The Doctor is in, please be seated

Over the holidays after weeks of badgering from the next generation members of our household, my wife and I downloaded and devoured the entire five season, 62 episode run of Breaking Bad. And the son person was right. It was one of the best TV series ever.

That got me to thinking about other long running, highly acclaimed shows I missed over the years of being way too engrossed by career pursuits to stop and smell the

G-G Mafia video roses along the way. The Sopranos came immediately to mind. I had seen a few of the later episodes and I enjoyed them despite not knowing the full back story or character motivations. I promised myself I would go back some day and catch up. We just finished season one’s 13 episodes and we’re hooked again. The Sopranos isn’t just another gangster story in the shadow of Godfather or Goodfellas. It’s more of a study in the human psyche told through the revealing conversations between protagonist Tony Soprano and his psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Melfi.

Sopranos[Spoiler Alert – if you haven’t seen the entire Sopranos series, stop reading now. Go turn on your HBO On Demand service wherever you subscribe to it and watch it now. All of it. Then come back here. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you.]            [OK, welcome back!]

Tony is torn by sometimes conflicting requirements in trying to take care of two families: his home family (wife, two kids) and his crime family (a collection of neer-do-wells with their own agendas). Tony has a deep-seated sense of right and wrong, good and evil (using his definitions of both, which may or may not coincide with either religious scripture or criminal law) but it is unfortunately offset by a misguided sense of when to pick which and a sociopath’s need for consistent overachievement. Add in an abusive mother and an uncle who wants him whacked (a move that may or may not have been condoned by the mother) and you can see why he spends a good portion of each episode talking to a shrink.

Tony operates under a code of conduct that has not evolved over the decades to address more contemporary dilemmas. Justice, vengeance, and vendetta are all black-and-white issues, with no room for any shades of gray. Often the retribution delivered today in a cloud of self-righteousness is merely the foreshadowing of a misunderstood or unintentional misstep by the victim some time before. Then the guilt sets in and the cycle continues.

What’s this got to do with us, Bob?

Well, glad you asked. I see some strong parallels between the moral mental tug-of-war of Tony Soprano and the current debates facing the real estate industry. (No, I’m not implying a connection to the Mafia. We’re talking about the man here, not the crimes of the man.)

Organized real estate, our catch-all term for the collective of participants in the business of, or the support of the business of, real estate is facing some deeply divisive issues, issues where not just the outcome but even the debate generates derisive commentary.

What is good for brokers may not be good for agents. That which helps the MLS stay solvent may conflict with the business practices of the brokers that the MLS serves. When an Association sucks money from the MLS operation rather than raise dues to cover its own program costs, is this treating the membership respectfully, honestly, and transparently? And will they resent the MLS or the Association for doing it – or both?

We have already heard or read (here, here, and here) many predictions about what lies ahead in 2014 and beyond. There are more on the way. Each prediction has multiple permutations and each of those a cause and effect relationship with multiple alternative outcomes.

Since starting Procuring-Cause.com I have had the pleasure of addressing various organizations on some of these issues, pointing out the pro and con arguments on each and helping them grapple with the local implications of any of their possible decisions. My presentations are not directive. I offer insights, but I don’t advocate a specific course of action because, honestly, if the local leadership doesn’t create its own long term strategy and embrace a tactical blueprint that the field generals can execute on, any direction I might offer would fall on deaf ears.  I offer options, facilitate conversation and debate, and help them create a plan they can own. For many, a single plan isn’t enough. What do we do if Plan A doesn’t work – what is Plan B?

In the course of these engagements I see similarities between these group leaders and the aforementioned Mr. Soprano. Many MLS CEOs stumble when trying to serve two masters with different agendas. Many MLS boards of directors, composed of both agents and brokers, fail to look out for the best interests of not only the shareholders but all stakeholders. The realty version of Omertà prevents the industry from policing or measuring itself internally and at the same time rejects any outside efforts to do the same. There’s only so much hair one can pull out before the psychiatrist’s couch starts looking like the better alternative.

LucyboothI’m no doctor, especially no shrink. I don’t even play one on TV. But I can help you grapple with the pressing questions and develop answers that will shape the future of your organization. Once again, industry leaders will be gathering next week in New York for the winter Inman Connect conference. If you feel like you need a psych evaluation, look me up or shoot me an email. Taking a page from the Lucy rate card, the first office visit is just 5-cents.

I hope to see you there.

For this post:
Cause: the Prozac quit working
Effect: I want a new drug

Why this blog?

On July 29, I left the employ of Zillow.  As I told Paul Hagey at Inman News, the task of soliciting direct data feeds from MLSs turned out to be more daunting than either I or Zillow had expected.  While I had detected some significant movement in the industry as a whole, particularly a lessening in the stridency of the complaints I heard when I first joined Zillow in early 2012, I could point to no compelling value proposition that the MLSs wanted, and that Zillow was willing to offer in exchange, that would lead me to believe the results would change in the near future.  We both recognized that reality, frustrating as it might be, and decided it was time for me to move on.

In the two weeks since, I have fielded no end of questions about where I want to go next.  My phone has rung with callers looking for advice on new ventures they are starting up, or have already begun.  Believe it or not, many of them start with questions about how to get data out of the MLSs, or what they can do with that data once they have it.  It seems I’m not the only one frustrated with the state of data licensing in this industry.  The confusion is rampant.

So what does an out of work former MLS CEO and former Zillow VP with nearly 25 years of industry experience to reflect on and draw from?  Why, he starts a blog and a consulting service, of course!  It gives me a platform from which to comment on happenings in our business, and to offer opinions that I might not have been able to offer previously for fear they would be attributed to the company for which I worked rather than recognized as strictly personal observations.

Please don’t expect any acerbic retribution on my part against any of my former employers.  That’s not my style.  And besides, even though I don’t work there any longer, I have the utmost respect for Spencer Rascoff and the team he has assembled at Zillow.  One had only to watch the interview with President Obama earlier this week to see the culmination of weeks, months of hard work by an entire team of public relations and marketing professionals to have a feeling of utter awe for that achievement and for the company.  As Greg Robertson put it, “Well played, sir.  Well played.

So where do I go from here?  Frankly, the paths are many but the choices few.  I am looking for the next calling, but have no preconceived notions about what that might be.  The most interesting career changes I’ve made have almost always been unexpected, spontaneous, and surprising.  Some of them worked.  Some did not.  But the roads taken have always been interesting.  I’m looking forward to what’s around the next bend and to sharing my adventure with you.

For this post:
Cause: Unexpected unemployment
Effect: Unassisted outplacement