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What advisers are saying: Soft skills are getting harder

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A recent study of three- to five-year-olds showed that reading them stories such as Rupert Bear, where the character is pictured wearing clothes, leads to them acquiring less factual knowledge and reasoning. Scientists say books that portray animals realistically produce more learning and “more accurate biological understanding.” But greater accuracy alone may not add even a modicum of meaning. And without meaning, well, there isn’t much left.

The Government and the FCA are also putting greater emphasis on raising standards. But the pursuit of factual excellence while ignoring the story in which these facts are played out (in our case, consumers’ lives) will not lead to better outcomes for anyone. In order to connect powerfully with our clients, we must insist on more than cold, hard facts, instead creating a story that they will not only understand but also experience.

As French philosopher Simone Weil said: “Imagination and fiction make up more than three-quarters of our real life.” Getting this imagination/knowledge ratio right is a challenge less talked about today under the intense pressure to comply but it has been found, in some form, in nearly every field of human intellectual endeavour since the start of time.

Poet and journalist George Sylvester Viereck charmed an interview from 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 it. 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.

Of course, imagination can also go wrong. Take Ukraine’s recently seized military asset, the combat dolphin, trained to kill frogmen with a special harpoon fitted to its back (I kid you not). Maybe Rupert does have something to answer for.

Phil Wickenden is managing director of So Here’s The Plan phil@soherestheplan.co.uk

IFA client quotes from consumer research:

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