…knowing what others think rather than telling them what we think.
…knowing what others think rather than telling them what we think.
If there was one singular magic bullet that unlocks the secret to John Davies' incredible success rate with real estate development, it would be the topic of this show.
Takeaways and Teachable Moments
Get them talking with open-ended questions.
Respond to what they say rather than moving on to the next question.
Who, What, When, Where, Why, How and Repeat.
You are looking for a community’s self-image.
The community will give you the information you need to defend the project.
Most people overlook the very necessary action of listening. The Davies Method pivots around this gesture. In this episode, John reveals his team's technique for building the right questions and finding the right way to interpret the answers to those questions. If you know when to ask and when to listen, a community can divulge all the information you need for your project to succeed.
John finds success in the basics: real one-on-one interactions with the people who will be affected by the project. It's not about listening for the answer that meets your needs, but building your expectations from the sincere answers of others.
Mark Sylvester: John Davies has a method, an approach he systematically developed over a career spanning three decades. He's proven it to be invaluable for dozens of industries and thousands of projects facing public acceptance. Up until now, the method has only been available to his select client list. John is unpacking his insight and wealth of knowledge to overcome opposition and earn public support for the first time right here. Throughout these episodes, we'll take a deep dive, step by step, with John into his strategies to overcome opposition and create support. Nothing is free in this world, but good ideas are priceless. This show could be just the thing you've been looking for. I'm Mark Sylvester. Now, let's get started and talk with John.
Mark Sylvester: Welcome back. John, last we talked, we promised that we were going to go into some real block and tackling, you know, the basics. Why is mastering the basic so important, but as your answering that why don't you take listeners through what the next five shows are going to be about.
John Davies: That's great. I call it mastering the basics, and I don't want to make it seem like this is a big deal. It's just the order and the disciple of doing it. It's sort of like when I present this at audiences my icon for myself on this is to remain straight forward and humbled at how simple this is, that it's not some genius thing, is a picture of John Wooden. So we all know John Wooden, incredible basketball coach. I think 10 NCAA basketball championships. The coaches that followed, I mean no one could follow him anywhere, and so, the deal is John Wooden focused on the basics. So we had the opportunity for a few years bringing in some speakers for a local college and raising some money for their athletics, so John Wooden spoke one year. The next year, brought in some of the players, former players. Bill Walton's one of the players, and Bill Walton tells the story about John Wooden.
John Davies: The story is here I am, I show up. I'm playing at UCLA. I'm going to get to play for the great John Wooden, and I'm a good basketball player, but I'm at UCLA. I mean, they're winning. They're big. And he goes to go to practice, and we're in the gym. The coach walks in and he says, "Boys, boys. Could you all gather here? Could you take your shoes and socks off, please?" And Walton goes, "It's just weird. You know? Here we are with the great coach of all time, and he wants us to take our shoes and socks off." He goes, "Boys, I'm going to teach you how to put on your socks, so you don't get blisters. I'm going to teach you how to put on your shoes so you don't get blisters, and the shoes don't come off. Because if you get blisters and if your shoes come off you get hurt, and if you get hurt you can't practice, and if you can't practice you can't get great."
John Davies: I mean, if John Wooden starts with the shoes and socks, I'm going to start with the basics and be able to unpack it from that point of view. So the first thing of the five is to listen first. Listen first, address dreams and fears, share your story, cultivate relationships, and ask for help.
Mark Sylvester: So for the next five shows we'll go into each of those. Let's start with listen and why is that ... It's interesting because with the Wooden story it's we start at the very beginning. Why is listening the first one?
John Davies: Well, so if we're going to acknowledge the impacts, why don't we find out what impacts that we need to acknowledge? So the idea to me is we need to know what others think. So, knowing what others think rather than telling them what we think. When we listen we find these subtleties, and I'm going to talk about how we listen, but the idea is just saying we're going to listen and there's some things that we want to do in a certain order. One is we want to understand the community as we listen. So, we want to really understand, "How do they feel about themselves?" So, we can dig into documents on the web. We can talk to people, but what's their self image? Who are they? Are they a community that feels good about who they are and what they are? Do they feel overly good?
John Davies: Think about people you know, and you understand their self image, what it really is, not what they put forward in a long conversation. So that's what we're trying to do both in doing the focused interviews, but also looking at the materials and the community, looking at what's going on. What's the political climate in the town?
Mark Sylvester: So listening isn't just talking. There's some research in there.
John Davies: Yeah, exactly.
Mark Sylvester: But I know you have a philosophy about the kind of research ... polls, and focus polls, and those ... Tell us about that.
John Davies: Right. Yeah. Well, we do a lot of polling. We like polling, but we also want to do something that's better than polling. So if you're looking at public opinion polling there's ... the great strength with public opinion polling is your asking one person on the phone a series of questions, so you find out what one person thinks. So you get them on the phone and you talk to them. Half the calls now are cell phones, because that's what people put down, but we're still getting there, still getting them.
John Davies: There's been a lot of talk in recent elections internationally and in the U.S. how polling has been inaccurate for elections, but I could unpack that. It really hasn't. Sampling's been inaccurate, and sometimes the sampling has been inaccurate. So polling is all about ... I mean, if you're going to do a quantitative study, which was what a poll is, it's quantitative, this percent mean this ... the problem with it is it asks closed end questions. "Do you agree or disagree? Do you think that would make you more likely or less likely to support this development? Yes or no?"
Mark Sylvester: Those are the worst kind of questions for a podcast too.
John Davies: "For or against?" Well, yeah. So hey, Mark. I was just wondering do you agree or disagree?
Mark Sylvester: Exactly.
John Davies: Yeah, exactly. It's horrible. So then you look at focus groups, which are the other tradition means of doing research, or you can do dial groups, but it all comes somewhat to the same deal. So you put 12 people in a room. In a dial group you can put a couple hundred if you want. To me the biggest weakness is: they're all sitting around a table or in a room, a group of people, and so focus groups you put them around the table for two hours, that's all you get them for. Half hour of it is wasted about logistic things and getting people introduced, and then you have an hour and a half. Even if there's a small group, one person dominates. There's always someone there that dominates, and you divide it up and each person just get 10 minutes or so ... seven, ten minutes. That's just a waste of time. The strength of focus groups is they ask open end questions: who, what, where, why, when, how.
Mark Sylvester: You've also mentioned when we've talked about focus groups before is that people aren't as honest as they are when they're one on one.
John Davies: Exactly. So that's a weakness. So the weakness is they're in a room. They're not ... someone dominates. They're likely to put on airs about who they are. We find and what we do is we take the best of polling, which is it's one on one, and on the phone by the way. There's something about being on the phone where people talk more openly.
Mark Sylvester: Isn't that interesting that they'll ... and I think I've seen your group when they go into these calls. They'll be on for a long time.
John Davies: It used to be even longer. Now, we usually do about 22 questions. They're open ended. They're who, what, why, where, when, how, and then sometimes we'll do a closed end question only because we want to ask why. So we get someone to make a decision on something, and then we want to do the why, the whole why. And at the end of the day, it's all about what they say.
John Davies: I just read through a series of questions on a plane yesterday, 112 pages, and literally the subtlety of the difference in two communities that we did these in ... it's amazing. Their attitude, their self image ... one community is just down. The other community is up, upbeat. They're like 30 miles away. It's in another industry. It's in wind energy, and 30 miles away, but it's in a farm country, and just the whole psyche. If we approached them both the same way we would insult someone or we would lose. They'd ... like, "Wow. No, that's not us."
John Davies: So it gives you that real beat. We'll get 100 pages of verbatims. We read um. We try to find five to seven findings. Sometimes we'll go to nine. I sort of like just ... Think about five to seven, just prime numbers. I like prime numbers. Something about it makes you feel like you can't break into it. Then we start dividing up the people, how would they play with it, what do they think of these different issues, and they we create our dangers and opportunities and strengths, and so what we're looking at there, from the findings are how do we look at it?
John Davies: So, we did a project in Napa, and I can talk ... Most of my projects I don't want to talk about my clients, but I did a program with the developer at a national workshop, and so we found the findings that were really interesting, and was a five, six year process to get through it. We faced three different referendums. The two referendums and one initiative, though, had to go through. So it Napa, more than anything, what we got out of it was that the residents wanted to make sure that Napa remained Napa.
John Davies: I mean, think about that. They wanted Napa not to change, and they also felt really, really safe in regard to out of control growth in other areas that we're facing, because they had some measures that they put in line in order to keep that going, and so they weren't as threatened from things.
John Davies: But they also knew that there is a lot of people moving in, and for Napa ever to achieve a balance, that they needed to have some homes there for the people coming in. In theory, they like the compact development, they thought it was a really to go up in certain areas and deal, in theory, but in practice, it scared, them when you gave them a number.
Mark Sylvester: And you found this out through these [crosstalk 00:11:19]definitive conversations?
John Davies: These focused interviews. Yeah, and that one, we found these out, were able to jump on it. Immediately we had to defend on a ballad initiative against us that was sort of a Trojan horse addition, but we had to win, and because we had done this research, we're able to have messaging that helped us grow forward.
John Davies: And the things you find out in these focused interviews, they never do it. So here's the lesson for people, as we're looking at the lesson first, is no one can just go do a poll. You can't just go do a poll. You gotta get a polling firm. You gotta get a pile of phone numbers. You gotta get people to call, and you gotta call 500, 600, 700 people. That's a lot of work. The funny thing is, the focused interviews, you're talking from 25 to 50 people.
John Davies: We find in most places, 25 people are sufficient, and we'd do more if we needed to, but why spend more time and more money? We find 25 is sufficient. If it's scattered a little bit, where it's a larger place, you need to get people from different places where you would do it.
Mark Sylvester: So I have some questions on just the operational bit of this, because these five steps really want to get into some tactical stuff. So you've got this 112 pages that you're reading on the plane, and I read the first one, and you know what you want to net out of that is five to seven findings. So I'm just imagining you doing this and kind of highlighting the first one. "Gosh, what are the threads? What are the themes? What can I unpack from that?" And then I go to the next one and I say, "Did I see any of those five to seven again? Did I?"
Mark Sylvester: And by the end you've got a little, you've got a note, and you might have 15 things that came up, but then you start to cluster and compress and get that down, because I know that you like five to seven, but I also know you love three.
John Davies: Well, when we do the dangers, opportunities, strengths we go to three. So three dangers, three opportunities, three strengths. Cause now we're ... By the way that's nine things. So it goes over that prime number. So it's interesting. As I've done this over the years, and our team has, and I can't imagine how many people's thoughts that I've read over the years, over the last two decades of doing this, but what I've learned to do is I highlight, I make notes in the side. I used to make notes on another piece of paper, or the cover sheet, and start making findings before I read through it.
Mark Sylvester: So don't do that?
John Davies: No, go ahead. It's just what I've learned to do because I've done it so much, I take it all in. I've highlighted because I want some interesting things I want to look back at. I put it upside down, basically take a little breath, if I'm on an airplane, play a game of solitaire, and do something different for a little bit, come back and then I just start writing down what's in my head. What did I get? What are the things I got, and then I just start writing them down, writing them down, and then I get done and I'm like, "Well, that's sort of it." And then, I have three other people doing the same thing separately.
Mark Sylvester: And then you come together?
John Davies: And then we all come together. I never send them mine.
Mark Sylvester: Well, that's influencing the witness, your honor.
John Davies: Exactly. I never send them mine. I edit theirs, and play with theirs as a final, and use mine, but the idea is: you're not doing A: quantitative, "Look out of the 50 people 41 of them said." What you're doing is you're getting this feel, and most of it is about the early questions. So the first third, the first half is about: "Why do you live there? What are the problems there? What are the good things? What do you do? What's gotten better in the past ten years? What's been the challenges in the past ten years? What do you hop for in the future? How are the elected officials doing? Are they doing a good job?"
John Davies: I love it when they say, "I don't know. I just don't know any of them." That tells you that your community doesn't have a lot of political issues, that they don't fight a lot. They don't know anyone. These are people we're talking to. We're looking to people and we categorize who we want to get, and we're looking for people who are involved in the community in some manner, in some way, and so they're people that have an opinion. They're people who other people look to for opinions, but we also just pick regular residents. We want people that are involved. So we look for people that may be an HOA president, or we'll just grab regular neighbors and we ask two or three qualifying questions to see if they're involved ... Real people that have an opinion. We don't want a phrase for every answer.
John Davies: So out of 50 we probably want 10 of those.
Mark Sylvester: One of the things that's interesting here, because you said it earlier that the open ended questions are: who, what, where, when, why and how. Yet, the quality of the question is really the secret sauce here. Do you have, and I'm guessing the answer might be no, but I'm envisioning in my head this data base of 1000 questions, and I call um high-performing questions. Give me an example of a really high-performing ... Cause I'm in the question business-
John Davies: You're going to be so disappointed.
Mark Sylvester: Well that's fine. You can disappoint-
John Davies: Cause it's just really, really simple.
Mark Sylvester: Which is, you started off the show saying that. So its not a complex-
John Davies: And what happens is ... So, I literally am not allowed to write these.
Mark Sylvester: This is a self-imposed rule?
John Davies: Self imposed, because I get to detailed. What you're doing is saying, "So Mark, you live in Carpentaria, California? Do you?"
Mark Sylvester: Yes or no? No.
John Davies: Yeah you do.
Mark Sylvester: Oh, today I do. Yes, of course. I love Carpentaria.
John Davies: How are things going there?
Mark Sylvester: Pretty great.
John Davies: What's been going right there? Why did you choose to live there?
Mark Sylvester: Cause it's frozen in the past, a 1957 surf town, and it's never going to change.
John Davies: Well what's that mean to you? Why is that so good to you?
Mark Sylvester: Feels like Mayberry.
John Davies: That's great. So what's been going really recently there? What's been going on that's good.
Mark Sylvester: Well, they improved the grocery store.
John Davies: What was there before?
Mark Sylvester: Another grocery store that wasn't as good.
John Davies: Yeah, so do you get it? I'm just letting you talk.
Mark Sylvester: Right.
John Davies: And so when the first phase, the first step in this process is listen, we listen. The questions don't matter as much as the answers.
Mark Sylvester: Ah, see, well there's the gold right there.
John Davies: Right, you don't wanna lead people. So the reason that I can't write them, cause I start leading people and I try to get them to go where I want them to go.
Mark Sylvester: So we need to get some improve training here, right?
John Davies: Exactly.
Mark Sylvester: Cause improv training is, it's exactly that, it's, "I'm going to write that script in my head, and I'm gonna try to get my partner to go down that path." As opposed to letting that thing happen. So, what you're suggesting, I mean the end thought here, is let people talk.
John Davies: Let people talk, and then when you start talking about the things related to your project ... By the way, half the time, if it's a project people have talked about, they're already going to know about it. They're gonna start talking about it.
John Davies: So, there's two listen we do. There's a listen as we're talking about here, and coming up with a message. The other is: you want to listen and see what's going on. So as I started, you know what's going on in that community? What's the self image, political climate, past issues. What's the local media intensity now. Most local communities are troubled with having a local paper. Who are the leaders of the past a present?
John Davies: These are easy things to find today. How about related projects that have happened? How about totally unrelated? What else is going on there that matters? What are the local organizations in play? What are the hot issues, right? And so, how do you take what you learned in the survey, what you know about the community, how do you tie that in to fulfill their wants and needs? How do you look at the aspirational needs?
John Davies: Then, when you start thinking about, when we acknowledge and then contrast, what's the alternative for your project based on the community? And as you look at the ... embracing what's gonna happen, dealing with acknowledging impacts. How do you mitigate the impacts? How do you make the major impacts go away? How do you make life better, and then how do we get the economics?
Mark Sylvester: So this step, then, is the necessary first step is where we're getting gathering all that gold. You gotta 112 pages of information and you've got three people having gone through that, and three of you have then have come together. You have this, I'm thinking it's a staggering amount of information. I'm gonna guess. What do you do next?
John Davies: So you compound on that first, even for a while. Everything we talked about in the community, all the information we gathered about in the community, the psyche of the community. So we try to keep it simple ... Cause we're trying to get all these things organize. So we take the psyche of the community ... So what is it? What's the psyche of the community?
John Davies: For example, you got to some of these places, they have a really strong agricultural heritage. So let's talk about Napa, the agricultural heritage. They want to keep the small town. It's precious to them, the small town feel, even though it isn't, and you know the psyche is they're afraid of the out-of-towners coming in and buying their homes or vacation home. So you start looking at the psyche.
John Davies: So what are the other things that are having an impact in the community? There's a bunch of school bond measures that have failed, and so the schools are having troubles, and that relates to us. There's a bunch of development in another part of part of the community, and greenfield. This one's a brownfield, so what does that mean?
John Davies: So what other issues have an impact in the community that you can deal with, and so that's a whole new re-development of downtown. How do we play to that? So all those type of things.
John Davies: And then, what's the current political dynamic? So, three questions we really want to get into: What's the psyche? What other project issues have an impact, and what's the current political dynamic, and the county and the city have been fighting and debating over issues. So that's a dynamic that gets in trouble. The county administrator is a strong player, and is over-influencing people and that's a problem for them. The local farm bureau's powerful.
John Davies: So different political things in play.
Mark Sylvester: So this is a way of organizing, and chunking all of this research you've done into these buckets.
John Davies: Into five for each, because you could do a hundred. So, what are the five that matter? What's the psyche of the community? If you can't do it in five sentences, you don't understand it. You're overdoing it, and what other projects, or issues in the community have an impact? What are the five, and then, what is the current political dynamic in the town? Five things. Five thoughts, and then what I take out of that is, "What do I need to know? What do I need to ask people?" And sometimes I have five questions. Maybe I have ten. So that's what I bring into the focused interviews.
John Davies: I'm taking all that stuff into the focused interviews, but it's also stuff that I need when I also start looking at the messaging. So coming out of the focused interviews, with all that data, we do five to seven findings, and, by the way, if we go to nine, I just feel like we don't know what we're doing.
John Davies: So think about that. If you're looking at something and you have these long lists, no one can remember it. So you gotta get it down to something that matters. So we try to get the dangers, opportunities, and strengths. So we usually start with a dozen each, and then we get down to maybe five, and then we debate and say, "Two of these are exactly the same thing, just done backwards."
Mark Sylvester: Now, when you said 'we', this is you do it in the firm, or is there someone, one of the clients that -
John Davies: No, this is sausage making. We don't let the clients see us argue with one another, and debate, and we used to have to do it around the table, and we've learned how to do it ... We send it back and forth in emails. We don't play like Google Docs or anything. We just do back and forth in emails. Write. Rewrite. Write. Rewrite. Play. Think. Good. "I'm good with that. That's brilliant. Let's go."
Mark Sylvester: How long does that usually take?
John Davies: Sometimes it takes three hours, sometimes it takes three days, and the reason that we do it that way, we found doing it back and forth, is we find we communicate better writing.
Mark Sylvester: Why is that?
John Davies: Cause we're writers and we're just play with. So that's not something that I would tell someone to do, but the ideas is get other people to look at your dangers, opportunities, strengths, and say, "Go ahead, you write them up. Let someone else pick a few, let someone else write some," But our goal is to get to three, and I want you to remember this, though.
John Davies: So we have all this stuff about the psyche of the community. We have dangers, opportunities, strengths, because later, as we start working on this, I am going to help you figure out how to write a message in a future episode. How to take all this stuff, plus other stuff we're gonna learn, and it's gonna get into a formula to write a message that's gonna make you able to write a message like we do.
Mark Sylvester: What is really gonna to help our listener for this episode, and I think this particular set of five, is we give um a worksheet. Right? That has some of these things laid out for them so we'll make sure that we do that on the episode, and next week we're gonna go, now into dreams and fears, and how this listening informs that.
John Davies: Right, exactly.
Mark Sylvester: Thanks, John.
Mark Sylvester: Thank you for listening. It's now your opportunity and responsibility to use the method today. You've completed one segment toward understanding the Davies' Method. We look forward to you subscribing. Join us as we uncover and explain the nuisances of John's distinctive approach. For more episodes, visit thedaviesmethod.com. I'm Mark Sylvester, reporting at the Pullstring Press studios in Santa Barbra, California.