Why don’t we look outside the financial world for answers to our business problems?


Is it possible we are the biggest group of victims of groupthink on the planet?

The theme has popped up recently in a number of my coaching engagements. I have found myself referring to marketing and management books from outside the financial services business when addressing issues advisors are dealing with. I referenced the works in conversations with clients and found those advisors had not heard of them before. Given the number of business books published in a year, that’s not overly surprising. But it got me thinking.

It occurred to me that virtually all the articles published in our trade journals and the studies conducted in our industry attempt to find the best solutions to the pressing issues of the day by asking the most successful advisors how they do it. Okay, fair enough. If you want to copy someone else it makes sense to emulate the ones who are getting the best results. But what if no one in the industry really has it nailed. What if someone in a different business (or even an entire other industry) has found a much better approach?

Take my area of expertise as an example – marketing. We all know that attracting referrals is the most effective way financial advisory firms market their services. Is that because referral marketing is the best possible way or could it be because financial advisors generally are just so awful at marketing? (I happen to believe that referral marketing is at least the most cost-effective although, especially watching the growth of social media, it may not be the best. And the vast majority of advisors are just awful at marketing, so those industry surveys in search of the best marketing strategies for advisory firms that simply poll advisors on how they do it always make me smile. And cringe.)

Why don’t we see reviews of books from the general business press reviewed in our trade journals? Why don’t we hear of advisors or experts taking a new management or marketing idea from a bestseller and trying it out in an advisory firm? How many opportunities are we missing by not taking a broader view?

Being creative is hard. Beyond the opportunity to discover ideas professionals in other industries are trying out, looking at a problem and its solution in a different context can make it easier for your mind to be flexible. One of my favorite “business” books is Better by Atul Gawande. And it’s not a business book. The subtitle is A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance. Gawande’s question is if all doctors have the same techniques, treatment methodologies, medicines, and tools, why is it that outcomes can be radically different for the same condition between one institution and another? And then he proceeds to examine some of the principles that affect the performance of health institutions through a series of vignettes. It is a capitvating book. It’s a great question for financial advisors as well. Contemplating the question of managing client outcomes from totally outside the financial services environment made it a lot easier to get creative inspiration from it. He takes that approach in his subsequent book The Checklist Manifesto. The World Health Organization presented him with a challenge to improve surgical outcomes around the world. In exploring the value of using checklists in the surgical suites, he draws lessons from their many origins and implementations across many industries, from construction to air travel. All those other fields inform his utilization of them in medicine.

Do you want to find a better way to influence clients’ behavior? I am a lot less interested in what even the most successful advisors do then I am to try out the ideas from Switch by Chip and Dan Heath or Instant Influence by Michael Pantalon. Want to get some kind of idea what the World Wide Web and social media is affecting how we market our services? Some of the most interesting ideas are in The Invisible Sale by Tom Martin even though the book makes no mention of financial services.

Would you be interested in exploring how we might bring more ideas from the popular business press into study groups, mastermind groups, or group coaching situations? What are some of your favorite recent titles from outside financial services? I would love to hear some of your opinions. Let me know what you think in the comments below. If you are interested, maybe it is a conversation worth continuing.


The End of the Elevator Pitch

I have created a short guide with 10 tips on putting together a great positioning statement for your company. You can download it for free here.

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