Refining How You Advise Your Clients

I have recently come upon a fascinating and entertaining person – David Eagleman. He is a neuroscientist, professor at Standford, author, and entrepreneur. He is energetic and amusing.

You can see many videos of interviews with him on youtube. The one I first came upon was “A brainy approach to innovation.” That was followed by “The creative brain.”

What does neuroscience teach us?

It wasn’t my intention to learn anything about neuroscience, but more to find things I can use to communicate and help people learn. I think David Eagleman gets that idea.

“Language is about shared experience.” In his view, you cannot ever have a conversation about the colour yellow with a person who has been blind from birth. There is no shared experience, so the blind person’s brain cannot deal with the concept of yellow. I must ask myself, is it possible to explain financial or estate planning to someone who has never been exposed to it? Yes, my observation is it’s possible, but only as part of a learning experience. It doesn’t readily share and usually works only by stories and examples. Do you know what? Advisors and clients do not have similar knowledge. Most clients have learned by experience. Most advisors by their own experience, the experience of others, and knowledge. There is not enough commonality to have a “shared experience” right from the beginning.

Every person’s experience is similar, but the interpretation is different because of differences in timing, the weight of the lesson, and the effect of other variables. We share similarities in the realm of experience/knowledge, but it is unlikely we share experiences to the point we can agree without some discussion and interpretation.

We differ not so much in the data and the available information but rather in how we interpret what we find. Let’s call that the assignment of meaning. We think in a hierarchy. We see data, check it for truth and thus create information, then fit the information into a structure – knowledge, and finally assign meaning to make a way to use it. When we understand the meaning of what we can see happening in the world and what we know about the meaning of me as a person, we can connect the two. That is what planning is about. Especially financial planning.

Meaning is affected by the tool we use to notice it. As advisors or clients, we must be aware of the information that creates our context.  We all are influenced by what we see and hear, but we consume one form easier than the other. Most people can be easily misled by visual tools. Be vary cautious using them. Perhaps to create an overview of a problem and then discuss the detailed information related to the client, and finally, as a summary and comparison with the first. That essentially creates a conversation independent of the advisor and is, instead, some sort of internal communication within the client.

How do creativity and innovation work?

Eagleman proposes the creativity we see in Van Gogh, Bach, the iPhone, microchips, and others are not entirely new. In his view, creativity is about using what exists in three ways.

  1. Bend what we observe and find nuance that creates another line of thought.
  2. Break what we know and see what happens.
  3. Blend the pieces of what we know in new ways.

You will notice none of these arise directly from analysis. The first two can be thought of as “shaking the box.” That is the idea of let’s look at what we know differently. That is never a bad idea. There are usually many ways to see any problem or opportunity.

The third is more in the field of synthetic thought. Putting pieces together in a new way.


Decades ago, MDRT decided that clients wanted three things from their advisors.

  1. Identification of a problem or opportunity they had not noticed.
  2. Identification of a creative solution to a problem or opportunity they did know about.
  3. Help with the decision.

Suppose, as an advisor, you organized your presentations around those points. Would you expect better outcomes from those presentations? Would the client win too?

Think about the client’s vision. If they are excited by the points above, and you deliver something familiar, it will be ho-hum; I’ve seen this before. That creates a failing conversation. It was boring then, and I didn’t see how it did much for me.

Look for a way to create an environment where clients can generate their own internal conversations with things previously outside their experience. If you are the client, you should be learning something you can use to your benefit.

The bits to take away

Formula presentations are not as valuable as ones customized to the client.

The process is

  • Identify problems and opportunities, initially from the client’s viewing point.
  • Add information that bends what the client knows to a more complete view of the problem or opportunity.
  • Blend the new position with new tools to permit a decision and implementation.

Don’t get lazy. Template presentations don’t work as well as they could.

Learn to personalize and emphasize meaning in the client’s personal context.

Help me, please. Please subscribe. If you have found this article helpful, forward it to others.

I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals. In the past, I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, 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. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning. I have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at

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