We often discuss developing emotional intelligence on this blog, as it is less structured than developing technical intelligence. It’s the skill set you develop through hundreds of interactions with a variety of human temperaments and personalities. Knowing when to listen and when to speak, when to be forward and when to be subtle, when to laugh and when to be serious. There’s no crash course in emotional intelligence. Like getting fit, the goal is reached through unbroken repetition, and can thus never be fully attained. No matter how many client meetings you conduct you’ll still come across people that fall on unfamiliar parts of the spectrum.
Observation of my more experienced 35-70+ year old counterparts has been my primary source material for developing this sort of intelligence. The best golden nuggets I’ve gleaned from my most senior coworker are these: 1) Always be curious, 2) Nobody was born boring, and 3) You can’t understand someone without understanding his motivations. These things resonated with me, and I don’t see a future where their meaning isn’t relevant to my career and life. It doesn’t matter that for decades this coworker’s career didn’t involve him utilizing the internet, the advice still fits. In pondering that very thought, I considered the looming certainty that some of the recommendations and mantras of these older counterparts might be outdated. The more I thought about it, the more obvious it seemed. At 25, I’m right around the youngest age of people who remember what it was like to yell at your big sister to get off the phone while you were trying to friggin’ log on to AOL Instant Messenger. I grew up with the internet, so I’ve always understood technology better than most of my older coworkers.
Whenever we purchased a new technology at my previous firm I would be the beta tester, learning the system so I could be a resource when my coworkers were forced to switch from the outdated program. Learning new commercialized products and platforms is easy for me, which makes sense given the platform designer’s primary goal for a widespread audience is usually intuitive functionality. Growing up with the internet has made it hard for me to see from the perspective of someone who just doesn’t get how to learn new platforms, but a conversation with my roommates at dinner last night provided me with a healthy dose of empathy. My roommates work for two of the most notable “disrupter” companies in the Bay Area, constantly trying to push the limits of technological development, so I like to think they have some authority on the matters of automation and the imminent transformation of our workforce as we know it. One of my roommates postulated, “We’re probably the last generation that won’t grow up coding as a necessity. It will be a required high school class for our kids, because it’ll be crucial to function in the workforce.” I had always thought it would be cool that when I’m 90 people will be baffled that I once lived without the internet, that is until I realized how far behind I could be not knowing a lick of coding. If you enjoy this kind of thinking, I recommend reading Chuck Klosterman’s “But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking about the Present as If It Were the Past,” which will challenge your perception and thought processes about the present day and our unknowable future. Computers have become ever-present in our lives (you probably have one in your pocket right now), so theorizing that the human workforce will need to know coding more intimately seems like a reasonable prediction. Klosterman’s book points out though, that we’re often incredibly wrong about predicting the future:
“Irrational trajectories happen all the time. Here’s an excerpt from a 1948 issues of Science Digest: “Landing and moving around the moon offers so many serious problems for human beings that it may take science another 200 years to lick them.” The prediction was off by only 179 years. But the reason Science Digest was so wrong was not technological; it was motivational… when the Soviets launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957, the meaning of the enterprise changed… By the summer of ’69 we were planting flags and collecting moon rocks.”
Our biases prevent us from accurately projecting the future because we see the possibilities through the lens of what we value today. Using Klosterman’s framework in regards to providing financial advice, it’s not whether coding will be essential to function in the workforce, but how will a future with different values affect the “old” way of doing things. We may assume that technology will replace the traditional model of providing financial advice, but it’s likely emotional intelligence will be an even more highly desired skill in such a high-tech world. When 3D printing and coding begin to show up as elementary school classes, the skills children develop in English and at recess will become more scarce, and consequently more valuable. After all, a person’s repertoire of skills is limited by the things they have time to experience. When dealing with money, the gatekeeper to so many of our life goals, emotional intelligence and communication skills will be even more crucial.
Although I believe emotional intelligence will always be valued in providing financial advice, we must recognize the likelihood of a period where no one has authority on the best way to provide said advice, and we must always critically analyze anyone who claims such authority. Much of a financial advisor’s career involves providing answers, which requires a certain level of confidence in the way you operate. Regardless of how sound your advice is, if you don’t deliver it with conviction then clients may begin to second guess your judgement. As such, it's important that we consider the advice and critiques our mentors provide through the lens of someone who's been successful advising to a particular generation, and that the values of future generations are subject to change. In other words, just because advisors have been successful with certain methods doesn't mean those methods will bring continued success in dealing with delivering financial advice in a world that’s sprinting in terms of technological development. As we improve upon our emotional intelligence, we may need to resist certain techniques our mentors implore us to use. This post is a call to attention, we need to consider that many people who have had success with their methods will be hesitant to change. Although Mark Manson was not writing in this context, an excerpt from his book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life” can be applied to this situation:
“Our mind’s biggest priority when processing experiences is to interpret them in such a way that they will cohere with all of our previous experiences, feelings, and beliefs.”
All you have to do is compare our collective technological strides year over year since the turn of the century and there should be little doubt we’re heading into the future with our foot on the accelerator. Given this exponential growth, we need to take particular care during the inevitable development of the delivery of financial advice. You may have been hoping for specific examples to glean from this post, but I don’t have them. It’s not exactly the smartest career move to publicize the specific ways you disagree with your superiors! Also, I consider myself fortunate to be a part of a firm that is driven to provide the best solutions for our clients. That drive is embedded in our work culture and there’s a conscious resistance to bending to pride or seniority. You should be critically reevaluating your company if superiors respond to your inquiries with “because we’ve always done it that way.”
I welcome you to comment if you have a specific examples where you disagreed with your superiors on these types of matters (perhaps anonymously would be best). Since we’re all subject to present-moment biases, sharing your experience could help other readers to realize their own environments aren’t ideal for adapting to the times.