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Reactions To Experience

One of my favourite websites is Letters Of Note (Twitter: @LettersOfNote) which finds and shares correspondence of interest and importance.

I recently bought the book, which is a lovely thing and to be recommended. One letter in particular caught my eye. It was from the journalist Hunter S Thompson (then aged only 20) to a friend in 1958. The friend was seeking Hunter’s advice on his next life decision (the letter isn’t on the Letters Of Note site, but much of it can be found here).

It’s an amazingly mature letter for a 20 year old. A main thrust of his argument is one that I think many of us (and especially the advisory community) could take heed of, and it is best summed up by this line:

“…remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it.”

As advisers we are trained to find solutions. For example, read a CII workbook or take a CII exam. Pages upon pages of answers to problems. Here are a few facts, it says, now please tell us the solution.

Regulation works in a similar way. It needs to. If a regulator is going to set standards, then advice must be assessed to a benchmark. If the Ombudsman is going to pass judgement on whether the advice someone has received is appropriate, it needs to be tested against agreed standards.

The trouble is that each person’s world view is a product of the life they have led, and therefore the decisions they take (and advice they seek) will, by definition, be unique.

There’s another great line from this letter which has something to say on this point:

“Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience.”

Who are we (or the regulator or the CII) to decide what is right and what is wrong for another person? What I think will be the right thing to do is going to be based upon what I have experienced in the past. How many clients have you met who invested in the stockmarket just before the market crashed, and who immediately cashed it in and then never invested again. Or the person who bought a house, lived in it, sold it ten years later for twice the price, and now thinks that property is a safe investment.

As advisers I truly believe our job is to help clients come to solutions that they own, that are relevant to their world view, not ours. But this can feel contrary to our training and regulatory framework.

As a diploma qualified business coach this is something I’ve done a lot of thinking (and blogging) about. I coach as an associate of Quiver Management, and the principal, Jan Bowen-Nielsen, and I have developed training material specifically to help advisers use coaching techniques to help clients understand themselves better, and to show how this can actually increase compliance if used correctly.

We’ve piloted the course and the results were fantastic, it seemed to be a real eye-opener for the attendees (judging by their feedback). The course is run by threesixty (whose clients get a big discount) but is open to non clients, where there are spaces, as well (email to express interest in forthcoming events).

I’ll leave the last word to Hunter. I’ve never been a fan of goals, with their sense of finite achievement and endings.

“The goal is absolutely secondary. It is the functioning towards the goal which is important.”

You tell ’em, Hunter.

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