So I went to an Interior Designer (ID) fair last weekend, which was a pretty cool idea: Having a whole bunch of IDs together in a single venue, providing the opportunity to talk to several in a single day and make better comparisons.
Background: My fiancee and I just bought a resale flat, so we’re looking for a good ID to spruce it up. We have the floorplan, a very rough idea what we wanted (Scandinavian/Eclectic with a creative space), but we’re on the lookout for a good ID to recommend some awesomesauce designs.
Most of the IDs we spoke to were great, but we had a conversation with a particular one which went something like this:
ID: Sooooo… what are you looking for in your kitchen?
Me: Well, we’d like to separate our wet and dry kitchen, but other than that we’re open to ideas that will fit the overall design.
ID: But what exactly do you want? Do you want solid surface or granite tops? Do you want built-in cabinets for the oven?
Me: Maybe you can show us some examples of kitchens which follow the theme?
ID: I don’t really have many pictures; it depends on what you want.
Do you see the issue here? As a layman, I was going to an ID because I needed someone to come up with a design for me. I certainly had no idea whether solid surface or granite counter tops were a better idea. The ID, however, kept pressing us for specifics – specifics that I had absolutely no clue about.
You can’t really blame the ID for approaching the design process this way. I’m pretty sure they’ve encountered several clients who’ve done 100 hours of research and know exactly what they want, pretty much overruling the ID.
I’ve heard horror stories of IDs who were simply glorified middlemen – asking the client what they wanted, conveying it to the contractor, and vice-versa. I might be missing something here, but shouldn’t my ID educate me on whether vinyl flooring works better than laminate? Shouldn’t she be telling me whether my idea works from a design/durability perspective?
Nobody Knows What They Want
Professionals usually hide behind the excuse of “it depends on what the client wants”. But here’s the problem: clients usually have no idea what they want or need.
Let’s take investing, for example. When you first talk to a financial planner, she’ll give you a looooong checklist asking you questions like
- “What’s your risk appetite?”
- “How much do you need for retirement?”
- “Are you a trader or investor?”
Uhm, I’m pretty sure that a 24-year old fresh-out-of-university graduate is gonna have no frickin’ idea how much she needs for retirement. Heck, I have trouble estimating that, and I’ve been blogging about this stuff for 4 years.
And a question like “what’s your risk appetite” has absolutely no meaning to someone who hasn’t invested before. It’s one thing to indicate that your preference is for “high risk, high return”, it’s another thing to experience seeing your hard-earned savings drop by 40% in 2 weeks.
People often don’t know what they want.
Nobody knew that they needed a user-friendly music player before Apple introduced the iPod. Nobody knew they wanted to 3D computer interfaces until they watched Iron Man.
That’s why we hire professionals and seek opinions. Which brings us to…
People Appreciate It When You Have An Opinion
But the IDs that impressed me the most were those who took my budget and intended theme and came up with:
- What they think is the best option and why
- The various alternatives available
- The advantages and disadvantages of each alternative
I could then look at the information available and decide if I want to amend anything. But at least I had a starting point to go off on.
Can we apply that in the personal finance realm as well? As LuLu from The Noose says, “yessss-suhhhh!”
I’m not a professional financial advisor, but I do have an opinion on what I think is the best investing strategy for 90% of busy executives: index investing. I’ve blogged about why rocks for young people, I highlighted some of the disadvantages, and I even created an end-to-end course on how to implement it. And of course, I put my money where my mouth is and invest a substantial chunk of my savings in it.
Will everyone agree with me? Nope – many will believe that they can pick stocks / time the market successfully. (It’s like that example of how 90% of drivers think they’re above average)
But that’s the beauty of the internet – that you can compare and contrast people with different opinions, and then decide for yourself which one(s) you agree with.
- People don’t know what they want
- They seek the opinions of someone who did the analysis
- Comparing different opinions help them to make their decision
Apply This To Your Life
When you’re proposing a new project to your boss, don’t hedge your bets by simply listing out the pros and cons of each option. Have an opinion and state why you think Option A trumps Option B. Your boss doesn’t have the time to go through an intricate analysis; he relies on you – the subject expert – to recommend a good solution. By simply having an opinion, you’ll stand out from the hordes of employees who’re too scared to take a stand.
If you face clients in your career, don’t always assume your client knows what she wants. You’re hired for a reason – to have a professional opinion, and then D.I.F.T (Do It For Them). The best vendors and agencies I’ve worked with don’t simply execute my requirements; they strategise and recommend options that push my business even further.
When you’re learning investing, don’t simply read and go, “Oh that was interesting! I should try it out someday” and close the book. Have an opinion on everything you read about. If something seems compelling to you, try it out with a small amount of money. I know of plenty of friends who spend years casually reading investing articles – and never doing anything! You’d be far better off taking action, making a mistake and losing a small amount of money, than spending years mired in indecision.
In other words, have an opinion. (Even if it’s a wrong one). You’ll learn far more that way.
P.S: If you’d like to catch some opinionated speakers on personal finance, check out the Profit Mastery Seminar on 27 Sep, organised by Wealth Directions (the folks who organised this year’s inaugural financial blogger seminar). Roland’s a friend and his events are awesome, which is why I’m publicising it here. Book before 1 Sep using the code “EARLY” to enjoy a 50% discount before it gets sold out.