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Sarina Gibbon: Evidence vs Eminence: Are you impressed or just infatuated?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Get comfortable, because I have a story to tell…

I recently found myself taking in a talk on investment and how to be good at it. That, in itself, is ordinary enough. My role here at APIA takes me to these sessions from time to time and from there I get inspirations for upcoming contents, speakers, and resources. You will often find me, sitting in the audience, frantically typing away on my phone so I can jot down notable comments (verbatim, of course), figures to follow up on, and ideas that pop into my head  - yes, I am that girl.

This talk was different. The speaker is a person of some repute, and admittedly I had looked forward to his talk with a bit more enthusiasm than one would normal display for a routine dental examination. He rattled on for some time sharing a load of wisdom and sage advice. He had an incredible presence on stage, tall, charismatic, charming, convincing, and seemed genuinely passionate about lifting everyone up to his level of success and financial nirvana. You would expect, being the good soldier that I am, that my fingers at this point were absolutely on fire. You may even be excited for the information that is about to trickle down the APIA channel from this talk but you would be wrong. As he descended the stage amidst a sea of applauses, I looked down at my phone only to see one single line staring right back at me: What is up with his watch?!

You see, awesome as he was, nothing he said could have outshone his very blingy, sheeny shiny, Taj Mahal of a watch. So over-the-top was the timepiece that it had knocked me entirely off course. 

Later, I had a good chance to observe the wearer of the said watch. Polished, very polished. I saw a well-fitted suit precisely pressed to show off its tag price, crisp white shirt poking out at all the right places adorned with gold cuff links. He was meticulously groomed, clean shaven face and not a hair out of place. Impressive. In person, I discerned no great change. He exuded as much confidence and unimpeachability as he had on stage. Clearly a successful man, he had no qualms showing that off, and don’t get me wrong, he absolutely should.

But the image he had presented himself as (rightly or wrongly) got me thinking. If this guy, with all his accolades to boast, had turned up that day in a ho-hum outfit and much, much less effervescence, would people still be as entranced as they were by him? If he had sounded any less certain about his outlook and philosophy, would they still hang on to his every words and question, or even invalidate, their knowledge and experience? How often do we tell ourselves that we are impressed by someone who is seemingly successful when we are really being seduced by their image of success? How many people in that audience took his words to heart because of that watch? Before I continue, it is important to point out that I am not naysaying this speaker at all. Since I do that job that I do, I have to ask myself these questions. After all, I owe our members a duty of care to vet speakers with a high standard.

Related article: How to tell the good from the bad? Your guide to navigating the market of financial advice

Being a consumer in this information and education space implies a certain degree of vulnerability and faith. You won't be going to an investment seminar if there is not at least a tiny part of you that admits you are not yet at your potential and there is still something out there for you to learn and benefit from. That vulnerability from within urges you to look for a leader, a mentor, or a guide who can enlighten and propel you forward. More often than not, this person is someone who is not yet familiar to you (because otherwise you would be picking her brains over coffee rather than listening to her at a mass educational seminar). In the absence of sleuthing around on Google and hope that there are no two John Smiths on the property scene (and let us not forget that the Google algorithm is intrinsically biased), how could you know who you can truly look up to? So without concrete evidence, you can only have faith. You put your faith in the seminar promoters that they are untainted by any conflicts of interest. You put your faith in the speakers that they are truly as successful and wealthy as they claim to be. You put your faith in yourself that you can see through a thinly veiled disguise and false bravado. Or can you? We all have different impression triggers. Some of us are impressed by appearance and labels while others are impressed by poise and confidence. Either way, what comes across as seemingly eminent can detract us from our hunger for evidence.

And it is this evidence/eminence divide that catches out a lot of investors. There are just so many seminars, webinars and information sessions out there (APIA alone hosts 100 a year!) that hardly anyone even knows how to start consuming them in a helpful manner. Don’t even get me started on the information trove that is the World Wide Web! Blind faith and goodwill can only take you so far. At some point, you will have to take responsibility for your personal growth and start sourcing information and inspiration with a critical eye. We still come back to the original dilemma. Absent of a full financial disclosure (and let’s face it if Donald Trump doesn’t have to, who does?!) how are you to know if you are learning from a master or a charlatan?

Like you, I too am an information-seeker-cum-examiner.  Here are some of my learning criteria:

1. Free yourself from your impression trigger - Grab a piece of paper and write down the names of every single speaker who has ever got you excited and your blood pumping.  Short of names?  Youtube is your friend.  What do these speakers have in common?  Are they blingy?  Are they flanked by an entourage?  Do they exude confidence?  Do they speak in short but succinct sentences?  Have they authored a bunch of investment and wealth creation books?  Find out what it is about them you find immediately impressive.  Chances are that quality is your impression trigger.  Do not dissociate from it.  Impression triggers are great motivators that keep you going.  That said, summon enough courage to critically question these qualities.  Is a wearer of a vintage Rolex automatically wealthy?  When a person uses big words, does that mean she is better qualified than you?  

2. Look for synergy and commonalities - One of the most attractive qualities about property is that it can be an investment for anyone.  Just as there are many ways to skin a cat, there is no one set formula to prosper from property.  There will be investors out there who share your background, values and risk profile who you can find synergy with and learn an enormous amount from.  When you are new to the property education scene, go to as many seminars and read as many books as possible.  Look for shared values and common goals from the speakers. When you cast your net wide, you will find guidances that are relevant and helpful to you

3. Ask about their limitations - I am a big fan of speakers who do not care for infallibility.  Someone who goes onstage and talks openly about their limitations, the obstacles facing them, and their plans, is someone who speaks purposefully and understands that his talk is about you, not him. 

4. Network, network, network - Jo Johnson (APIA member, top lady) once told me that it takes five minutes to buy a bad property and years to pay for it.  Believe it or not, that wasn't at a seminar.  We were just having a normal ladies evening, gossiping, and killin' time.  Did I expect to walk away from that conversation with an investment gem?  Never!  You can find great lessons in the most unlikely of places and when you do, treasure them.

Related article: A wallflower blooms - networking tips for introverts

As always, I do not profess to be a connoisseur of property seminars.  The list above is just a starting point which I very much hope will evolve into a more comprehensive resource for new investors with the help of your comments.  Don't be shy.  How do you find investors to look up to?  What are your learning criteria?  Sound out below!


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