Monday, May 12, 2014

Beautiful Questions from SunBridge — A Whole New Breed of Workshop

I’ve 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.” 

Flying 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

Berger’s 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?

He employs a wide variety of examples to explain how innovators go through this three-question pattern on their way to breakout thinking.

As 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:

A.    Why?

At 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. 

For 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?

This 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.

For asset managers, my “Why?” question has been:

Why do professional wealth advisors lose the management of their client’s assets upon the client’s death 98% of the time?

98% 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% current.

To 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?

I’ve 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. 

On 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?”

That’s where, months before ever reading his book, I unwittingly employed Berger’s second step, the What-If question.

B.     What If?

As 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 the face.

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.  

They 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.

They have more love.

And 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 question:

“What if advisors included clients’ grandchildren in the estate planning or asset management process?”

With that, my mind was off and running. 

I 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? 

It all seemed to fall into place. 

Finally, 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!

And then in the midst of my euphoria, my mind landed on the third question:  “How?”

C.     How?

How, indeed!  How could advisors include grandchildren (and children) in the estate planning and asset management process?

What changes, large and small, would make a difference in the long-term success rate for multigenerational estate planning and multigenerational relationships for asset managers?

And that’s where the new SunBridge 3-GEN Planning Retreat fits into all this.

The 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 the time? 

Why do professional wealth advisors lose their clients’ assets-under-management business 98% of the time upon the clients’ death? 

It 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?”

Then we will pose the How? question and search for answers together. 

Professional advisors who are comfortable wrestling with difficult questions and probing for answers, not just being spoon-fed by the teacher, are encouraged to attend.

I 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.

But 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. 

I think when we start thinking together about how to flesh out this 3-GEN Planning model, the sky’s the limit.

I 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.

While 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.

If 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. 

What 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?

This much I know for sure — it won’t be the same without you.

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