The long view of business
For James Seneff and his billion-dollar real estate powerhouse, the social sciences offer as much strategic guidance as hard economics.
“What we’re looking to do here is to connect ideas that previously hadn’t been connected,” Jim Seneff says as he looks around an area of comfortable chairs and tables facing six tall white panels. An incomplete reproduction of the Mona Lisa sits on an artist’s easel nearby, in a space named “Aspire.”
Seneff is talking about the CNL da Vinci Center, a 4,000-sq.-ft. sectional room named for the 16th-century master of many disciplines. This is where ideas and information take form on the 10-foot white panels that dominate the main body of the center, an airy space called “Create.”
At the panels, “scribes” transform abstract thoughts into pictures that resemble cave drawings by modern man. The pictures form a matrix of key words written in circles, squares and rectangles, with arrows going vertical and horizontal to and from central and peripheral points. Somewhere in all of the ideas and diagrams is a eureka moment waiting to be discovered.
Nick McKinney, principal at CNL Specialty Real Estate Services, which handles church and non-profit properties, also serves as a scribe.
“You need to see things in order to remember them,” McKinney says, sounding like a disciple of the company’s founder. “You’re trying to connect big ideas.”
The da Vinci Center is at the heart of a corporate culture that exhorts employees to “find simplicity on the far side of complexity.” Simple, says Seneff, borrowing from Einstein, “is the highest level of insight.”
Strategy teams meet regularly in the firm’s think tank for hours at a time, synthesizing reams of information — market data, Census figures, historical economic patterns, etc. — like code breakers trying to read encrypted messages.
“Business is a liberal art,” says Seneff. “You have to be able to think in many different ways in order to really address the complex problems of the world we live in today.”