Neo – “Why do my eyes hurt?”
Morpheus – “Because you’ve never used them before.”
I think it’s important to point out here that this is not a swipe or downplaying the importance of the RE.net community. The contributors and discussions that are shared there often times border on the level of brilliance. I have learned immensely from the leaders and contributors there. This is simply a personal account of how I began to look outside the Matrix, and what I learned when I got out.
“The answer is out there, and it's looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to."
My red pill came in the form of a face to face discussion outside departure terminal 2 at Ohare. My friend and I discussed the future of the RE industry, its pitfalls, and the stonewalls that hinder it’s progress forward. We debated in circles again and again, only to come to the same conclusion; that there were obstacles that cannot be overcome by us alone. We parted, and the conversation haunted me until I realized something that Henry Ford quoted beautifully:
"Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal."
This is when it came to light. There are obstacles that I alone, (or even collectively), cannot overcome, and was allowing them to obscure my vision. These immovable mountains were limiting my path and, although needed to be recognized, could not consume my eyes. I needed to get out. I needed to wake up. I needed to leave the comfortable nest of recurring problems and debates and exit the Matrix. I chose the Red Pill.
“Remember… all that I’m offering you is the truth and nothing more.”
My rebirth began at a Starbucks on the corner of Halsted and Irving Park in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, IL. It was lacking in the drama of wires, plugs and membranial goo but was just as mentally freeing. It started with a simple whitepaper compiled by one Peter Kim of micro-celebrity fame entitled, “Social Media Predictions 2009”. And as it downloaded into Firefox, I could almost hear the whine of the Matrix in the background.
“I know Kung Fu”
The whitepaper is a collaborative effort born by Peter containing the smartest voices of Social Media today. Names like Brogan, Armano, Handley and Jaffe (to name a few) replaced the characters of Mouse, Dozer and Trinity on my journey of rediscovery. None of them balked at the challenges of registration, DOJ, or physical office space. They looked beyond it to a world of possibilities unhindered by these obstacles. I smelled the possibilities, sensed the pains associated, and was excited.
“I'm trying to free your mind. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.”
My next steps through the door of “awakening” forced me to retool my surrounding and purge my Reader. Blogs that I had read for years made their way to an icon resembling a garbage can and were replaced with titles like, “Logic+Emotion”, “Groundswell”, and “Influential Marketing”.
I felt disloyal abandoning old friends I held in such high regard that guided my infant footsteps in the RE.net Matrix, but knew it was something that had to be done. I also did so knowing that there were those in the Matrix that would combat, lash out, and fight my newfound mindset. But I needed to see the forest from the trees.
"He's beginning to believe."
The more I read, the more excited I became. Here were REAL ideas addressing REAL problems REALLY differently. It wasn't the latest app, CRM or other technilogical whistle that was going to solve the problems of the modern day economy - it was a complete renovation of business as a whole. I started to realize that for every great idea, for every vision that was forward thinking in the RE.net, there was somebody, that was there... fixed in their ways. They were unable to try something different, something that might be the way to change the industry. I started to believe that this... this open eyed view I was experiencing, past the boundaries of real estate, could actually do it.
“Fasten your seat belt Dorothy, 'cause Kansas is going bye-bye”
One of the best things that the Matrix has done, has been to validate some of the newer tools for change. Twitter, Facebook and Social Media as a whole are now, (thanks in large part to the RE.net), viewed as amazing methods of differentiation - foundational brickwork for industry innovation. Unfortunately, this has also (unintentionally I believe) influenced boundaries to be created that ideas and solutions must exist within. These boundaries got me thinking, "Are we truly 'innovating' if we're using Zillow's iPhone app or Trulia's Voices?" Aren't we actually "implementing other's innovations"? Where are the truly new and ground shaking ideas from within the industry? Haven't these "benchmarks" actually caused us to implement and accept rather than question and adapt? Who said we had to play within the confines established or the rules laid out by others?
The companies (outside the RE.net) we view with such adoration didn't necessarily work on this model. Zappos, Dell and Comcast (the regarded leaders in innovative implementation) utilized something BIGGER than what was in their industry. They looked past what AT&T, Shoebuy, and IBM were doing and took risks. They WROTE the rules, they didn't follow industry standards. In an awesome post, "Brands will Learn by Doing. Get Over It", David Armano talks about this risk - and the fact that mistakes will be made, and that's ok. Only by taking these risks, listening to what our consumers have to say about them, and then learning/adapting from it will our efforts be rewarded by R.O.E. (Return on Engagement). Only after "Doing" will we be able to learn and adapt accordingly.
"There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path."
So what are the solutions that on the horizon? What is so amazing that I have learned by looking outside the RE.net Matrix?
Below is a small sampling of my thoughts that I have learned along my journey so far:
1. Let Love Rule - For brokers this means that you need to put down the battle axe that you've been grinding with your agents over commission splits, etc. Lead by Love and you will see the emergence of an entirely new business model in your company. Yes, there will still be those agents that try to milk you for all you're worth, but for every one of them, there will emerge 10 "lovecats" that if shown they are loved, will become your most loyal soldiers. For agents, get over the whole "buyers are liars" mentality and show your clients some love. They have trusted you with their most valuable asset and you (some have not) have neglected them since the market has turned. They are worried, they are scared, they are in need of an Advisor and not a trinket of your affection.
2. Learn by Doing (Listen, Learn, Adapt) - Those companies that take the biggest risks and LISTEN to the results will have the biggest competitive advantage. Ask your internal folks, your clients, and your advocates for ideas and then commit to trying them out and listening. Break free of the chains of brokerage and start managing from a position of innovation. The market is not coming back to 2005 and your website isn't going to save you. Only by taking substantial risks are you in a position to reap the rewards.
3. Education is the Key - Empower the most passionate on topics that your clients/agents find important and expose them. Allow them to talk unbridled about their thoughts and insight into these topics. Find outside experts that are more passionate and knowledgeable than them to validate their theories (To see what someone inside the RE.net has done check out what Reggie Nicolay has done here). Call businesses in your marketplace that are doing things differently and invite them to speak directly to your agents. Teach the basics in a new manner (see David Armano's presentation on 'Thinking Visually' here). Try something new. Take your top 10 agents and go on a field trip to the Apple Store for a crash course one "how to create an long-lasting customer experience" - FYI - I did... and it was amazing!
4. The Social Web is the Human Web - Those that are seeing the highest return (retention, engagement, branding) on social media are those that are engaging clients with live, human, passionate people. Eblasts and other mass-marketing serve a "touch point" purpose, but for true engagement, there are few that can hold a candle to the humanness of Comcast's Frank Eliason. Frank is passionate, he is empathetic, he is genuine... and he is human. The social web is called just that for a reason - because it begins, exists, and ends around people. (For more insight - check out the Notorious R.O.B.'s post 'It aint the Technology')
5. Trust your judgement (and that of your team) - If there's one thing that I've learned as of late, it's that YOU know your clients, market, and agents better than any consultant, guru, or expert. At a recent conference of Leading RE Companies of the World, Rob Hahn and I sat in on a group of brokers discussing their future outlook. What we learned was that there is NO "One Size Fits All" solution for the future of your business. Knoxville, TN is not Chicago, IL or San Diego, CA for that matter. Where some ideals (client care, humanizing your company, educating your agents, innovative thinking) are necessities to do battle in today's marketplace, hyperlocal (and ITS PEOPLE) is your audience. Not the brokers on Inman, not the RE.net on Twitter, and not me. Your local audience is your "collective" and that which you should focus on engaging. Be yourself and be authentic... you can't be all things to all people.
(Side note - while I was at Leading RE a broker from Texas came up to me and handed me a golden dollar. He told me that he wanted to say how much he respected the fact that I wore a suit every day to the sessions (to get away with the fact that I only shave once a week!) This small vintage-Carnagie token has stood out as something I won't often forget. It wasn't flashy, it wasn't cutting-edge, but it was HIM and it was AUTHENTIC)
“Welcome to the real world.”
The world does not look all sunshine and roses outside of the Matrix. There are challenges here as well, obstacles that I will face, and lessons to be learned from the RE.net Matrix. One cannot exist without the other in our world any more than it could in the movie. But, I for one, can attest to the fact that this world, outside the argumentative noise of existing problems, looks like one with solutions on the horizon.
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