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IBNMA, Heresy, and Reality

November 18, 2008

Looking through my junk email folder today, in pursuit of Inbox Zero, I ran across a long spam email from Paul Chaney, the President of the International Blogging and New Media Association (IBNMA). Normally, I auto-delete all spam, but this one, I read for some reason.

And immediately thought I need to post about this.

It appears that Paul is active in the real estate side of things, as he is the author of Realty Blogging with Richard Nacht. (I know Richard from my days at Realogy, but haven’t met Paul). I even own that book, and have actually read a couple of pages in it, before deciding that it wasn’t written with people like me in mind.

So it is with particular interest that I read this email:

First, the email (excerpts anyhow):

Leadership

One thing I learned from reading the book [Seth Godin’s Tribes]was that there is a great deal of difference between leading an organization and managing it. For example:

*    Leaders inspire while managers control
*    Leaders break the rules by which managers play
*    Leaders are what Seth calls “heretics” – mangers merely tout company policy
*    Leaders ask forgiveness while managers ask permission

I came to realize I was attempting to “manage” IBNMA, when what the organization needs is leadership. In other words, I need to become a heretic.

Okay… let’s get real for a moment here.

One of the things I dislike most about the “social web” or “new media” people is just how hyperbolic they get.  (I do include myself in this indictment, incidentally.)  Seth Godin is the leader (or manager?) of the Hyperbole Masquerading As Insight Movement (HypeMAIM), but this pernicious bug needs to be crushed immediately.

The above distinction between “leaders” and “managers” is unhelpful in so many ways.

Leaders inspire while managers control?  I have to ask… after inspiring people, what exactly do leaders do to execute on all this inspiration?  Isn’t an enormous part of the problem of the social media space that there are all sorts of inspiring talkers and so few execution-oriented managers?  So many ideas, so few dollars to show for them.

Leaders break the rules by which managers play?  Rules like… what exactly?  ‘Revenues – Expenses = Profit’ seems to be one that gets broken quite a bit.  ‘Talk is cheap’ is another one that gets broken all the time.  Which “leaders” might Paul be thinking of when he talks about breaking rules?  Let’s look at our industry for a moment.  Who is Paul pointing to?  I want names.

Because the guys who were touted as leaders breaking rules by which managers play a couple of years ago, like Rick Barton and Lloyd Frink of Zillow, are having to layoff 25% of their staff and face uncertain futures.  Glenn Kelman is a brilliant guy, and a years ago, I’m sure his name would have been mentioned as a “leader” not a “manager” — but 20% layoffs make for question marks and rethinking.

For starters, Glenn might want to rethink this:

In a year away from high-tech, I volunteered at inner-city schools and felt the same way: my time was lightly valued because I was giving it away, and many of the tutors seemed unmotivated compared to my old colleagues.

So now I’m back in Internet software, mostly because I missed the sense of purpose and importance that being around other driven people gave me. I believe in what we’re doing. But since we’re also out to turn a profit, some have ventured to call this belief disingenuous.

And it may seem so, but not to anyone in high technology, which has so thoroughly mixed virtue with commerce that you can hardly tell the two apart. Apple launched the Mac with an ad showing a woman heaving a hammer at a televised image of Big Brother. Google is famous for its promise to not be evil, and eBay’s latest slogan is “people are good.”

And the high technology companies that have confused virtue with commerce are the ones going down.  The ones who have withstood the test of time are 100% focused on making profits, and do not confuse business with pleasure.  Microsoft, Oracle, Adobe Systems, Hewlett Packard, Cisco Systems… and the list goes on.  Do you really think Steve Ballmer sits around thinking about how virtuous they ought to be?

Examples like Apple and Google are anomalies.  Apple presents one face to the public, and another altogether to its employees.  I had a meeting with an Apple employee, asked him a question, and he said with absolute certainty of fear in his eyes that he couldn’t answer my question, or he would get fired right there and then.  You think that’s because Apple is about being visionaries?  Google has incredibly fat profit margins due to their monopoly power over search that allows them to engage in all kinds of non-commercial activities.

But the laws of business, those rules that managers live by and leaders break, are that fat profit attract competition, and competition drives down prices, and that in turn suddenly makes all those old, outdated rules seem valuable again.  It will happen even to Google.

When Paul goes about praising heretics, he throws around a word that is freighted with meaning.  I’m not even sure that he understands all of the connotations of the word ‘heretic’.

You know what’s the distinguishing feature of a “heretic”?

They get punished.

I mentioned at the outset that Seth Godin, in his book Tribes, referred to leaders as heretics who connect similarly minded individuals around a given idea or philosophy. In other words, heretics help create tribes.

I want to be such a heretic and my desire is to see IBNMA become a tribe. In fact, my hope is that the organization will become an inner-connected maze of many tribes led by members who rise through the ranks to take leadership roles themselves.

In other words, we are looking for heretics – people who believe so passionately about an idea they are willing step up, focus the attention of others and gather their own “tribe” around it.

No, Paul — heretics get punished, driven out of community, isolated, and alienated.  In most societies, they get killed.  Being a heretic is nothing to strive for.  Martin Luther did not set out to be a heretic; he set out to rediscover the ancient truth and reform the Roman Catholic Church.

For every heretic who turned out to be right, there are literally hundreds, thousands, who turned out to be just crazy.

In my view, it is far more important to be right than it is to be different.  I have no desire whatsoever to be a heretic.  I’d rather my ideas and insights be received to wide acclaim and immediate acceptance.  But most of all, I’d rather my ideas be right, and my insights be true.  (Because I believe in such things as objective truth.)

If it so happens that by being right, my ideas are seen as heresy… well, that’s the price you pay sometimes for being right.  And if I’m right, and I can execute on those ideas, then they will succeed.  If I’m wrong, or I can’t execute, then they will fail.  At the end of the day, reality provides firm rules and laws that neither leaders nor managers, neither visionaries nor earthbound bureaucrats, can ignore: success is the test of reality.

Are you a heretic? Do you believe in the power of social media to be a force for change? Are you passionate enough about an issue to become heretical (i.e. a leader)? If so, then I invite you to start a tribe and do so with us.

In hindsight, my friend was right. There is a “one thing” that the IBNMA can do and that’s become a spawning ground for tribes where we provide information, advocacy, education, research and support. I invite you to become a member of our tribe.

Am I a heretic?  Emphatically not.  I’m just a guy who wants to find the truth, and in finding it, make a bundle of money for myself and my investors by providing something of real value to customers.  If that makes me a heretic in certain circles, so be it.  But I’m definitely not setting out to become one.

Do I believe in the power of social media to be a force for change?  Sure, I guess.  But I also believe in the power of the toilet to be a force for change (and in fact, a greater force for positive change than social media thus far in the human experience), so what does that mean?

Start a tribe?  Whatever for?

If you’re right, and you can show it, then people will come around to see the truth.  If you’re wrong, then all the convincing in the world just makes you a charlatan snake-oil salesman.

Applied to real estate industry, there are problems and issues all over the place.  But they’re not problems simply because they are the “old ways of doing things”.  They are problems because they serve customers poorly, prevent good agents from doing deals, and make brokers lose money.

The web and social media may or may not be a solution to one or more of those problems.  If we can stay away from HypeMAIM, and focus on the real value to real businesspeople doing real things, then we have a chance of uncovering some truth about consumer behavior, about efficient operations, or new ways of cost-effective marketing.

But let’s not get caught up in the hoopla about the “power of the Internet to change the world” and all that jazz.  Let’s not inspire each other out of touch with reality.  Let’s not pursue heresy for the sake of being “different” and “new”.

-rsh

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. December 14, 2008 8:36 pm

    Hey Glenn –

    Hm, I put it into the comments… perhaps I should update the original…

    Thanks!

    -rsh

  2. December 14, 2008 8:37 pm

    @Glenn –

    Oh, and no, I didn’t touch the original post.

    -rsh

  3. December 30, 2008 7:39 pm

    I’ve changed my mind about Twitter…just reporting an event 🙂

    Happy New Year, Rob!

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