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The Benefit of Acting Like a Two Year Old

I recently read that the brains of small children perform at a genius like level. Specifically, the article suggested a child’s exploratory and multi-tasking abilities would put scientists to shame, much less the average adult. I don’t know about the genius part—my son still falls off of his chair during dinner for no good reason (the downside of non-conformity as it relates to sitting positions).

That aside, he does seem to have the questioning part down. It’s something we should all probably do more. Though, it can get pretty annoying—if only because it leads to the response “it just…is or does,” which is really just an admission of ignorance that we don’t care to admit (try explaining rain to a two year old after eight “whys” without resorting to “it just…”).

Despite its sometimes grating effect, the results of asking “why” are amazing. “Why” led to the scientific method, moveable type, exploration of DNA, and Peanut M&M’s. If the word can yield the idea for a peanut covered with chocolate and a hard candied shell, imagine what it could do for commercial real estate decisions.

In fact, commercial real estate offers the perfect opportunity to ask this question and challenge your answers regardless of the transaction type or project stage.

Sometimes the answer to a “why” question is inherently evident. 24’ ceiling heights–why? The racking is 18’ and the extra room is needed when stacking. Office space near the hospital—why? Because the hospital refers the great majority of our customers and convenience is paramount. Retail space on the south side of East Market Street—why? Our customers stop on their way home from work and this side offers easy access in and out. Investment in multi-family—why? We operate forty-eight units and have comfort with the product and process. These are the easy questions with easy answers (in line with those Roger Goodell was asked by CBS). Ask why a little more and, well, you get the questions everyone else is asking Goodell now.

Even when the big questions are seemingly answered, the site selection and investment assessment processes are riddled with false perceptions that can be undone by “why.” The series of opportunities are so wide and varied it’s nearly impossible to cover them all. That said, a site selection checklist and due diligence checklist can be found at Again, they don’t cover every possible situation, but each can serve as the basis for additional scrutiny throughout the process.

For such a simple strategy, this isn’t easy. Our natural tendency is to reach a conclusion and work backward to confirm assumptions. There is safety in this approach. Little wasted time and nothing we don’t want to hear. In other words, it can be a very efficient way to reach the wrong answer. As it turns out, our parents were right. The truly efficient method is to do it right the first time, which means asking “why” to shed truth on the issue; as tedious as it may be. Asking “why” over and over again may not produce a perfect answer, but it is more likely to produce a better answer.

My profession is geared toward uttering or thinking this simple word as opportunities are sought out, yet I’m embarrassed to say I still don’t do it enough. Why?

Assumptions, biases, standard practices, and more tilt my view of different markets, sectors, projects, and the world. I’m likely not alone. It’s not practical to employ a clean slate approach to every project or situation; in fact it’s largely unreasonable. However, it might be prudent to act a little more like a two year old in this regard. Thanks for the lesson, Todd. I love you buddy.


Tim Reamer provides commercial real estate brokerage and consulting services with Cottonwood Commercial and specializes in retail representation, investment property (multifamily | commercial | NNN), and development projects. Learn more at