Who will your clients turn to?

Who will your clients turn to?

It seems like anyone and everyone can find a lesson, morality tale, or instructive point about the apparently pending end of the world on December 21, 2012 as predicted by an unknown and unnamed Mayan calendar maker. Even your trusty Helping Advisor bloggers found an opportunity to leverage the story to make a point about planning long term. I myself have used the story to make at least a half dozen different points.

A small painted room

But wait! The great pop-culture end-of-the-world touchstone has a second act! It turns out that a small painted room was unearthed in 2011 at a place called Xultun, Guatemala. (The site itself was actually first discovered in 1915.) The short version of the story is that researchers found yet more evidence on the brightly painted walls that the Mayans were sophisticated astronomers and mathematicians. More importantly, the evidence points to calendars and time well beyond December 2012. Indeed, if these scholars are to be believed, there is no more significance to the Mayan calendar ending on December 12 (or 21), 2012 than there is in our current Georgian Calendar ending December 31, 2012 other than all calendars have end points. (We call our end points days, weeks, months, and years.) One ends and another begins.

Sources and experts

Let’s face it; people have been predicting the end of the world for a very long time: It’s always good for a headline. Throw in a big time expert (and you have to admit a Mayan calendar maker makes an intriguing authority source) and repeat the story enough times and it just has to be true. Right?

The lesson I take from this? How easily influenced we are by people holding positions of authority and expertise.

Whether you did or didn’t believe the part about the Mayan calendar in the first case, don’t you just feel a tiny bit better now that there is a contra view out there? Even better that it’s written up in Scientific American with quotes from an academic! Isn’t that how we feel when we look at economic or capital markets news as well? One pundit offers a dire view and we think dark thoughts: “Stocks head down on news of Invading Martians.” The next day we glance up at the news and hear a completely different view and happy days are here again. “Stocks advance on news of talking dolphins.” An expert said it so it must be true.

Cognitive foot faults

None of us, not advisors and not investors, are immune to what I think of as “cognitive foot faults,” thinking traps our brains spring on us like the one described above: our tendency to be influenced by people displaying the hallmarks of authority.

This past year has been filled with the kind of information and news that roils markets and makes investors’ heads hurt. Without taking a position one way or another, it seems safe to say that at some point in the future, there will be more head-spinning news. When that happens, your clients will go looking for an authority to either confirm their worst fears (Mayan Calendar story 1), or offer another point of view (Mayan Calendar story 2).

The question that remains is: Who is the calendar reader your clients turn to? Who is the authority source they consult when they really need to know how to think about what’s going on in the markets and the news? Is it you?

1 Ancient time: earliest Mayan astronomical calendar unearthed in Guatemala ruins. Scientific American, May 2012.

2 Oldest known Mayan astronomical calendar stuns scientists. Time.com, May 2012.

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