Written by: Ken Haman
As a young child in the 1960s, I was fascinated with the space race, NASA and rockets, so it’s unsurprising that I was thrilled when SpaceX safely splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico. It was great to see that the Dragon capsule didn’t experience the scorching that the Gemini and Apollo modules had suffered on re-entry.
Did you know that at top speed, temperatures on the Dragon’s surface can reach 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit? This makes re-entry a meaningful challenge.
Speaking of Re-entry
As of this writing, the most common topic I’ve been discussing with financial advisors is the re-entry process that’s likely to happen after the COVID-19. They’re looking forward to conducting meetings in person and having their team back in the office. In general, most people anticipate snapping back to the patterns that prevailed before the pandemic.
Unfortunately, what we know from psychology is that there’s likely to be friction as we transition. The prudent advisor should not anticipate returning to previous behaviors but should expect an evolution into a new set of patterns. Two important ideas help us know, at least to some extent, what to expect.
The S Curve
The first is the familiar concept of the S curve. Introduced by Everett M. Rogers in his book Diffusion of Innovations, the S curve tracks the predictable distribution of human responses in large groups: some people respond quickly to an idea or situation, while others respond slowly.
In the case of the pandemic, the disruption has lasted long enough for virtually everyone to become emotionally impacted. Some individuals reacted strongly very quickly, while others adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Importantly, studies of how humans cope with trauma have consistently revealed that both groups eventually experience anger, depression, heightened anxiety, diminished energy and hopelessness. This means that advisors should anticipate emotionally charged conversations and more impulsivity from all clients as they process their experiences. Many people won’t allow themselves to feel anything until well after the impact of the pandemic has dissipated but will need to vent their emotions once they feel more secure.
“The Adjacent Possible”
The other concept, “the adjacent possible,” is less familiar. In his 2010 book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson describes how innovations occur on the edge of what we already know. Essentially, progress is made slowly as our thinking and creativity step from the known into “the adjacent possible.” Rarely are there enormous leaps to the future; more often, we lurch forward in fits and starts as ideas evolve, mature, and are adopted or rejected.
As Johnson explains, “The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.…[It] captures both the limits and the creative potential of change and innovation.”
This makes the future at least somewhat knowable, which is important as we plan for re-entry after the COVID-19 pandemic. Some trends that emerged during the pandemic are likely to be embraced as people continue to be influenced by the behaviors of the early adopters around them.
Accelerating Trend #1: Virtual Meetings
Two important trends are already impacting advisors and are expected to evolve. The first is the prevalence of virtual meetings. Over the past year, I spoke to a few advisors who were early adopters and committed themselves to mastering videoconferences, reengineered their firms around this technology, and helped their reluctant clients embrace the practice. These advisors were excited by how much they accomplished and how easy it was to engage with clients and prospects.
Unfortunately, 90 percent of advisors I spoke with were frustrated by the challenges of mastering the technology and only reluctantly used virtual meetings. These advisors are all looking forward to a return to “normal” and never having a videoconference again. Such late adopters will revert to their old, comfortable patterns and will probably become obsolete because most clients have learned to appreciate the convenience and efficiency of virtual meetings.
Accelerating Trend #2: Merge of Work and Home
The other trend is the blurring of the line between work and home. I don’t think we will slingshot into a universal work-from-home environment, but advisors should anticipate that team members will expect greater flexibility around office time and working from home.
Remember Pandora’s box? In Greek mythology, Pandora was given a box containing numerous troubles and evils. Once she opened it, the forces were released and couldn’t be returned to the box. Similarly, now that teams know they can function and prosper with members working from home, it’s highly unlikely that people will tolerate being corralled back into an office. My observation is that the line between work life and home life has been permanently blurred. Therefore, I believe that the advisor who wishes to avoid obsolescence will do three things:
- Embrace the power and efficiency of virtual meetings
- Adopt new approaches to servicing clients and prospecting that take into consideration a delayed emotional reaction to the pandemic
- Establish more flexible engagements with team members