Turkeys, Admission and the curiosity of a mistaken fool.

I reckon the old saying’s true

There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance…

However when I look back I wonder how much of my adult life I spent on the ‘arrogant’ side of that line.

I don’t think I’ve been ‘arrogant’ in a nasty or malicious or egotistical way. However I reckon I spent a lot of my early adult life (probably up until my early thirties) thinking I was the bees knees!

However, and looking back, I realise how foolish I was!

Whilst being confident can be massively beneficial I see stepping over the “line of arrogance” as having a few issues…

We stop learning as much due to thinking we “Know it all” (or at least more than we think), when often the opposite was true.

We think that ‘natural talent’ governs our achievements which means we start to be complacent about the importance of hard work.

and

We start to ignore the mistakes we make, both in life and in work.

In the past few years (and especially since starting my business) I’ve tried to remain relatively confident but ‘parking’ the arrogance. In practice this has meant…

I’ve realised how much I don’t know and therefore I’m on a permanent mission to learn.

I work harder than ever.

and

I try to admit to a lot of the mistakes I make and learn from them.

However this creates an issue, and one I’m struggling with so I need your help answering the following question…

Should you publicly admit you make mistakes?

Let me explain the context…

I’m in the process of writing my first book.

However I’m struggling in a big way!

Not with content (I’ve written a decent number of words over the past couple of years which I could potentially use) but with structure and narrative…

…and then a couple of weeks ago….an idea hit me!

I’ll talk about some of the financial mistakes I’ve made with my own personal finances as a framework to what I’ve learnt (and continue to learn).

I shared this idea in conversation with someone in our profession who is well known for his insight. Someone who has been through the publishing process. Someone I like, respect and whose counsel I trust…

He thought the idea was a turkey.

He didn’t put  it that way but gave me some valid reasons why it might not be, erm, the greatest idea in the world!

The impression I got was he felt that for a financial planner to admit financial mistakes was foolish.

I get that.

I countered that I’d prefer to work with a financial planner who could admit they are  fallible and seek to improve both themselves and their business to improve the service they deliver.

He retorted that I should consider my existing clients and how they’d feel about the book.

I countered with the fact that hopefully that our relationship was deep enough (and they know me well enough) to  understand my desire to be as open as possible. It could also potentially be a great client hygiene exercise too….

The more I think about it the more I’m not sure who’s right…

There are plenty  of financial businesses who focus on strong, secure branding and imagery (SJP and some of the Networks spring to mind). You’d never find a businesses like this admitting they make mistakes and maybe they’ve got it right.

Maybe the key to business success is to be the expert (which we all should be as far as expertise allows) but with no admittance of ever getting it wrong (which is the bit that doesn’t sit comfortably with me).

We don’t have to look too far back to see the danger of large (and some smaller) financial institutions and their leaders pretending they know way more than they do and making terrible decisions because of this. I’m not  sure how many of these mistakes are down to the leaders over confident bullishness but I wouldn’t mind betting it’s a fair share.

Maybe I’m a bit strange (actually I know I am!) but I identify and admire with leaders who have passion, drive and ambition but combine these attributes with a humility that allows them to admit they are human (and not superhuman) and therefore admit they make mistakes (and continue to learn from those mistakes).

So, the question all of this boils down to is…

Should a business owner, financial planner or any professional publicly admit to their past mistakes voluntarily?

Does it make you think worse or the person or potentially better?

and

If admitting error is a commercial mis-step…How do you balance commercial reality with the challenge to be an authentic and genuine person?

I look forward to your thoughts

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14 thoughts on “Turkeys, Admission and the curiosity of a mistaken fool.

  • Do it, Chris. I’ve got far more admiration for people who give things a try, make mistakes and then try again, than for those who claim to live a perfect existence. Of course you should never set out to intentionally make mistakes. That would be crazy. Start with the goal of success and, should you fail, work out why and adjust accordingly for the next time.

    Reply
    • Cheers Martin,

      I absolutely agree.

      Making intentional mistakes is a true fools path….however if you’re making mistakes while you’re “giving it a go” that’s got to be positive!

      I think the lot of the mistakes I’ve made in years gone by have been due to ignorance and arrogance (a potent combination)….but if you can share a lesson with someone to help them not make the same mistake is that worth it….

      ….and I’m pretty sure I’ll continue to make mistakes. However I want to make sure now it’s not down to ignorance and arrogance but “giving enough things a go” to fail at a few!

      Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  • Chris, I remember our conversation, and I’ll put my hand up to being the person who suggested the idea was a turkey (though as you point out, I didn’t actually put it that way).

    I think there’s a danger (as always) of seeing two things as polar opposites – either to admit to being foolish or to suggest you’ve never made a mistake (though I still don’t think you should describe yourself as foolish, even if you admit to making mistakes in the past).

    If we’d had time that evening I might have gone on to say that there are occasions when I will admit to clients that in the past I’ve made some mistakes, and because I’m human I’ll no doubt make some more in the future – which is why I have an evidence based approach to the work I do, with processes in place to ensure the more fallible, human side of me, doesn’t stick its nose into the wrong areas.

    The beauty of doing this in the context of face to face meetings is that I can judge when it’s appropriate (the human side of me is making that judgement, I know) and I can choose the time and place to disclose my foibles, when I know it will have the right impact, and strengthen my case, not weaken it.

    The problem with a book is that you don’t get to choose. They ( your readers) will read it and interpret it as they wish, with no opportunity for you to correct any misinterpretation.

    However, I do think it could be appropriate to use personal stories from ‘way back’ to illustrate what can happen without process, or without evidence based solutions to particular problems or situations. But foolish? I don’t think so.

    Of course, I’m happy to talk again on this point. I’m sure there’s a happy medium to be found 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Dennis,

      I didn’t want to mention is was you without you being comfortable with that! However I thought our conversation was interesting enough to warrant further explanation.

      I absolutely agree that there is a middle ground and I’m starting to think about the framework being similar but with some broader stories highlighting the points I’m attempting to make.

      Thanks for your support on this…your feedback’s been invaluable and giving me loads of food for thought!

      I’m sure we’ll catch up on this soon! 🙂

      Reply
  • My question is ‘why do you want to publicly declare your weaknesses and errors?’ That’s a more interesting question than whether you should or not, I think.

    Reply
    • Hi Phil,

      There”s a bunch of reasons…

      I reckon that if as a profession were more prepared to show our human side publicly it could potentially humanise financial services and help engage additional trust in our profession….

      Also if the approach helps people who have had poor financial habits show them that they can make mistakes and recover financially (and even the professionals get it wrong sometimes)….surely that’s a good thing right?

      Reply
  • I’m with Dennis. Give a few examples from your own experience, sure, but don’t base the whole thing on your own mistakes. Apart from anything else it’s quite a negative approach. Surely better to focus more on copying good practice than avoiding bad.

    It also depends on the mistake, of course. ‘I once invested in an ISA and forgot to check its performance for three years’ is fine. ‘I once used a client’s investment cheque to go on a three day cocaine and champagne bender in Mayfair’ probably isn’t!

    One of the few business books I’ve read is ‘What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School’ by Mark McCormack. It is basically a series of anecdotes with a message taken from each. Might form a good model for your book.

    Reply
    • Hi Chris,

      Luckily I’ve never even felt close to tempted to go on a three day bender in Mayfair….either with client cash or my own! So there’s no fear of mentioning that! 🙂

      I get where you’re coming from on the point you raise about taking a negative approach but I didn’t see this approach as that….the idea is that by showing and admitting that everyone (including the professionals) have the ability to make mistakes it’s Ok to do this as long as you have the ability to learn, develop and grow from said mistakes.

      Thanks for the tip on the Mark McCormack book….it’s been added to my Amazon wish list – which still contains your book (which I intend to order very soon!)

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      Reply
  • ‘There is a crack, a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in’ – Leonard Cohen

    Like many kids in the 70s, I spent years standing at the back of our Catholic church, listening to the parish priest bang on about this and that. Nice young chap, friendly, but someone to whom I couldn’t relate.

    Years later, I came across the same parish church, the same but now older parish priest. I was sad to learn he had a few years off a little way back, after struggles with alcohol. Having lived a little myself, I now realise how being a priest is probably one of the toughest jobs going.

    Credit to him though, as he’d managed a come back bigger than Elvis ’68 tour and returned to work. Something very hard to do when preaching the virtues of leading a good life. You couldn’t blame someone for giving the job up. Though in reality, how could you NOT, now listen to a guy who’d done that?

    I’m very cautious of celebs who portray themselves as the ‘perfect mum and dad’ only to hand their kids to the nannies as they get in and put their feet up. Lots of things are phoney or perhaps it’s always been phoney, but less in my face. Admitting mistakes is how you say, “I’ve been there mate, I’m real like you”.

    Go on, write the book.

    Reply
    • Hi Dan,

      I like this.

      You’re more prepared to listen to the guy’s life experience as it’s not always been easy and he’s made mistakes but has been tough enough to learn from this and bounce back!

      Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  • Will the last entry in the book be “Writing this book” 🙂 ?

    I think it’s a refreshing idea.

    Reply
    • Ha, Phillip!

      Almost Definitely! 🙂

      Reply
  • OK I’ve been cajoled into leaving a proper reply on this following my tweet which said
    ” Are words like mistakes & wrong a bit black&white? Things I’d have done differently with hindsight is a positive”.

    You see I didn’t necessarily disagree with what others had said but felt what you were probably trying to do was worthwhile.
    If its a bit of public self-flagellation on a mea culpa basis then forget it, I’d say.
    If on the other hand what you are trying to do is share experiences which with the benefit of hindsight you’d have done differently and why, then it surely has merit.
    Focus on your objective. Are you trying to help others avoid the same mistakes?
    Maybe choice of words will be important.
    Sharing experiences is surely a good thing.

    Here’s a quote to ponder? “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations”. – Steve Jobs

    Reply
    • Thanks for taking the time to do this Stew. I just thought you’re comment was interesting and wanted to understand what you meant…

      I am looking to share experiences and what I’ve learned and what I’d done differently to help others avoid those mistakes….however I’m thinking whether all these mistakes need to be mine!

      It’s probably more powerful if there not!

      Thanks for the quote too….and I hope you didn’t feel to cajoled! I thought it was more of a gentle nudge! 🙂

      Reply

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