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The Emperor Has No Clothes: Why You Should Risk Looking Stupid

As the children’s story goes, there once was a vain emperor who cared very much about appearance. Along came two con men who convince the emperor that they can create for him the finest clothes in the land, which will be invisible to anyone who is “hopelessly stupid.” While the emperor’s advisors are skeptical, they play along to avoid appearing stupid. The emperor himself is skeptical, but the con men convince him that they know best, and of course, he’s not anxious to appear stupid either! Once the suit is completed, and the emperor is “dressed,” all of the townspeople go about complimenting his clothes, as they certainly didn’t want to look like fools. Finally, an innocent child proclaims what everyone else knows… the emperor is in fact, naked.

What does this story have to do with Real Estate? Well, the honest truth is that many of us go about our Real Estate business in the same way as the emperor, making classic mistakes, only to find that we are without any clothes at all.

Shiny Objects

When was the last time you bought into a tool or service because someone told you it would make you look good, or bring you wealth? Like the emperor, we are often being conned into thinking that something that sounds too good to be true, isn’t. There are no magic pills in real estate, yet so many in this industry are still spending a lot of time looking for them. And it’s not just tools or technology that can catch us up. Sticking with a business practice that doesn’t work is just as bad. Times are changing, and old strategies aren’t necessarily as effective as they once were. Are you following practices that were only designed to make you look good?

"There are no magic pills in Real Estate,

yet so many in this industry are still spending a lot of time looking for them."

The Customer is Only Right If I Say So

The Internet is a marvelous thing, and if you search hard enough, you will always find someone who agrees with you. The trouble is that while the analytics rarely lie, it is far too easy to ignore them. We don’t seem to care what our customer is demanding. We are determined to plaster our 80’s glamour shots on billboards, avoid adopting to new ways of marketing, and insist on forced registration on our woefully inadequate websites. After all, there is someone somewhere who supports that decision, right? What is your consumer demanding? Are you listening? I hate to side with the con men in the story, but they certainly knew their customer.

Selective Hearing

Just as the emperor did, we tend to only listen to those who are telling us what we want to hear. We discount those who have different ideas because they are uncomfortable, or because they mean we will have to change. We surround ourselves with people who think similarly, instead seeking out those who will challenge us. While this is human nature, it’s disastrous for our industry. The disruptors are criticized, rather than applauded. When was the last time you sought the advice of someone who has a totally different approach than you?


Let’s face it: being original is hard work. Listening to customers, formulating your unique value proposition, and creating a content strategy… it’s all hard work. And many (some might say most) of the people in our industry aren’t willing to put in the work. And so they start to do what everyone else is doing. Just as the emperor’s advisors and subjects played along, we start to take on the same mannerisms and habits of our competitors. Instead of speaking up when we disagree, we follow the stream. Instead of focusing on what makes us unique, we endlessly compare ourselves to what everyone else is doing.

Success in Real Estate, as in life, depends singularly on the amount of work we are willing to put in. Jonathan Ives, in an interview about what he had learned working with Steve Jobs, said, "hold the work that you do up above how you want to be perceived by others." It is more about doing good than it is about looking good! An interesting question to ask ourselves might be, what are we not doing in our business because we are afraid to look stupid?

“...what are we not doing in our business because we are afraid to look stupid?"

Ultimately, we can learn a lot from the unfortunate, vain emperor. When faced with offers and opportunities in this business, do we make decisions based on how we’ll look, or on the needs of our customers? Are we thinking more about our bottom line than we are about service? Are we more concerned about about appearances or about doing the good work? And lastly, are we willing to stand up for something, even when others might disagree? Making the right choices might not always be easy, but you have a better chance of ending up better off, and fully clothed.

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