Monday, October 24, 2005

Good Thinking For Financial Services

What does out-of-the box thinking entail? What makes creative problem-solvers effective in business?

I spoke to a Partner in a money management firm who talked to me about the qualities of mind he thinks are most important in financial services professionals.

AK: What do you look for in people you hire?

P: All of the Partners had an interesting conversation about this yesterday. I said, "Listen, we hire analysts right out of business school, and that's what everyone else does, too. So how are we going to get a different view of the world than the competition?

AK: What sort of person would you recruit instead?

P: An ideal person for me would be a journalist. Success in Finance is less about number-crunching than the tendency to be curious and analytical. I can get all the numbers I want from the internet.

AK: Why a journalist?

P: What I need is for someone to interpret data in a way that's different from the next guy. A lot of industry knowledge can create blinders. But if you're a journalist or a psychologist, you'll probably see the big picture in a way I hadn't considered.

AK: So what is the most important skill you're looking for?

P: Curiosity is number one. You have to ask a lot questions and not simply accept what you're told.

Public companies are always going to give you a rosy picture, so you have to really dig in and ask good questions.

AK: What's number two?

P: The second most important quality is tenacity. You have to get on a plane and see a supplier or competitor rather than just taking the latest research at face value.

Curiosity isn't enough in business without an outcome. That comes from tenacity -- trial and error.

You need to be creative -- business is an art.

AK: Do you think curiosity and creativity are heredity?

P: A lot of curiosity and tenacity depend on confidence. Your environment either supports the act of asking questions or it doesn't.

Tools -- particularly education -- helps, too, but not necessarily for reasons most people say.

It's not the actual data you learn in classes that's most important per se.

If you have a good liberal arts education, you've developed a lot of strategies to support your curiosity. And that will help with confidence as well.

So a liberal arts education would be more useful than a business degree in many cases. You've got experience in a variety of disciplines asking questions about things that are entirely unfamiliar to start. . . .

A lot of people don't have the background to support them in this way. I might be the most curious person in the world, but I might not say a word if I am afraid.

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