Killing Sacred Cows

The willingness to innovate and forge a new path requires a fundamental shift in mindset

November 28, 2018
Cow in field_killing home building's sacred cows in order to progress and innovate

I’m a baseball fan. More than any other sport, it requires a remarkable range of physical skills, extreme mental toughness, and strategy applied on every pitch. You have to think, but also hit a major-league curveball.

And while I far prefer a 2-1 pitcher’s duel to a 12-9 slugfest, I’m not one of those baseball purists. I watched Moneyball and its antithesis, Trouble With the Curve, and liked the former better. Give me the shift and starting relievers, whatever it takes to win within the rules. 

But it wasn’t an easy road. Innovation in the form of data-driven roster moves and in-game strategy was met with vehement, almost violent, opposition by baseball purists when it was introduced in the early 2000s. It sparked fear and fear-mongering; it was an affront to the “integrity of the game” and all its sacred cows. It would not, could not, work. 

In truth, it was simple evolution, an “adapt-or-die” strategy initiated by low-payroll teams to remain competitive on the field in the face of skyrocketing player salaries, increasingly impatient fans, and unbalanced revenues among clubs. And now, every team does it. Because it works. 

Like baseball a few decades ago, the housing industry suffers from its own sacred cows holding it back from evolving into its next iteration—whatever that is. Archaic land-use regulations and density rules, wasteful and risk-laden production processes, uninspired land planning and home designs, and gut-driven decisions about what buyers want. 

Whether it’s in baseball or housing, it’s dangerous to say “We’ve always done it this way,” as first pointed out in the 1970s by computer science pioneer Grace Hopper and, more recently, at the Housing Giants Leadership Conference by architect Dan Swift, CEO of Des Moines-based BSB Design.

Swift, among others in the industry who swat at sacred cows, understands that the willingness to innovate and forge a new path requires a fundamental shift in mindset; mere platitudes and side-programs won’t cut it. It needs to be your DNA, not just a pair in the strand. 

There are a few Billy Beanes in the housing industry (Swift being one of them) working to effect real change to win an antiquated game. But their message, like sabermetrics in baseball, is too often met with resistance and reliance on old-school approaches—the way we’ve always done it. 

As you prepare for an inevitable industry downturn, consider taking a step back to call out your sacred cows and think about killing them off … before they do it to you.




Rich Binsacca is Professional Builder’s editor-in-chief. He has served as an editor and frequent contributor to several housing and building construction-related print and online publications, and has reported and written about all aspects of the industry since 1987.


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