Let’s talk about competition and competitions.
It’s no secret that I love The Great British Bake-Off (you may know it, on this side of the pond, as The Great British Baking Show; they had to change its name because of a name dispute with Pillsbury, but much like NAR’s Midyear, it will always be Bake-Off to me . . . however, I digress).
WAIT. Keep reading: I swear this is about real estate.
GBBO is the UK’s foremost and most popular TV competition/reality show, and it’s my favorite type of “reality” TV, in that it features contestants who are actually skilled at a craft (rather than making fun of something they can’t do, it celebrates something they can). If you’re unfamiliar, the concept is this: amateur homebakers compete weekly in three baking challenges, one person is sent home every week while one is crowned the Star Baker, ultimately resulting in one contestant being crowned The Best Home Baker in Britain at the end of every series. Having watched the nine seasons available to us in the U.S. dozens of times each (yes, I’m obsessed — we can talk about that later), I have ventured, somewhat warily, into the territory of American baking shows, and not only are the differences astonishing, there is much to be gleaned in terms of lessons for our real estate businesses, in my opinion, from that humble British reality baking show.
The British competitors are not, well, competitive.
Don’t get me wrong, many of them clearly want to win, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with a desire to come out on top. There’s nothing wrong, innately, with being competitive, either, but I think we can all agree that it’s all in how you do it. There are differences in skill levels, to be sure, but as judge Paul Hollywood regularly states: there are no bad bakers on this show; you have to have a fair amount of skill just to be chosen. Comparing the British contestants with those on American shows, though, is pretty appalling but (sadly) not surprising. While the GBBO contestants are regularly seen assisting a follow baker when the chips are down and the clock is running out, American competitors (on shows such as Cake Wars or Cupcake Wars) regularly cheer and openly celebrate when another team suffers a mishap or loses time for a simple mistake made or even faces disqualification for not finishing within the time limit. Past GBBO baker, Howard Middleton, recently recounted in a podcast that one of the interview questions he was asked prior to being cast was, “Do you see yourself as a competitive person?” He answered no, he mainly wants to just become better as his craft with every bake. While he was afraid at the time that he answered unwisely, he now believes that’s the answer producers were looking for. Sure, it can make a good (yet fleeting) TV moment when something dramatic happens and a contestant faces adversity, but it’s even better messaging when fellow contestants rally ’round and helps another baker or, at the very least, doesn’t openly celebrate another’s misstep or failure. Trash talking is at a minimum and, when it does happen, is given and met with good-natured laughter. Even when it’s obvious that some contestants don’t get along or rub each other the wrong way, they’re adult enough to just avoid their least favorite person in the room.
The real estate lesson: We in real estate have our fair share of competition, especially in a market where inventory is at historic lows and competition for listings and between buyers in multiple offer scenarios is at an all-time high, but the word cooperation has a much more celebrated place in our industry. The MLS is built upon cooperation, and our clients have the very best experiences when we play nicely in the sandbox. This doesn’t mean giving up your client’s negotiation position or not fulfilling your fiduciary duty, and it definitely doesn’t mean that, as a real estate agent, you have a free pass to not pull your own weight in a transaction. However, you can compete but you can do it cooperatively, with the best interests of your clients and the industry and our professional reputations at the heart of everything you do.
The GBBO bakers want to win against others who truly do their best.
Why help my competition, one may ask, if that could ultimately help them to defeat me? Good question. Here’s what I think the answer is: to truly be a winner — a real winner — one should do one’s best but also desire to win against someone who also did their best. In other words, the GBBO bakers don’t want to lose against someone who dropped their cake or just didn’t get their 24 canapés onto the plate before the time ran out. They want their own as-good-as-possible final product to be judged against the as-good-as-possible final bakes of their competition, so that the playing field is even and they’re truly being judged on their talent and skill. As for me? Same. The win is sweeter when you know you were all judged on the same criteria, and if you still came out on top, there’s more to savor.
The real estate lesson: I know this one is a slippery slope. Can having an attitude of helpfulness lead to being taken advantage of? Perhaps. All too often real estate agents get calls from another agent who wants to “pick their brain” (my pet peeve) or an acquaintance who “loves to look at houses” so they figure they’ll get their real estate license “for some extra play money.” These are not the people that I am advocating for you to help…unless you want to. What I am hoping to reframe is the mindset that certain tasks within a transaction are “not my job.” The way I look at things, it’s my job to get my client to the closing table, and while there are certain tasks that belong to each side of the transaction, technically, if the relationship between the agents is on equal footing, we should be able to work together for the ultimate goal of making our clients happy and getting the deal closed. By all means, draw an appropriate line in the sand if you ever feel that you or your client are being taken advantage of, but in most situations, I believe that a good real estate agent should ask for help if they truly need it, and a great real estate agent will find a way to assist without compromising their own client’s position. Cooperation, folks — it’s the name of the game.
Self-improvement is the ultimate goal; winning is just the icing on the cake.
(Pun intended.) All kidding aside, though, the bakers mostly appear to enter the competition, firstly, just to see if they can even get accepted, and secondly, to become better bakers. To get better at their craft, their passion, the thing that many of them hope will become their livelihood. Self-improvement is the ultimate goal: what can I learn here, from myself and others, that will make me better at my craft? They’re regularly heard complimenting each others’ skills and expertise and expressing gratitude for what they can learn from each other. It’s refreshing, to say the least, and in huge contrast to many of the American contestants who (I feel certain) are likely egged on by producers with leading questions (let’s be real: they know their audience). The cheer for each other’s wins and empathize with the baker who is sent home each week.
The real estate lesson: I never want to be the smartest person in the room, do you? I want to surround myself with those who are more expert than I, more experienced than I, with different perspectives and experiences than I’ve had. I want to improve, because real estate and homeownership is something that I truly am passionate about. How many real estate agents say they’re passionate about real estate but don’t seem to realize that also requires that they be equally as passionate about the continued journey, the learning, the building on experiences and gathering others’ worldviews to add to their own? Are they passionate about real estate, or are they passionate about the competition? For that reason (and many others), I make the conscious choice (and always have) NOT to participate in competition related to my business, such as a local Association giving out production awards in a pay-to-play environment (let’s talk about the ethical issues — specifically, the REALTOR® Code of Ethics violations — with that antiquated practice another time). I am a competitive person: I will gladly compete for a listing by interviewing with the seller; I will gladly compete for a buyer by holding a consultation and explaining my services; and I am always in competition with myself, to improve, to grow, to learn, and to do better than I did before. Self-improvement and being better than I was yesterday — that’s the ultimate goal.
Bottom line: We can learn a lot from those like the GBBO bakers (conversely, we can also learn what not to do from the more “American-style,” for lack of a better description, over-the-top, cut-throat behavior of selfishness and celebrating others’ mishaps). Competition is okay, if cooperation and customer service remain top priority and top of mind. Above all, consider competition with yourself and the desire to always be(come) better be your focus.