long been a student of the art of great questions. Several years ago I coined the term
“Story-Leading Questions” to describe queries that lead to sharing
narratives. My friend and mentor Nancy
Kline has taught me about what she calls “Incisive Questions,” and explained
that “the human mind works best in the presence of a question.”
back recently from teaching a “Family Generosity Day” in Albuquerque, my good
friend and multigenerational planning partner Mike Cummins introduced me to Warren
Berger’s fascinating new book, A More
Beautiful Question. I just finished
it and I highly recommend it.
most compelling achievement in the book is his description of the “Why — What If — How” sequence of
questions. He describes these three
types of questions.
Why? This question lets you confront a problem,
articulate the challenge at hand, and try to understand it better. Why does a particular situation exist? Why
does it present a problem? Why has no one addressed this problem?
What If? While why
questions help us understand our present reality, what if questions help us envision what might be. What if I come at this problem from a
different direction? What if I tried some combination of X and Y? What if I
borrow an idea from an unrelated area?
How? Now you begin to turn speculation into reality. How questions tend to be practical and
actionable. How can I get this done? How
might I take the first steps? If my idea isn’t working, how can I figure out
what’s wrong and fix it?
employs a wide variety of examples to explain how innovators go through this
three-question pattern on their way to breakout thinking.
I read Berger’s book, I found myself in familiar territory. Although I had never articulated what I had
been doing like he does, I recognized the pattern from my own experience. Here’s what I mean:
SunBridge, we provide training, tools, and support for two different but
sometimes overlapping groups of professional advisors: estate planners and asset managers. For each group, I have been wrestling for
years with a very troubling “Why” question that profoundly affects the long-term
viability of their businesses.
estate planners, I’ve been wondering:
Why do 90% of
multigenerational estate plans fail, as evidenced by the dissipation of the family’s
wealth and the loss of family solidarity by the third generation?
is a critical indictment of an entire industry.
If a surgeon told me that his surgeries were unsuccessful 9 times out of
10, I doubt I would go under the knife.
If a pilot told me there was only a 10% chance we would land safely at
our intended destination, I absolutely wouldn’t get on the plane. With those odds, no wonder most adult
Americans have done no estate planning.
asset managers, my “Why?” question has been:
professional wealth advisors lose the management of their client’s assets upon
the client’s death 98% of the time?
is about as close to ALWAYS as you can get.
I’ve told wealth advisors for many years, perhaps a little tongue in
cheek, that their most serious competitor is the undertaker — because Mr.
Mortician will win 98% of the time. With
some $30 trillion shifting down through
the generations in the next three decades, the success or failure of most asset
managers will likely turn on how well they can swim upstream against that 98%
me, these are life and death questions for these two industries. Certainly the status quo is not
acceptable. Why does it have to be this
way? What can we do about it?
attended lots of high-powered conferences in which a bunch of very smart people
spend days wringing their hands over these twin problems. Unfortunately, nothing I’ve heard so far in
the way of answers seems workable. Most
of the proposed solutions are just flat-out wrong, don’t go nearly far enough,
or are much too unrealistic or esoteric to ever be implemented.
this subject, I agree with Dr. Seuss. “Sometimes the questions are complicated and
the answers are simple.” Notwithstanding
all the conferences and all the books seeking to explain and answer those
problems, I felt there was something really elementary that could fix both of
them. I asked myself, “What are we
assuming that is stopping us from seeing the simple and obvious solution?”
where, months before ever reading his book, I unwittingly employed Berger’s
second step, the What-If question.
it turned out, to find that simple answer I knew was lurking just around the
corner, all I had to do was ask myself a simple and obvious What If?
question. The answer was staring me in
my 62 years on the planet and my 35 years in the business, I have observed time
and again that PEOPLE BEHAVE BETTER
WHEN THEIR GRANDCHILDREN ARE IN THE ROOM.
are more kind. They are less
selfish. They are more flexible. They have greater patience. They are more playful. They have more energy and creativity. They are more likely to forgive. When grandchildren are in the mix, people
take a more thoughtful and longer-term point of view.
aren’t those the kinds of attitudes we want our clients to have when we’re
working with them?
Thus, I arrived at a simple and obvious
“What if advisors included clients’
grandchildren in the estate planning or asset management process?”
that, my mind was off and running.
could see grandparents and grandchildren (and of course the in-between
generation, the children) working together, learning together, discussing
together the big issues that should be TALKED ABOUT but usually aren’t. And who has more at stake in all of this than
the children and grandchildren?
all seemed to fall into place.
we could overcome issues of secrecy and control, the objectification and
infantilization of the clients’ children and grandchildren, troubling issues
that have overshadowed the traditional planning experience and ruined it for
everyone. Involving all three
generations together could change everything!
then in the midst of my euphoria, my mind landed on the third question: “How?”
indeed! How could advisors include
grandchildren (and children) in the estate planning and asset management
changes, large and small, would make a difference in the long-term success rate
for multigenerational estate planning and multigenerational relationships for
that’s where the new SunBridge 3-GEN Planning Retreat fits into all this.
SunBridge 3-GEN Planning Retreat in Orlando on June 26-27, 2014, will address those
two worrisome problems faced by professional advisors:
Why do multigenerational estate plans fail 90% of
Why do professional wealth advisors lose their
clients’ assets-under-management business 98% of the time upon the clients’
will next take up my “simple and obvious” What If? question:
“What if clients’ grandchildren were
included in the estate planning or asset management process?”
we will pose the How? question and search for answers together.
advisors who are comfortable wrestling with difficult questions and probing for
answers, not just being spoon-fed by the teacher, are encouraged to attend.
have some ideas I intend to share during the workshop that involve using
existing SunBridge tools like Priceless Conversations, Angels & Heroes, the
Family Philanthropic Adventure, the Time to Think Council, and others to answer
the How? Question. We’ll experiment with
them and learn from those experiences.
beyond that, I think the roomful of advisors who will show up on June 26 and 27
in Orlando will create a far richer and more diverse set of answers than has
ever been seen before.
think when we start thinking together about how to flesh out this 3-GEN
Planning model, the sky’s the limit.
trust that when the right people get together with a great set of beautiful
questions, magic can happen. Therefore, I
have faith that lightning will strike in Orlando on June 26 and 27, 2014.
SunBridge has a reputation for producing dynamic and eye-opening workshops, I
believe this brand-new SunBridge 3-GEN Planning Retreat will set a new standard
for energy and creativity.
the idea of creating something amazing by working with an outstanding
collaborative of very bright and engaged advisors appeals to you, I hope you
will join us.
will you add to the creative chemistry of this gathering? What answers will you help us discover that we
wouldn’t find without you? What breakthroughs
will we achieve with you there?
much I know for sure — it won’t be the same without you.