Don’t play the ‘I Don’t Know’ game

Up until recently I used to walk my son to and from school once a week. We used to play games. Such as the ‘Yes/No’ game, where you have to converse without saying the words yes or no (our favourite was to do Monty Python’s argument sketch whilst playing the yes/no game – not easy!).

Another favourite was the ‘I Don’t Know’ game. We took it in turns to ask each other an unanswerable question. If the other had to answer ‘I don’t know’, the questioner gets a point.

Annoyingly, my son was better than me at this game. He would ask ‘How many stripes does a zebra have?’ I didn’t know. A point to him. I’d ask ‘How many stars in the sky?’ He’d answer ‘More than twelve.’

Eventually, I had to resort to song titles. ‘How deep is your love?’ I’d ask. He didn’t know. A point to me. ‘Why do birds suddenly appear every time that you are near?’ I’d ask. Luckily his knowledge of the Carpenters was lacking, and I’d claim another point.

I recently listened to the brilliant Michelle Hoskin talk about best business practice for IFA businesses. I’ve seen her talk several times, and I always learn something new. But there was one concept that troubled me. At the start she talked about help us achieve our ‘true potential’.

It’s a nebulous concept, potential. Try answering the question ‘What is my potential?’ You’ll have to answer ‘I don’t know’, because that is the point of potential; it’s what we don’t yet know that we are able to achieve.

It’s important when setting goals and motivations to have criteria in order that you know what success looks like. But how do you know when you’ve achieved your potential? What if you actually have a bit more potential, you just haven’t realised yet? It’s even trickier for a business to achieve its potential. There’s always more that can be done, big, better.

Understanding thyself is a key element of running a business; of being a financial planner; and of the role that financial planners play in helping clients. Understanding what the end point looks like – and helping a client to understand where they are headed – has to come first before a plan can be devised. We need to ask questions we are able to answer in order to have clarity over where we want to go, and therefore which direction we need to take to get there.

There are other words one could use to provide such clarity. Goal, vision, motivation, desired outcome. But I’m not sure ‘How good can I be?’ is the most important question. It is certainly an unanswerable question.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my son is coming home from school soon and I have a question to ask him…

Chris has recently become an associate of Quiver for delivering coaching. Oh, and there’s the novel, of course.

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