Thursday, December 28, 2006

I don't know

"I don't know."

How many times have you heard that answer? Whether the question is, "Which colors do you like best, where do you want to go to dinner, or what do you want to do this weekend,” “I don’t know” sounds pretty much the same in any language.

Some questions, like the one the barista at Starbucks asks, "Leave room for cream?" you seem to answer effortlessly. Answers to other questions seem to get stuck in some perennial version of "I don't know."

Behavioral psychologist say our answers to life’s questions often have more to do with reasons that don’t relate to the question much less make any sense. Take our barista friend, for example. When she said, "Leave room for cream?” you said, “Yes,” never mind that you didn't want cream. You said “Yes,” because when you said "No," she filled your cup full and on your way to work, your coffee slopped out the plastic lid, down the double cup and all over the front of your nice clean starched shirt. That’s why you say “Yes.”

We went to work on implementing a financial plan for a wealthy family a few years back. We didn't do the planning, the CPA they used for years did. Upon determining that the family held too little money in equities and too much money in bonds, and after several meetings between the family and the CPA, we were brought in to see if we were all going to get along, you know, in the areas of investment philosophy, communication, style, and whether we were fans of the right ACC team. The accountant nodded his head, and we got the thumbs up. Great, we thought.

In meetings that followed, without the accountant, we probed deeper: “So," we said, "What do you want to do with your money?” The reply: “We don’t know, just make it grow.” Second try: “O.K., so what are your hopes and dreams for the future?” The reply: “Just keep on doing what we’ve been doing.” Third try: “So, how do you want to influence the future with your money?” You guessed it: “We don’t know.”

Want to know what happens when you do a financial plan and totally ignore your life meaning plan?

Stay tuned.

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