I get that real estate developers don’t always have the best of reputations. We build buildings that cast shadows. We invest in (or gentrify) neighborhoods. And yes, like every other for-profit business, the goal is to make a bit of money along the way.
But believe it or not, there are developers out there who care deeply about the work that they do. They care about their craft. And they want to do the right thing.
Perhaps the best way for me to start to explain what I’m getting at here is to quote the late Steve Jobs. An obsessive perfectionist, Jobs was known for focusing on every little detail in the projects that he worked on. Here’s an excerpt from an interview he did for Playboy back in 1985:
“We just wanted to build the best thing we could build. When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.“
As a developer and a fake architect, this paragraph really resonates with me. But here’s the thing. One of the differences between making a beautiful chest of drawers (or a computer) and making a beautiful building, is that buildings have an inordinate amount of rules that tell you what you can build where and then how you need to build.
Some of these rules, of course, make a lot of sense. Life safety is no joke. But some of these rules also make no sense. And sometimes these rules — that don’t make sense — prevent you from putting what I would metaphorically consider to be that beautiful piece of wood on the back.
The beautiful piece of wood isn’t about money. In fact, it’s going to cost you more compared to just using a piece of plywood. It’s about giving a shit and caring about your craft, even if nobody else does. It’s so you can sleep well at night.