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Can You Design The Future?

Jan 30, 2008 Michael Wurzer

I was contacted recently by the Virginia Association of REALTORS to speak at their Legislative and Education Conference in February. (I’ll be in Richmond on Valentine’s Day, if you’re in the area.) The Association representative who contacted me asked if I could speak on listing syndication but said I wasn’t restricted to that, and so now I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to talk about. I know that listing syndication will be a key part of the discussion, but I want to give a broader context to the syndication discussion, too.

I have this theory I’ve been batting around for about a year that the MLS industry is approaching what I’ve been calling a perfect storm. I described the perfect storm early on in the FBS Blog as having three fronts: (1) brokerage consolidation pushing MLS consolidation; (2) the web 2.0 movement, both inside and outside of real estate, is engaging consumers like never before; and (3) the Department of Justice lawsuit against the NAR, claiming NAR’s policies regarding use of MLS data on the web are anti-competitive and harming consumers. My theory is that each of these forces are coming together at the same time and could produce a perfect storm that will change the MLS industry forever.

In my post a few days ago called Attention!, I mentioned Andrew Groves’ book Only The Paranoid Survive and what Groves describes as “10x inflection points”, which I think is another way of describing my “perfect storm.” Importantly, Mr. Groves asks, “How do we know whether a change signals a strategic inflection point? The only way is through the process of clarification that comes from broad and intensive debate.” Mr. Groves is talking about strategy within a company, but I think the same approach is valuable on a broader scale, too.

And that leads me back to the question of whether we’re rushing along so fast in our lives, putting out multi-tasking fires, that we don’t have time, energy or patience for serious contemplation or “broad and intensive debate.” Are we listening for the signals or just hearing the noise? Without a doubt, the RE.net is one place where intense and well-articulated debate occurs, but is that really a “broad” debate? I have a strong feeling that many who should be a part of this conversation are not. Whether the industry is facing a 10x inflection point is an open question, but I believe it is a question well worth considering seriously.

But here’s a preliminary question: When do we have time for this debate to happen? Conferences are great, but an hour here and an hour there rarely produces anything new. When do we stop long enough to listen to each other and expand our vision of the future? When do we have the broad and intensive debate that seems necessary? I’ve written previously that the future of MLS is now and I’m wondering who will be the designers of that future?

As I consider that question, a pattern I’ve noticed here at FBS comes to mind. The pattern is this: (1) hire new programmer; (2) new programmer is super productive; (3) super productive programmer gets more responsibility; (4) super productive programmer gets bogged down with a whole bunch of super important things. This is what I was trying to say in my post the other day about paying attention. The new guy can pay attention so much easier because he’s new and doesn’t have an inbox crammed full. This is why upstarts often come in and blow people away with innovation, because they can form a small group in a far away place and take the time to think fresh.

So, my question as I look forward to the VAR leadership conference is whether the leaders of MLSs and Associations today will take the time to seriously contemplate the potential for a 10x inflection point or perfect storm brewing on their horizon. How will these forces effect the future? Can we design our own future?