Thursday, March 10, 2011

Non-Intuitive Advice

Giving unconventional advice is a big money-making profession.

A lot of what I write here is along the lines of "Well, Duh!" kind of advice.  In other words, live in reality and stop living in a fantasy world.

The professional advice-givers, on the other hand, often preach unconventional wisdom, and people buy it like it is crack.  Why is this?

Well, people want to hear something different, something unusual, and something that says "Gee, I never thought of it that way!"

For example, I had a boss who ran a Patent firm.  He was a pretty good Attorney, but was getting up there in years and was at the point where he was no longer prosecuting cases on a regular basis, but rather supervising young Associates and schmoozing clients.  At that stage in your career, it is not unusual to become nervous - and feel like a fraud - as you are working less and making an awful lot more.

His shtick was to give odd advice.  I recall a Japanese client asking him how he drafted Patent Applications.  Now, most Attorneys start out by trying to figure out what the invention is all about, and one way to do that is to write up the description (Specification) and prepare drawings.  Once you understand the invention, you draft claims.

His advice was the inverse:  write the claims first, and then write the Specification to support them.  In response to this "unconventional" advice, the Japanese would nod and say, "Ah, So! Deska!" and think my boss was a genius.

And while this may seem like an interesting approach to take, in reality, it is hard to implement, as you have to understand the invention in order to claim it.  And also, if you leave out some subject matter, it may turn out later on that you want to claim that part of the invention.  So if your specification only supports only the claims as written, well, you'd better hope you claimed everything.

But nevertheless, the clients found this trick fascinating.

You see, people want to hear something different - and they wanted to hear that he was different than the other Attorneys - better.  If you just say "Well, I do what everyone else does" that really isn't much sizzle to sell.

And other advisers, consultants, gurus, and advice-givers follow the same tack.  "Pay off your smallest debts first!" Dave Ramsey says, which is the opposite of basic logic and common sense - which says to pay off your highest interest rate debts first.  His logic?  That you will psychologically see progress faster.  Psychology?  What does that have to do with reducing debt?

What it will do, for people who need to fool themselves with psychology to get out of debt, is backfire - in a big way.  They "retire" a small debt, then think they are making "progress" - so they go out and spend more.

He also suggests - no, mandates - that you give 10% of your pre-tax money to your church, which is a bigger bite than Uncle Sugar takes.   I would not suggest taking advice from Dave Ramsey.

Everything I have written here can be found elsewhere on the Internet.  Most of it is common sense, but as the old adage goes, common sense ain't all that common.

People want easy answers - unconventional answers.  And they are all-too-willing to sign on to the first person who comes along and offers them easy answers.

"You don't have to pay back your debts!" they say, "just send us $1000 and we'll get you out of debt!

And people believe it.

But I think the secret to financial success is no secret.  There is nothing you need to buy a book for, or attend a seminar, or pay a fee to figure out.  The secret is just the obvious - that people who get ahead in life are the ones who don't live in a fantasy world all day long - thinking they can transmute tin into gold or get something-for-nothing.

The world has no shortage of such fools.  We all saw this in the last decade with Real Estate.  And now we are witnessing it in Gold.  People think they can buy something and it will just magically increase in value - without and work or effort on their part.   And when it all goes horribly wrong, they sign on to the next carnival bandwagon to roll into town, convinced that "this time, for sure!" they are going to make the big money.

And while these folks spend all their time and energy chasing after unconventional solutions to their financial problems, they ignore the most obvious solution under their noses - spend less than you make, save as much as you can.  And they ignore that solution because it only seems to create wealth in a painfully slow manner.

But for most of us, it is the only solution available.