NEST EGG: Words of wisdom from successful people

ONE of the great aspects of my day job as a financial planner is that I get to listen & learn from some very successful people. I have clients from all walks of life, many who have built successful careers and of course made plenty of mistakes along the way.

Mistakes are important as a learning tool but only if you learn from them. My own father used to say – “Show me a man that has never made a mistake and I’ll show you a man that has made nothing.” What you can learn from a book is limited. I think most would agree that you have to learn through experience to advance your own knowledge and personal development.

As I’ve moved through the decades myself, I’ve realised the value in listening. It’s a great skill to have as a financial planner where we need to understand the financial problems that people need solved.

Someone once said that there’s a reason that we have two ears and one mouth, in other words we are built to listen twice as much as we speak. Anyone who knows me will probably say I have yet to get that balance right, but I think I’m learning to use the ears more.

This brings me on to a conversation I had last week with a good friend and client and he made a great comment about people who often fall into the trap of thinking they know it all. He said, “If you knew 10% of what you don’t know, you’d be the smartest person on the planet”.

It came up in the context of some people who do not seek advice form the people around them and sometimes make obvious mistakes which may have been highlighted if they sought counsel from others.

It’s known as over-confidence bias in behavioural economics. It’s a tendency to hold a false and misleading assessment of our skills, intelligence or talent.

In short, it’s when we think we are better than we actually are at something and catches a lot of us out. Many people try to overcome this tendency by surrounding themselves with people as smart, or smarter than themselves and constantly asking for constructive feedback.

Surrounding yourself with smart and experienced people of different personality types to your own can shield you against over- confidence bias. The opposite would be someone surrounding themselves with “Yes men”, as we call them in Ireland. This approach will ensure that your methods and thoughts are never really challenged, and you are a lot less likely to learn from your mistakes.

Before I set up Tara Financial Partners in 2014, I contacted 5 successful financial advisors in different parts of the country and asked if I could come to meet them to ask them about their businesses. I told each of them that I would happily pay them for their time, but I wanted one hour with them to ask them about the pitfalls to watch out for and some mistakes that they’d made along the way. I didn’t really want to know about their successes which everyone feels more comfortable talking about. I emailed them a list of questions in advance of the lunch meeting, and it was a fantastic exercise to gather information from experienced professionals in my profession.

In an age where many of us believe that Google has all the answers, you might just get far more wisdom from a chat with the generation that went before us.

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