annual swim along our eastern coastline.

According to researchers, if you put your head underwater right now, you can actually hear them singing.

You might be wondering what place singing whales have in the real estate industry – I mean, what could we possibly have in common with humpback whales?

The answer is in the ability to collaborate and adapt, and there are plenty of lessons to be learnt.

What we have in common:

I’m no marine biologist, but I’ve done a little research on humpback whales; so here are some fast facts: 

  • Each mammal weighs about 40 tonnes. 
  • They can migrate about 25,000 km in one year (that’s the equivalent of Sydney-LA return). 
  • Due to their size, humpbacks also can’t burn around corners like your average Porsche 911.
  • They have pretty big mouths, but curiously, they only have tiny throats – the size of a tennis ball or a clenched fist. 

What this means: 

  • If you’re a 40-tonne whale, you need a fair bit of fuel in the tank to be able to migrate to warmer waters without dying of starvation along the way. 
  • It’s hard to fill that tank because you can’t swallow big fish, only small ones (imagine trying to fill a Mack Truck’s petrol tank with a watering can).
  • A bunch of small krill can easily outmanoeuvre a large humpback whale any day of the week, making them super difficult to catch.

Let me put it another way: it’s not at all productive for a giant humpback whale to go snapping around and eating one or two small fish at a time – you’d be too exhausted to swim, and even then, it would still be the equivalent of a trying to cure a weekend hangover with kale salad instead of a bacon and egg roll.

But humpbacks, as it turns out, are pretty smart creatures that learn from each other and, as of this year, are no longer on the endangered list.

If you’re a humpback, finding food can be almost as hard as finding a listing when buyers are scarce and values are dropping…

But it’s far from impossible.

A National Geographic humpback eating study spanning 27 years observed (insert David Attenborough accent) a curious behaviour called ‘bubble netting’. 

After close observation, the researchers also determined that this behaviour wasn’t a part of the humpback’s DNA – they learnt it from other whales over a period of time. 

Using a ‘crittercam’ attached to a whale’s back, here’s what the researchers found:

  • Pods of whales get into groups of 12 or so and blow bubbles while swimming around their small prey in tighter and tighter circles. 
  • Some whales in the pod will blow the bubbles, while some take the role of a deeper dive to drive fish toward the surface, and some members of the group help herd prey into the bubble net through their singing noises. 
  • Once the group gets the fish into a confined area, they will suddenly swim upward with their mouths open, swallowing thousands of fish in one big gulp while spitting water out the sides of their mouths at the same time (please don’t try doing that at home). 

So, as one financial year closes and another year begins, there are a few lessons we can learn from the humpback whale.

  1. Adapt, or accept the consequences

When it comes to humpback whales, the team outperforms the individual – hands (sorry, fins) down, survival depends on it.

In real estate, do teams outperform individuals? Absolutely, 100 per cent of the time. 

In a real estate context, it’s really hard for one person to run technology, marketing, sales, buyers, and service. The bar has been raised over the past few years, and it’s tough to be an expert in everything. 

And… it’s difficult for a solo performer to compete with teams that have these skills. 

Like the whales, collaboration is effective when different members of the group play different roles, using the individual’s skill sets to the group’s greatest advantage (much like our sea mammal friends). 

So it pays to have a strategic plan around this resource utilisation, or you may end up feeling like a giant whale swimming furiously around to catch some tiny fish – tired, hungry and on your own.

There is some great further reading on this in a book called The Extended Mind, by Annie Murphy Paul, where she talks about the “group mind” where, under the right conditions, groups can tap into an eerie “collective intelligence” and solve problems better and faster than any one member could alone. 

  1. Be open to new ideas

The humpback acts in a way that is pretty selfless – they work together to create the best outcome for the group as a whole – which is, of course, enough food to survive. 

In our industry, I think we can learn a lot from this. 

Many groups believe their way is the best way and are protective of the perceived advantage of operating in their own space alone without considering the potential of cooperation/collaboration. 

If humpbacks felt the same way, they might still be on the endangered list.

  1. But don’t duplicate

The last thing on the humpback whale – their song changes every year. 

Researchers at the University of Queensland have found neighbouring whale populations are incredibly adept at learning each other’s distinct tunes.

“The whales in east Australia sing a particular song pattern … and then the next year, whatever song east Australia was singing, the New Caledonia whales will be singing,” said study leader Dr Jenny Allen.

This is cool if you’re a whale, but not necessarily if you’re in real estate.

Your fish get too used to it.

There is always a fair bit of noise in the real estate industry, and mostly we’re used to it, too – and we’re used to surrendering to it rather than questioning as much as we should. 

And when times get hard, we do look to what the person next to us might be doing.

But is that always the best way to build a sustainable business?

Tony Robbins famously said that the quality of your life (and I think your business as well) is determined by the quality of questions you ask.

Not just the questions you ask yourself but also the questions you ask of other people. 

  • Who owns that free app you’ve just downloaded? 
  • What is the impact on the industry if everyone starts using the same scripts and dialogues? 
  • Why do we do things this way? Is it because that’s what the customer wants, or is it because we’ve always done things this way…?

We are all ‘busy’ and time-poor. 

And when we are time-poor, we naturally favour quick fixes, familiar solutions and default ways of doing things. 

But does this rob us of the ability to move beyond the default, innovate and imagine new ways of doing things?

Change is happening to us and around us all the time and faster than ever before. 

So my question to you is: Will you be singing someone else’s song next year or dancing to an original tune you really love?

Want to collaborate and innovate with some really smart people?

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Samantha McLean

Samantha McLean is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Elite Agent and Host of the Elevate Podcast.