Some of the most creative and stimulating writing environments in the country can be found on the beaches of Southern California. The salt air keeps the mind sharp and each wave brings a new idea or a great connection with the last one. The only morning distraction is the ubiquitous surfer whose skills, screw-ups and antics offer a non-stop show where the acts range from bravado to just plain foolishness.

If one doesn’t interfere with their sport, surfers can offer a world of interesting perspectives and information. So it came to pass that as I assembled my thoughts on the subject of strategic intent, these surfers demonstrated it right before my eyes.

In front of me was a group of 25 to 30 surfers interacting with the great waves that make Laguna Beach one of the prime surfing locations in Southern California. As I observed the group, it was obvious that most seemed quite satisfied to spend their time enjoying the rhythm of the water and the company of their companions. Every once in a while, when a particularly good wave presented itself, they would engage for a ride. But these opportunities turned out to be few and far between.

A small number of the group were having a totally different experience.  These surfers were expending great energy positioning themselves at various points in the surf where the largest and most robust waves were breaking. Once their engagement with these waves began they would do whatever was necessary to prolong the thrill and execute a long and challenging ride.

What I subsequently learned was that most surfers derived their enjoyment out of just being on the water with a few rides to stay in the game.  The other, more aggressive surfers were those whose enjoyment came from maxing out their efforts on every ride.Within the surfing culture, this second group are referred to as being “aggro” or extremely aggressive and outgoing in the water. The term originated from another term “Aggro-Aussie” which refers to the fact that Australian surfers tend to be a more aggressive lot.

The current North American real estate environment very much reflects the surfing culture. We are now learning that the 2012 North American real estate market (our industry’s “surf”) was actually a positive one for those firms that had their act together. Many within the top 15% had a great year. The next 60% or so spent the year belly-boarding, a sport that while not without its thrills, requires a maximum amount of energy for every second of excitement.

It is true that the industry’s performance has always reflected these differentials. What has become increasingly obvious is that they are not the result of luck or even skill, but rather occur as a result of specific decisions being made during the brokerage planning and management process.  In other words, like surfers who use their sport as an activity to facilitate socialization, with a great wave as an occasional benefit, many firms and agents are starting 2013 with no particular plan or intent to have a great year — rather just an okay experience with an occasional sale. This approach when practiced in 2013 leaves this group more vulnerable than ever before.

Of course, the veterans within the group will ask, “What’s wrong with such a plan?” After all, if they manage to make a living and nobody gets hurt, what’s the foul? This is the way it has always been done.

Perhaps that is true. However, the first rule regarding depending upon the status quo to set a course is to make sure that nothing has occurred that might have changed the underlying status quo. For 2013, such an analysis should have lead the firm’s navigator to a far different conclusion.

So, what changes to the industry environment should thousands of brokerages have taken into consideration as they planned their 2013 activities and initiatives? With an unbelievable level of detail, this question will soon be answered with the publication of the 2013 Swanepoel Trends Report. This 15-year-old industry tradition will reflect the research and analysis of a top team of industry experts who are reporting and evaluating more than 200 pages of specific trends and directions, all of which suggest that the industry environment has substantially changed.
The Swanepoel Trends Report will demonstrate that yet another similarity between real estate and surfing over the past 20 years has been the impact on market and surf conditions themselves by powerful external forces. Just as an earthquake can quickly wipe out a great surfing location, so can adverse economic times reformat a market, and that is exactly what has occurred.

It would appear that significant numbers of brokers are sitting on their boards waiting for the old waves to return. What they don’t realize is that the old waves have returned, but that they are breaking over market reefs that have been significantly changed by seven years of tsunami-like conditions. Today’s real estate market exists on a landscape that is half-way between the towering waves of 2005 and the belly-boarding experiences of last summer.

A whole new North American real estate market has emerged.It is a market that will require brokers and agents to engage with a whole new set of strategies and tactics. Key among these is the adoption of “strategic intent” as the key driver of the firm’s business planning process.

For most firms, the traditional business planning process involved moving the status quo forward at a comfortable speed along an existing “status quo” line. The premise of this process was based upon the benefits of holding the firm in its traditional competitive and performance envelope.

This approach to planning will not work in the new market landscape.  In order to effectively navigate this new market environment, brokers must plan on the basis of where they want to be in 2016 rather than where they were in 2012. It is a totally different approach, one that requires each firm to adopt its own strategic intent.

Still believe in planning around the status quo? Get your hands on a 2013 Swanepoel Trends Report and research just one point. What significant industry players have already used the strategic intent approach to set their course for 2016? What assumptions are they making and how will their initiatives impact your firm’s course over the next few years? Do not miss the fact that at least five of these major players are approaching the new marketplace at “Aggro” velocity with new weapons systems in position

There will be no invitation to play in the new marketplace. Belly-boarding is now a consumer sport. Self-selection expressed through strategic intent will be the entry ticket. Don’t miss this turn.