Smart Isn’t Enough. Ours Is A Craft.

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There are those readers who will charge that Ruminations has gone “off-topic” with today’s posting, but they would be wrong for two reasons. First, and convincingly so, like the United States Supreme Court, it is Ruminations that makes such call, not anyone else. If anyone would like to a citation to Justice Harlan or Justice John Marshall on that topic, let us know. [But, don’t anyone think that we see ourselves in the same class as that Court; we don’t even hold a candle to the Justices.] Second, though what we’ll be bringing up has significant general implications for far more important areas than reaching agreements about “dirt,” that doesn’t mean that we “in this business” don’t have responsibilities, one to the other, not to accept the “that’s the way it is.” Yes, that’s pretty cryptic, but please read on.

We had queued up another posting for today, but a news article last week gave us pause. Further, we’ve been holding an “Op-Ed” since January, waiting for a posting that would benefit from our including its “link.”

Though we think it is “fair use,” we’ll take a “copyright” risk to share this text from the website of the Educational Testing Service (ETS). To see the actual web page, click HERE.

Recent research reveals an apparent paradox for U.S. millennials (born after 1980, ages 16–34): while they may be on track to be our most educated generation ever, they consistently score below many of their international peers in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments. Equally troubling is that these findings represent a decrease in literacy and numeracy skills when compared to results from previous years of U.S. adult surveys. As a country, simply providing more education may not be the answer. There needs to be a greater focus on skills — not just educational attainment — or we are likely to experience adverse consequences that could undermine the fabric of our democracy and community.

This vital new report sheds light on the growing inequality of opportunity in the United States and the impact this has on both skills acquisition and outcomes for both current and future generations.

It might help to know that ETS compared millennials in 23 countries. Again, we think it is fair use to pick this up from ETS’s executive summary:

  • In literacy, U.S. millennials scored lower than 15 of the 23 participating countries. Only millennials in Spain and Italy had lower scores.
  • In numeracy, U.S. millennials ranked last, along with Italy and Spain.
  • In PS-TRE [problem solving in technology-rich environments], U.S. millennials also ranked last, along with the Slovak Republic, Ireland, and Poland.
  • The youngest segment of the U.S. millennial cohort (16- to 24-year-olds), who could be in the labor force for the next 50 years, ranked last in numeracy along with Italy and among the bottom countries in PS-TRE. In literacy, they scored higher than their peers in Italy and Spain.

Even the brightest U.S. millennials occupy the bottom rung of the world ladder.

To Ruminations, this resonated as a partial explanation as to why it seems increasingly difficult to get on the same page with negotiators “on the other side.” There are many, many, many capable and experienced people negotiating leases, mortgages, and other agreements. And, we adamantly deny any accusations that Ruminations is wishing for the good, old days. They might be old, but overall, today is better than yesterday. Drilling down to particulars, however, “overall” isn’t very helpful. It’s like saying that if you have one foot in a pail of ice water and the other in a pail of boiling water, on the “average” you’re comfortable.

The millennials (and others, like us – post-millennials) are more educated than ever before, yet we don’t (on the average) have the skills to do the tasks we’ve accepted upon ourselves. We can’t just rely on general knowledge or general studies. Those only provide a foundation for us to learn how to do our jobs. We can’t master our ability to negotiate deals that work for everyone (as best as that can be) if we don’t engage in learning about the subject matter in front of us. A lot of things aren’t intuitive. They don’t come solely from “on-the-job” experience. We need to learn the “why” behind lease or mortgage provisions. If we don’t, how can we tailor them to the “particular” issue in front of us. All we can do is be afraid to make any changes, even changes that makes sense. Though we may have memorized all of the “standard” solutions, not every issue has a “cookie cutter” solution.

Our industry is blessed. We have so many sources of continuing education. Yet, the International Council of Shopping Center’s Fall Law Conference draws no more than about 1,300 attendees out of at least 100,000 of us who “do this work.” The programs there are first-rate. There also are local education programs. There are on-line programs. There are books directed at all levels of experience. And, of incredible benefit, there is always someone on the other side of the table to learn from [and that’s what the “link” below is about]. Yet, too many well-educated millennials and post-millennials don’t learn how to apply their education and turn that education into “skills.” No, make that into a “craft.” There are explanations proffered, but they are often only poor excuses in disguise. This may be a rant, but here it is. If you don’t want to learn your craft, please get out of the way. Others shouldn’t suffer.

Now we’ll back off, not because we want to keep loyal followers, but because it would be intellectually dishonest to just throw out an absolute, “get out of the way” to our colleagues. What is disturbing, however, is that some of us out there don’t want to “learn” our craft for whatever reason: time, interest, money or some such. That hurts our deals and is disrespectful of other people’s time.

In a number of our approximately 210 blog postings, we’ve opined as to a number of reasons why some deals take too long and aren’t “pretty good” ones at the end of the day. Add today’s thoughts to the pile. Casting sand against the sea, perhaps, but if enough of us do it, we can rebuild the beach. A solitary candle won’t light a stadium, but with a lot of fans holding a candle, you get real candlepower.

What about that link to an Op-Ed from January? Here it is: LINK. What is it is about? It’s about how good doctors listen to their patients. We think (and have previously written) that our industry would benefit a great deal if we negotiators did a little more listening ourselves.

We will go off-topic right now. Get a cup of coffee (or whatever) and take a look at the ETS material. We don’t think anyone who does will break out in a big smile.



  1. Great Post…I have learn a lot about commercial RE leases over the past few years just as a lease administrator with no practical experience basic on the job training. Listening to some smart RE lawyers has been helpful. There is an incredible amount of information in leases and they take a lot of time and effort on both sides to come out with a favorable outcome. No question about it the business is a craft and requires a lot of time and patience to get it right.

  2. I agree, great post. English to French translators routinely ponder the true meaning of “shall” in various contexts, as it does not have a direct equivalent in French. We often use the present or future tense (“doit” or “devra”, for “will” and “must”), or “est tenu de”, meaning “has to”. In any event, if one shall keep using shall, one shall include in the agreement a definition of shall, e.g.: “shall” shall be construed has conveying an imperative (not facultative) obligation, “imperative” meaning mandatory (not directory).

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