Yesterday on LinkedIn my friend Don Peppers wrote a wonderful piece called Biggest Business Challenge; Escaping the Past. Don wrote:
“The more we simply make minimal accommodations to deal with a radically changed environment (even if the change was gradual), the more fragile we become… Businesses fall into the same trap, all the time. They stretch and stretch and stretch to accommodate a changed environment until they are too fragile, with no fallback position, no redundant capacity. They become fragile, so they are catastrophically vulnerable to the first disruptive innovation, or the first unanticipated regulatory change. He then invited readers to imagine what various industries would look like if they were designed today.”
Since I’ve recently been exploring a few real estate options, my mind immediately went to the role of real estate brokers. Before I begin, let me first say that my intention is not to “attack” one profession, but rather to use a specific example to make a general point that applies to every industry: the only way to avoid becoming obsolete is to reinvent your role before the marketplace does it for you. Said another way, you need to disrupt your own industry.
When the concept of real estate brokers arose, there was no Internet. Brokers controlled all the information. From afar, it was impossible to know almost anything about a property. In addition, there were far fewer ways to advertise properties. Last night, I spent an hour looking at properties in another state. To do this, I used Realtor.com, Trulia, Google’s search engine and Street View, Zillow, local tax assessors’ databases, and numerous web sites maintained by a wide range of brokers. In 95% of the cases, the brokers’ sites had the same information or less than the 3rd party sites. I could not find “exclusive” listings that one broker had and another did not. This, by the way, is a problem pervasive in most industries: how to make money when everyone has easy access to all information? (One answer is to use common information as your starting point, rather than as the be-all, end-all.) In the event that one listing catches my eye and I call “my” broker, he will likely email me a link to the listing for that property, which I have already seen online. He will then offer to show me the property, and once that has happened he will begin the sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant process of nudging me to make a bid.
Bruce Kasanoff (@BruceKasanoff ) is the author of How to Self-Promote without Being a Jerk.