“If I was going there, I wouldn’t start from here!” is a legendary response to a request for directions. I’ve been mulling over the topic of maps, plans, and their hidden complexities prompted by US marketing and business guru Seth Godin’s recent blog post. It reminded me of an experience on our honeymoon which came close to ending a beautiful friendship far too soon.

Forty years ago, my new wife and I were on a plane to Dublin where we would pick up a hire car and set off for the West Coast of Ireland. I asked at the car hire desk if there was a map in the car (Sat-Nav… this was the 80s!). He said, “Yes – in the glove box”. It turned out to be a tourist map with key locations and landmarks, but no road network. It ended up being a long, frustrating, stressful drive. Our marriage survived its first test, but it was touch and go at times.

The map of Eire looked pretty with lots of pictures and comments about history and famous places, but a map is supposed to help you get to where you want to be. They should show the details of various routes, with distances providing some idea as to how long the journey may take.

Scale is another issue for maps. I was once asked by a colleague in Bournemouth to drop off a letter in Inverness on my way home from Glasgow to Aberdeen. I asked if they knew how far it was between Inverness and Aberdeen and was told, “It’s only about an inch on the map!”

The problem is often simply in the translation. Think of it this way. Describe your daily commute or usual route to the kids or grandkids. I’m sure you could drive it blindfolded… please don’t! Yet how would you draw or sketch it out for someone from a different city or even country to follow your route? It’s a very different skill.

There’s a game which illustrates this perfectly. You think of a well-known song and tap it out on a table and ask others to “name that tune”. The problem is, you hear the tune in your head, they just hear the tapping on the table. Try it. It gets very frustrating. You think everyone will know the tune but it’s pretty difficult for most to recognise nothing more than a random rhythm. While all the time you are hearing the tune perfectly – but only in your head.

Recognising the importance of producing something that will clearly and simply help people get to their destination is something we take a great deal of time thinking about. How do we break down and explain complex concepts like investment and the management of risk or why and how we apply suitable planning tools? The fact that we specialise in these areas is only helpful if we have the skills and abilities to communicate with clarity and confidence.

Handing clients the latest scientific research paper on multi-factor investing may not be the ideal solution. Providing a series of opportunities for you to ask and have your questions answered, on whatever is on your mind works much better for us. The good news is that according to our client feedback results, it works better for our clients too.

Our role is simple. To improve our client’s confidence and comfort when making life’s financial decisions. Here’s how we do this.

Our initial meetings help establish the starting point and the intended destination. It suggests a route, but there are always multiple options. There are many ways to get to where you want to be, and some are better than others. The key thing is to make sure you get to where you want, the route you take is secondary.

Why would you change the route? Circumstances have a habit of changing often just when we least expect it. There could be a family health issue that requires bringing forward your retirement, or a relocation here or abroad due to a new job which may alter the planned timescales.

Our regular catch-up meetings help plot progress and explore if we need to re-draw the map or use another route. The skill lies in being a specialist “financial navigator” who understands the technical terrain, the implications of each decision or route, and can help manage the time and cost of the journey all at the same time.

As Seth mentions in his article, “Finding our way, getting the job done, changing our minds – these are forms of wayfinding. And our internal layout of the world doesn’t match the way it is actually built.”

Technology such as Sat-Nav, as no doubt you’ve experienced, can often lead you to the wrong place. Technology has its place, but we prefer to blend it with the human experience and ability to communicate clearly to the difference people, personalities, experiences, and expertise that makes up our client population.

Here’s to the next adventure and making sure we have the map right side up!