This past week I had the opportunity to present at the California Association of Realtors Expo in Anaheim. Since I don’t sell real estate, events like these are always useful for me because I get to hear what sort of challenges people are having.

At the CAR Expo I heard one common challenge over and over again when speaking with attendees: people are overwhelmed with the variety of technology and the pace of change in the types of technology to use.

This, of course, isn’t helped by the general clamor and clatter of gurus, experts, well-meaning early adopters and so on. Yes I’m probably guilty in that list somewhere too.

There’s a lot of technology in the world. And much of it can be brought to bear on the challenges facing the real estate industry. And for every piece of technology there are a handful of people who insist that it’s absolutely important to have "strategy" for dealing with the technology.

Which got me thinking about the challenge of being overwhelmed by technology. It’s something I hear about wherever I present and whenever I talk to people. It doesn’t matter if the person is a CIO or brand new agent, the abundance of technology and "strategies" that accompany them is presenting a challenge.

Granted, the technology overload of a CIO is different than that of a first-time blogger. But the nature of the challenge is the same: there’s some new technology (or old technology that you haven’t had time play with) and now you have to deal with it.

I like to help people focus on the aspects of their challenges that are most within their control. The pace of technological change is not something within the control of any of the people I meet. Innovators are going to continue to innovate and new technologies will continue to be introduced daily.

But I had an epiphany at CAR Expo. Before I share it, I need to continue digressing for a bit. Bear with me.

Strategy and tactics

There are a few words that prick my ears up whenever they’re used. One of them is "strategy." This word gets tossed around for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it’s being used to make something seem important. Other times times it’s being used to make something simple seem more complicated.

Most often, I see it being used to describe "tactics" for various new technologies. All of these misuses of strategy serve to make strategy significantly less useful.

Strategy, for the record, is about how you are going to achieve your goal. A strategy is often expressed with a plan, a document which outlines what resources are available and to what specific ends those resources will be used. So a strategy primarily takes into account a goal and available resources.

Tactics describes how a specific resource is used. Most people’s Facebook or blogging "strategy" is just a collection of tactics: do this and this, press this button a bunch, etc. But the end result can often end up as a bunch of flailing around and feeling overwhelmed.

This is probably the time to break out a quote by Sun Tzu, one of the grand-daddies of strategies (probably the grand-daddy since he was writing some 2500 years ago):

"Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."

Overwhelmed by technology

So, back to this epiphany I had in Anaheim. People were feeling overwhelmed by technology and change. They were learning about Twitter and about Facebook and about mobile technology and all sorts of things.

But the feelings they were having and the experiences they were having out in the field were much more like the "noise before defeat" than anything else. It’s easy to get wrapped up in all the new tools and "best practices" and other things out there. And it sounds so important when people are talking about Twitter strategies and blogging strategies. I mean, who doesn’t want to have a strategy, right?

My epiphany was this: A strategy isn’t only about what you have to be doing, or should be doing. A strategy should also spell out things you don’t have to be doing.

For example, one gentleman was talking about how he just couldn’t understand the value in using Facebook to market real estate. There are a couple options in responding to this:

  • explain in detail the value of using the social features of Facebook until the man gets it or
  • accept that Facebook isn’t a resource that he’s going to use and develop a strategy that works around it.

The first approach is tactical: "Type these words and press these buttons in Facebook and ROI." The second approach is strategic: "Use your available resources to achieve your goal, Facebook is not available to you as a resource."

The value in a strategic approach is as much about what it allows you to not do. All those things that your strategy saves you from doing result in more time available to you to pursue your strategy or do something else that you enjoy.

Another value in having a more strategic approach is that it keeps you focused on what it is you’re really doing and helps you be prepared for change. If your business is heavily reliant on one specific tool, and that tool changes significantly or ceases to exist, a strategic approach may be what enables your business to continue functioning.

For example, say Facebook suffers the same fate as an early closed social network that survived on advertising revenue and investment: AOL. If your approach is tactical you’d be looking for some other tool that replaced the features, functionality and scale of Facebook. If your approach is more strategic you would, perhaps, be looking for effective ways to stay in touch with your sphere and your past clients.

Let your strategy tell you what it’s ok not to do. Let your strategy help you discover ways to help your customers.

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