6 min read

The smart buildings shortcut I wish I had [Nexus Newsletter #140]

Hey friends,

Today, I want to tell you a quick story about my career.

This will help explain the changes I made 6 years ago that I credit for helping me make an impact in smart buildings industry—changes that might help others trying to find their feet as the industry blazes forward.

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That's highway 285 in Colorado. As you can see, it’s a stunningly beautiful drive.

I’ve been in many traffic jams on 285—like when the infamous leaf peepers pile into the mountains from Denver trying to take selfies with perfectly colored aspen trees. Or when that mama moose and her little ones caused a big pile up.

Here’s the thing: Each time I’ve gotten stuck here, I could not have cared less.

Why? Because it’s the scenic route. If you’re on this highway, you just take in the views. You’re not trying to find shortcuts. The drive itself is all you need.

Now… this is highway 25 in Colorado.

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See the difference?

When you’re on 25, you’re wondering what you did to deserve such bad luck. You fear for your life. You’ll do anything to find a shortcut. You just want to get where you’re going… now.

About six years ago, my career in our industry was feeling much more like highway 25 than 285. I had just quit my third job in four years. When I got to my fourth gig, it quickly became clear it would be more of the same.

The same what? Well, project after project and meeting after meeting were so stuck in the status quo. Whether it was a construction project or energy retrofit or controls upgrade, our industry is very good at doing things the same old ways.

Meanwhile, news about climate change kept popping up in my feed—reminding me of why I had joined the buildings industry in the first place. But here I was, six years into my journey, not making much progress despite all my hard work.

And then there was the incessant technological progress outside of buildings. While I was hearing about some of this progress making its way into buildings, the buildings I was working in were using technology from the 80s and 90s.

Oh, and the vendors. Every week there was a new startup. Every week the incumbent vendors had new products. All of them were making grand claims that they had the answer that would change everything. It was overwhelming.

When I tried to drive change, it felt like I was making it up as I went. Inevitably, I would step on what I now call the landmines left over from our industry’s past. When they blew up, the reward for my efforts was more long hours at the office cleaning things up.

I was stuck on Highway 25, falling behind, and I had to do something.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a shortcut. I had no idea what to do. So I just started doing stuff.

And because hindsight is 20/20, I can now see that some if it worked beautifully and some of it was a huge waste of time. Time I didn’t feel like I had to waste. Time our industry doesn’t have to waste.

That’s why I want to share what’s worked for me. These are the changes I made:

  • I dove into the history of our industry and why it creates dumb buildings (It’s actually fascinating and a perfect problem to spend your career on)
  • I started learning about where technology was headed, using other industries as examples
  • I looked at the buildings I knew and realized they didn’t have a plan. Worse than that, they didn’t have a strategy to inform the plan. So I created a framework called the Smart Building Strategy that could be applied to any building or portfolio.
  • I started building what I now consider my personal monopoly in smart buildings—the things no one can compete with me on

And fast forward a few years… there I was working on cutting edge projects. I started meeting the thought leaders in the industry, who I could call on if I got lost. As a result, I felt like I could get dropped into any smart building project or situation and provide value that moves us forward.

And while I didn’t have a shortcut, that doesn’t mean those of you who are new to smart buildings can’t find one. Here’s my advice: When you’re combining fast-moving technology with decades of history and technical debt, you need a new approach to learning and personal development.

If you want to hear my approach to keeping up with the smart buildings industry and finding my unique role, sign up for this free, updated deep dive series kicking off on tomorrow:

You’ll also learn about how I packaged this approach into our flagship online course, Nexus Foundations. Since fall 2020, we hosted over 300 aspiring and established smart buildings leaders in the course.

This email series kicks off Cohort #5 by helping you decide if you want to join. All you have to do to receive those emails is sign up.

I’ll share with you my very best advice on how to approaching growing your impact in the smart buildings industry, including:

  • Why this moment in our industry is such a unique, “unparalleled” opportunity
  • Why on-the-job training isn’t enough for smart buildings leaders
  • The single biggest myth about smart buildings and the mistakes it causes
  • Your options for learning about smart buildings, which learning approaches to avoid, and where I think everyone should start
  • My hard-learned method for building a Smart Building Strategy for any project or portfolio
  • The big improvements we're making for Cohort 5
  • Schedule, bonuses, and other details for the upcoming cohort

See you soon,

James Dice, Founder of Nexus Labs

P.S. Don’t forget to sign up or you won’t receive the email series!

✖ At the Nexus

Here’s everything worth sharing from Nexus HQ this week:


★ PODCAST: 🎧 #113: The Data Required for The Third Phase of ESGEpisode 113 is a conversation with Lincoln Payton, CEO of Cleartrace, a carbon accounting startup.

We dug into the three phases of ESG, why hourly energy supply and consumption data is so important for real estate moving forward, how Cleartrace’s product sits in the middle of those two sides of the decarbonization equation, and more.



  • New Member Orientation: Nexus Founder, James Dice, hosts an introduction to the Nexus Labs Community and how you access and take advantage of all the resources that come with your Pro Membership. This is for new members or those who've not taken advantage of all the resources at the Nexus Community. August 16th @ 3:00pm MT
  • Subject Matter Expert Workshop: Pro Member and Industry Analyst at Verdantix, Joy Trinquet, will be our expert on The Evolution of IWMS to Connected Portfolio Intelligence Platforms. August 18th at 3pm MT
  • Pro Member Gathering: CMO at Senseware, Rosy Khakife (Pro Member), will host this month's gathering. Sara Neff, Head of ESG, Lendlease Americas, will lead the TBA topic. August 31st @ 9:00am MT.

Join Nexus Pro now to get the invites and access to the recordings.


★ ON LINKEDIN: "There's value in this course for anyone in the buildings industry."


★ READ OF THE WEEK: Inefficient Building Electrification Will Require Massive Buildout of Renewable Energy and Seasonal Energy Storage


★ JOBS: Are you hiring? Searching for a job in smart buildings?—We've relaunched the Nexus Labs Jobs Board and we've made job postings free.

It's got great jobs from Altanova, LMRE, Audette, Altura, Embue, WiredScore, Avuity, Lockheed Martin, Thoughtwire, Switch Automation, WSP, Buro Happold, Gridium, GrindPoint, McKinstry, Vanit, Aquicore, Honeywell International, and Synchronoss Technologies.

👋 That's all for this week. See you next Tuesday!

Whenever you're ready, there are 3 ways Nexus Labs can help you:

1. Take our shortcut to learning the Smart Buildings industry here (300 students and counting)

2. Join our community of smart buildings nerds and gamechangers here (400 members and counting)

3. (NEW) Sponsor our newsletter & podcast & get 5k+ nerdy eyeballs and earholes on your brand, product, or business.