Beating a Path to Innovation

By Brian Summerfield, Online Editor, REALTOR® Magazine

Being innovative doesn’t necessarily mean diving into new technologies all the time. It doesn’t mean trying to reinvent the wheel. And it certainly doesn’t mean focusing lots of your energy on something perceived to be hip or avant-garde to the detriment of the core of your business.

That was the message from Matt Dollinger, vice president of strategic development at brokerage @properties, and Eric Bryn, vice president of digital innovation at brokerage Baird & Warner, in separate presentations at the Xplode conference in Chicago last week.

Dollinger — his presentation slides are here — said he’s amazed by the amount of time real estate practitioners spend on things that aren’t bringing them business. “More people have done a transaction off of an open house than off of Twitter,” he said. “But they spend a lot more time on Twitter.”

He argued that technology won’t save your business, then quoted real estate consultant and commentator Rob Hahn: “It ain’t the technology. All technology does is make what you do more efficient. If what you do is crap, it makes crap more efficient. If what you do is valuable, then it makes that more efficient. Microsoft Word is an amazing piece of technology, but it can’t write the next Great American Novel for you.”

True innovation, especially when you lack time and resources, requires a concentrated approach rather than a try-anything-and-everything system. Thus, when it comes to being innovative, Dollinger recommends doing the following:

▪ Perform a business audit: Determine where most of your business is coming from, and keep putting most of your effort into that.

▪ Remember the “power of 1”: Focus on experimenting with one new technology at a time, but make sure it fits in with your business model. Also, determine what you’re getting in return. That benefit doesn’t have to be financial, but it should be furthering your business somehow.

▪ Listen, learn, and adapt: Keep up with current trends, track your success with whatever new solutions you’re trying, and make adjustments when and where necessary.

Also, just because a tool or technique is innovative — or is being hyped as such — doesn’t mean it will gain widespread adoption. According to Bryn, innovation turns into common practice due to three factors:

Community: Groups of people explore the new tools and decide whether they’re worthwhile.

Leverage: Individuals figure out how to apply new tools to existing practices.

Experience: People go back to superior, personal interactions repeatedly and routinely.

Because of the role of the “crowd” in determining if and how new technologies will be used, it’s important to be aware of what’s gaining traction in your community. “You need to walk through consumers’ experiences again and again and again,” Bryn said.

What new tools are you trying? What would you like to play around with? Let us know below.

Brian Summerfield

Brian Summerfield is Manager of Business Development and Outreach for NAR Commercial and Global Services. He can be reached at

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