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Advisers need instinct as well as knowledge

As legislators and regulators across Europe – Brexit bit between their teeth – are poised for all sorts of eventualities, advisers can at least rest assured that change is the constant on which they can depend.

But in the midst of seemingly constant flux, it can become easy to bow to what is insisted upon and lose sight of that which is needed – which, in turn, can be to the detriment of the very people said change set out to serve.

I thought of this when I saw an interesting study recently, which found that one to five-year-olds showed stories such as Rupert the Bear wearing clothes led to less factual knowledge and reasoning. Scientists say books that portray animals realistically lead to more learning and “more accurate biological understanding”.

But greater accuracy alone may not add even a modicum of meaning. And without meaning, well, there is not much. Pursuit of factual excellence while ignoring the story (of consumers lives) in which these facts are played out will not lead to better outcomes for anyone. In order to connect powerfully and meaningfully we must insist on more than cold, hard facts, creating a story that clients can not only understand but also experience.

The poet and journalist George Sylvester Viereck charmed an interview out of an initially reluctant superstar physicist. He asked: “How do you account for your discoveries? Through intuition or inspiration?”

Albert Einstein replied: “Both. I sometimes feel I am right but do not know it. When two expeditions of scientists went to test my theory, I was convinced they would confirm my theory.  I wasn’t surprised when the results confirmed my intuition but  I would have been surprised had I been wrong. I’m enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination, which I think is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Throughout our development as a species, we have relied on a blend of imagination and knowledge. Both are valuable. The Oxford English Dictionary states that imagination involves “forming a mental concept of what is not actually present to the senses”.

This is imperative in the intangible world of financial services.

Phil Wickenden is managing director at Cicero Research

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