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If you’re rooted to the past, it’s a whole lot harder to catch a ride to the future.

This week, while watching a Twitter stream from a real estate conference in San Francisco, I was struck with a single thought: Are they really talking about this? On stage was a debate between a real estate Association and a technology vendor. The argument:

Who can use whose pieces of paper.

Haven’t we done this before? Beta versus VHS? Chocolate versus peanut butter? Harry versus Voldemort?

The Lexus versus the Olive Tree.

nelson nevada bw-5

The argument is almost tedious: a vendor wants permission to incorporate a form, owned by an association, into its software platform. They’ve done this with other groups, who preferred to partner rather than run their own software platform. Trouble is, this Association already has its own software. So there’s little interest in empowering its competitors.

Ah, yes; another marginally interesting, if not excruciatingly esoteric saga in the angst-laden struggle of the housing industry to leave the farm and come to the big city.

Along the way, we’ll be treated to the usual cast of characters: The lions coming over the hill, in the form of the scrappy, cool-to-use software vendor. The tin-man, as in, the Association’s tin-ear to progress. The straw-man, particularly the privacy-scare, because fully licensed real estate adults aren’t able to manage their own privacy.

A Story As Old as the World

In the 1999 book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas Friedman describes a world divided by two views: One group of people is manufacturing Lexus automobiles: they represent progress, invention, innovation, and prosperity. Another group is content to sit under the Olive Tree they inherited from their ancestors, and protect the past, tradition, history, and wait for fruits to bloom. It’s a metaphor, of course, but you can see its usefulness for analyzing all sorts of issues in the world, from national politics, to industrial globalism to culture wars.

But paperwork?

Just imagine how much time, energy, thought, and money are being wasted in this fight.

Once again, the real estate industry will be balkanized with brokers, agents, vendors and talking-heads picking sides, then picking on each other. Much good-will will be wasted over an argument that has no resolution.

We already know the ending: The Olive Tree keepers will not share. The Lexus will make its own form, then use it like a GPS to go around the tree.

But not without much damage in the meantime.

Golden Arches or Golden Handcuffs

Most of us fight the history-versus-progress argument all the time; mostly against ourselves. Sometimes we project the problem: against competitors, and even consumers. When confronted with something that challenges our established, comfortable history, we circle our wagons and defend against the men with axes, coming to chop down our trees.

The danger, of course, is that we become so busy fighting that we forget to water the tree. The tree then dies, all on its own.

In Friedman’s book, he proposes an idea that says “no two countries who have McDonald’s have gone to war with each other.” In other words, once both countries accepted progress, it made more sense to be get along, rather than fight. Progress makes both countries better, and the need to fight over scarcity diminishes. It’s too bad the real estate industry continues to struggle with this idea.


Now it’s Saturday, and hundreds of tweets a few articles, a video and comments across social networks have turned the debate into a debacle. It’s like watching history repeat itself: Substitute the word “email” or “internet” or “app” or “portal” for the word “forms” in the claims or counterclaims, and you’ll see we’ve done this all before. We’ve shouted ourselves hoarse, when we could have been saying encouraging words to each other.

For every moment spent fighting these inane battles, we could have been doing something creative: Writing something to a client. Making a video to help a new salesperson. Educating young people against excessive debt, that will stifle their dreams of owning a home. Every time we let ourselves get pulled into these arguments over false scarcity, between aging olive trees and futuristic flying cars, we waste energy filling leaky buckets.

The end of the story is already predictable: The Olive Tree will resist until the bitter end; the Lexus will tire and simply go around. They won’t share, but they don’t really have to: there are plenty of customers for both.

But there is an opportunity for one of them – and likely the Lexus – to do something important: Move on. Not in defeat, but in the realization that fighting against the keepers of the Olive Grove is senseless. You’re holding the keys to a space-car in your hand. Go make your own forms: feed them into your cloud-based computer; and fly around.

In a sense, same goes for us all. Sometimes you just have to stop trying to replant the past. In fact, you need to stop talking to it, even thinking about it. You just need to decide to go around. Only then can you hitch a ride into the future.