Our intuitive, and ultimately wrong, belief is that the world is linear. You will not do well in our complex world if you think “straight.” A linear world has simple rules.
- Deterministic – if you know the process, knowing the input means you know the output and the output is proportional to the input
- The whole is equal to the sum of the parts
- Events with the same process and inputs repeat
- Choosing one thing means not choosing another.
- Complex events can reduce to their components.
We don’t live in such a world and except in very limited cases, a non-linear world shares none of these traits. Newtonian physics and Euclidean geometry describe our world only so long as the space is no larger or smaller than what we can distinguish with our senses. In society, we mostly disregarded strangers.
Until recently, the disparity did not matter much. People lived in a world with few people who they had known for a long time. Knowledge did not change much. Simple descriptions of space and society became inadequate as people got outside the world of here to the horizon and began to explore tiny spaces like the atom and huge spaces like the universe. We found that classic ideas are merely special cases.
In society, when you interact with people you know or who share your values, old ways work. Old ways work when you have time to consider responses and to communicate slowly. They work if the rules do not change much. They work when cultural values like religion, law, family, career, money and lifetimes are constant and shared.
Electronic communication means we can communicate with almost everyone. We cannot rely on other people being like the ones we know, or like those who live nearby. We cannot count on shared values. We cannot count on sharing a logic system. We cannot count on time to decide. Complexity has a price.
The Law of Incompatibility – As complexity increases, meaningful statements lose precision and precise statements lose meaning.
Communicating non-linear ideas is difficult. In finance, compound interest is not intuitive. Probabilities that are tiny seem more real if the outcome is exciting. Bad news sells, good news is buried even though far more common. Statistics are manipulated. Linear ideas limit and the limit works in strange ways.
Suppose you knew a language but not the verb form to describe the future. Could you communicate something like education, or anything else with present costs and future rewards? Insurance, investment and saving have no immediate value. How would you explain those?
You need a way to describe the idea of payoff and without a future tense, you cannot.
Stories, jokes, anecdotes and examples help. When you know too little of the listener’s values and experience, you must communicate indirectly. A story with a message allows the people to connect to the fundamental idea in their slightly different way. Once they connect, communication is possible.
Financial advice is personal. Big words, complex product and tax effects are not part of everyday life. They confuse. Financial advice is about people. The dentist who became disabled, the young father who died in a car accident, the seniors who lost their savings, and the success of those who find their way through the maze. Usually with help. Tell stories. Your own stories. Connect at a human level.
Providing financial advice is a worthy profession. Communicate meaning and the rest follows.
Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario. In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.
Please be in touch if I can help you. firstname.lastname@example.org 866-285-7772