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Property Development’s Magic Ingredient

Ritchie Clapson, co-founder of propertyCEO, comments

I recently attended a dinner function where I was asked to give a short speech, one in which I’d chosen to sprinkle a few quotes. As I reclined in my seat post-performance, contentedly contemplating a second helping of a surprisingly good tiramisu, one of my dining companions asked, ‘What’s your all-time favourite quote?’. Most people relish a good quote, so this led to a rather entertaining discussion involving the entire table. But there’s a problem with being asked to pick a favourite. It’s like being asked to name your favourite meal, book, or film. Or preferred offspring, come to that. They’re each so different that, quality-wise, it’s hard to make a meaningful comparison.

That said, while most quotes are instantly forgettable, some have enough pedigree to make the shortlist. And, of course, they come in many different flavours and from across the ages. Some are designed to raise a chuckle. “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana” is a favourite, courtesy of one Groucho Marx. Other quotes are intended to deliver a stinging put-down, of which Sir Winston Churchill was a keen protagonist. Once, on being disturbed by a call from Lord Privy Seal while on the toilet, he retorted, “Tell him I can only deal with one s*** at a time.” Classic. Another memorable one came from the ever-acerbic Mark Twain, who, when asked to describe J. M. W. Turner’s iconic painting, ‘The Slave Ship’, memorably replied, “it resembles a tortoiseshell cat having a fit in a platter of tomatoes”. If you look at the painting and squint a bit, you can just about make out Mr Tibbles.

Some quotes, however, have loftier aspirations, their authors looking to inspire us or make us think. Henry Ford, who mass-produced quotes as well as cars, came up with a couple of my favourites. One is, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right”. The other is, “The only thing worse than training your employees and seeing them leave is not training them and seeing them stay”. And for another thought-inducing quote, this time from George Carlin, I quite like, “Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body”. It’s unlikely to become the motto of your credit card provider, but it’s an enlightening reminder of what really determines our happiness.

So, which quote was my favourite? My answer turned out to be surprisingly dull. It’s not a funny quote, nor is it a put-down. And on face value, you’d struggle to argue that it was particularly clever or thought-provoking, either. Yet, despite these apparent drawbacks, my favourite quote is simply the one I find myself using the most often, as well as it always being undeniably true. And, if you embrace its truth, you are all but guaranteed the humility you’ll need in life to be successful. I fear I may have bigged it up a bit, so prepare yourself for disappointment. My favourite quote is simply, “You don’t know what you don’t know”.

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