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As the 1960s became the 1970s, music started to interact with new technology, in particular synthesizers, creating sounds we'd never heard before and making new kinds of music that - for the most part - stunk.

It’s not that great music wasn’t made in the 1970s.  Led Zeppelin did most of their work in that decade.  But synthesizers were a technological marvel at the time – amazingly able to create almost any sound that one could imagine, as long as that sound was cheesy and fake sounding. Sure, there were some artists that did great stuff with them like Elton John on Funeral for a Friend, but these were the exception. 

As a result, after a period of experimentation, the true artists mostly went back to more traditional instruments.

The root of the problem was that the synthesizers made sounds that the technologists knew how to create electronically.  These sounds had little to do with music and everything to do with what technologists knew how to do.  It was the technology tail wagging the musical dog.  And sadly, this is a common theme in technological advancement.


In the early 1980s, Stevie Wonder complained to genius and entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil about the sorry state of synthesizers.  Kurzweil was from a musical family and understood the problem. Then he solved the problem by making synthesizers that had the capability of sounding like actual musical instruments and started a company, Kurzweil Music Systems, making the technology available to everyone.  Now musicians can make their music sound the way they want it to.  Sure a lot of music still stinks… but at least it’s not a technology problem.

It seems that when a new technology meets an established group of professionals, people jump on board and then become quickly disillusioned.  Fundamentally, it’s the same problem every time. The users are expected to adapt to the technology.  And the results are always the same – frustrated users.  Then a Ray Kurzweil comes along and adapts the technology to the professionals and we wonder how we ever lived without it.

It’s no different in retail real estate.  There are retailers, retail real estate owner/developers, and retail brokers, all with different needs. Different companies within each of these groups have different approaches, people within these companies have different jobs and so have different needs, and different individuals in a job have different preferences.  In addition, management has concerns about who can do and who can see what.  So across the board, the needs of the users are varied and a “one-size-fits-all” approach won’t make anyone happy.

Ray Kurzweil became fabulously successful by making technology do what people wanted it to do.  He did this by understanding the capabilities and limits of current technology and understanding what people really needed to do their work.  If we in the retail real estate technology field ignore or forget this lesson, it is at our own peril.  Technology needs to work the way the users work.  Otherwise they will abandon it until someone like Ray Kurzweil comes along and does it right.

Joe Rando