I believe that both professional advisors and their clients and donors are ill-served when the only option available is the traditional Flatland model of planning focused on transactions, money, analytics, and quick fixes. I call that model of planning Level One.
At SunBridge we have developed an alternative story-based approach that is more suitable for many clients and donors (and their advisors) because it addresses their deeper human concerns, it acknowledges that their real wealth is not limited to those things that can be tallied on a balance sheet, and it recognizes that many of the most important questions in planning cannot be answered with a number. In short, Level-Two planning produces better bottom-line results as well as better human results.
So how can a financial advisor, an estate planner, or a philanthropic professional move confidently from the Flatland world of Level One to the multidimensional world of Level Two? Even though this shift employs story, the natural medium we all live in and our common native language, it’s not always easy for us to make this change.
In many cases, vaulting permanently into the rewarding world of Level-Two advising demands work, commitment, and persistence. Getting to Level Two often requires us to hack our way through the underbrush of years and perhaps decades of Level-One indoctrination and training. It sometimes necessitates replacing lots of deeply imbedded old habits by gently cultivating new habits and then strengthening them over time. Such a transformation is not an instantaneous event but is an ongoing process. It requires four essential ingredients that must be persistently applied and re-applied in generous quantities. They are: 1) a new mind-set; 2) a new skill-set; 3) a new tool-set; and 4) a new support-set. These four steps are illustrated in a teaching tool we use at SunBridge called “Taking Charge.”
A New Mind-Set. To successfully effect the transformation from Level One to Level Two, we must first develop a new mind-set. We must think differently about who we are, about who our clients or donors are, about what wealth is, about the purpose and meaning of our work, and about the value we are trying to create in the world. Until this mental shift happens, the conversion cannot really start to develop. Until we can truly see ourselves as operating comfortably and authentically in this new multidimensional realm, our transformation will not make much progress.
Without a soul-deep shift in our thinking, everything else we may attempt toward moving to Level Two will turn out to be shallow and artificial. Being a Level-Two advisor is not a garb we put on for certain occasions, nor is it a set of techniques we employ for effect. It is a way of thinking, a way of feeling, indeed, a way of being. It all begins with a new mind-set.
A New Skill-Set. Once our thinking has shifted, the next step in the transformation process is to develop a new skill-set. Operating successfully at Level Two requires that we employ additional capabilities beyond those we used in Flatland. Level-One skills are not jettisoned as we are converted into a Level-Two advisor; we still need them just as much. But we must add further strengths and talents to our repertoire.
Developing these new Level-Two skills is an on-going process that can last a lifetime, but fortunately we don’t have to be perfect at all of them to get started. What we do need from the start is an attitude of openness and teachability, a willingness to learn, experiment, and practice. It also helps to have patience with ourselves while in the learning curve, and the courage to dare to be ugly as our new skill-set is maturing.
A New Tool-Set. Working effectively and efficiently in the rarified air of Level Two will require us to employ a new tool-set. Tools — whether simple tools like the wheel, the lever, or the inclined plane, or complex tools like the computer, the automobile, or the airplane — are devices that allow us to accomplish bigger results with less exertion, in less time, with less resistance, and/or at a lower cost than we could achieve working with our bare hands.
Given the huge expenditure of energy and attention required for most of us to transform ourselves and our practices from Level One to Level Two, we probably couldn’t pull it off without a smart set of new tools, custom-designed for the task. We would simply wear out before we arrived or would get lost along the way.
A New Support-Set. Finally, given our human tendencies to slip back into old patterns, fall back into old habits, or run out of resolve, we will need a new support-set in order to complete this transformation. We need scaffolding to prop us up and an outside push to keep us moving forward as we embrace this new approach to life and work. We need goals and deadlines and accountability. We need pioneers who have blazed the trail ahead and guides and outfitters for the journey. We need coaches and teammates and cheerleaders and more-experienced players as role-models.
Hopefully, we can develop a community of like-minded colleagues who are on the same journey, a circle of friends who share our vision and who are willing to help us as we help them. In this case, it really does take a village.
The SunBridge Legacy Builder Retreat, The Advanced Legacy Builder Retreat, The Legacy Builder Network, and The Legacy Chat Workshop provide the new mind-set, skill-set, tool-set, and support-set that thoughtful advisors need to effect this transition. I invite financial advisors and estate planners to learn more at www.SunBridgeLegacy.com, and I invite philanthropic professionals to learn more at www.TheLegacyChat.com.
* * *
I believe that any significant and lasting change in human behavior must progress through the four steps outlined in the “Taking Charge” graphic image shown above. It is one thing to use this process to change ourselves. It is quite another to use it to help our clients and donors make significant and lasting changes within themselves.
In their seminal book, The Experience Economy, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore identify the ultimate economic offering to be, contrary to the title of their book, not “staging experiences,” but rather “guiding transformations” — helping customers change their lives. They predict that “[o]nce the Experience Economy has run its course, the Transformation Economy will take over. Then the basis of success will be in understanding the aspirations of individual consumers and businesses and guiding them to fully realize these aspirations.”
When our Level-Two clients and donors start coming to us seeking help to change some aspect of themselves, their family dynamics, their businesses, or their legacies, we begin to move into the realm of the Level-Three Advisor. That’s when this “Taking Charge” four-step model really starts to get valuable and exciting. And that’s a subject for a future article. Please stay tuned.