The laws of human nature

Andy Andrews, the son of a music minister and a church organist, wrote a best-seller a number of years ago called, quite simply, The Noticer. You may be more familiar with his book subsequently made into the movie, The Butterfly Effect.


Andy, a ‘Bama boy, lost his mother to cancer and his father in a car wreck shortly thereafter at the age of 19. He spent the next months homeless and wandering.

Certainly, early and profound loss can clarify one’s vision. Tragedy has a tendency to tether us to obvious realities and those things that really matter. Andy has a healthy dose of both in his writing.

In The Noticer, a gentleman by the name of Jones, described as an elderly man with white hair and leather flip flops, regularly shows up—unexpectedly, albeit fortuitously—to “bring perspective” and quite obvious solutions to problems that others don’t notice or can’t see. It’s a story of simple deduction drawn from context, but mostly from a knowledge of basic human behavior that has been replicated through the ages, lessons learned and relearned, unassailable pillars that drive the human psyche and cannot be changed by any measure of social engineering.

That pretty much sums it up. From utility management to affordable housing to capital markets, human behavior is the single thread that moves through every best practice, well-crafted policy and economic trend. It’s what creates unintended consequences, unravels the best intentions—even drives those schemes that the savvy devise to work around untenable rules, allowing the free market through. It is divined in the soul of the market and can not be altered by dictate, regulation or social pressure (i.e. the Bradley effect).

It gives good marketers, advocates, even politicians their steam. And if you know the behavioral triggers, those things that drive capitalism and free markets, and we all have them so deeply ingrained into our psyche that we forget they are there, you can project the end of the story with the ease of Jones The Noticer.

Michael Zatz at the EPA knows these principals as he builds out EnergyStar Portfolio Manager to gather national data on renters’ utility use in order to organically spur energy conservation. Ron Terwilliger, chairman of the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing, knows this as he crafts a plan for solving the grave affordable housing challenge of our nation by virtue of the levers he’s mastered in his dynamic career with Trammell Crow. Doug Bibby, president of the NMHC, absolutely knows this as he battles for the very soul of multifamily on Capitol Hill regarding issues like Fannie and Freddie and disparate impact.

Facts are tricky things but they will continue to find their way to the top, eventually. The choice of how to respond to them is yours. Choose wisely, dear reade