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Herbie Hancock

What Can Herbie Hancock Teach Advisors?

Why the fusion jazz legend is a model for every successful financial advisory firm.

Do you enjoy the music of Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Larry Coryell or even the Mahavishnu Orchestra? What about the great Miles Davis? His Bitches Brew is a classic of an innovative genre of jazz music: fusion jazz. And it all started with creative people fashioning something new, different and better from respectful, mutually beneficial, innovative and elevating exchanges.

Essentially, jazz fusion is a positive example of syncretism, which Merriam-Webster defines as “the combination of different forms of belief or practice.” But since we’re talking about jazz, perhaps its second version of the definition is even more appropriate: “the infusion of two or more originally different inflectional forms.”

The point here is the great artists evolve … as do great leaders and their organizations. Of course, circumstance and serendipity play some role in this, but only in the context of a commitment to go forward and to be better. Which brings us back to syncretism and why it’s the true objective of the successful practice of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEIB).

Ultimately, if our goal is both to serve clients excellently and to do so in a way that sustains our organizations so that they do this intergenerationally, then we have to accept that this requires change and, therefore, dedicate ourselves to a continual process of thoughtful, proactive evolution. Arguably, the most important aspect of this metamorphic process is the attraction, development and retention of one’s people, which should be the primary focus of every (advisory) executive.

And if you’re going to evolve your firm by evolving your people, you have to embrace the successful practice of DEIB. Why? Because as we can see so clearly in this very day and time, generational cohorts are quite different and therefore may have similar, life stage–driven needs but most often demand that they be addressed, and the advice delivered, via different mediums … and, typically, by different people.

To put a finer point on it, you’re not likely to be successful at advising a client family’s next generation if you’re an aging boomer and they’re tail-end millennials or at the vanguard of Gen Z. Technically, you all speak the same language, but you do so from very different contexts and perspectives. Better to have developed one of their own, deeply steeped in financial planning theory but far more agile at delivering it via her and her youthful peers’ preferred channels.

Intellectually, most present-day firm leaders would assent to this recommendation … but their behaviors, as reflected in the composition of their firms, suggests otherwise. The vast majority of today’s advisory firms are well structured to serve our currently wealthiest client cohort, baby boomers, but few firms have the elasticity of talent (or, for that matter, of technology) to serve their heirs, even though the data suggests that the latter will be wealthiest by the end of this decade.

So, if wealth is getting younger, by definition, so, too, must a firm’s advisors. Add to this that wealth is also getting more diverse in other ways — especially with respect to gender — and it becomes apparent that organizations that seek not only to survive this transformative decade of the 2020s but to thrive thereafter will have to embrace DEIB.

The question is how to do this successfully, and the answer is one word: syncretism. If we seek to build ever better, more resilient, more diverse, equitable and inclusive organizations, as well as ones that are ever more capable at delivering their uniquely resonant Client Experience (CX), then we’ll have to evolve, and, most important, to do so in ways that are thoughtfully strategic and different.

As we grow our firms and transform them into sustainable, intergenerational organizations, we’ll have to stop looking for future colleagues who have "cultural fit" and instead seek those who can offer "culture add." Again, the goal is not to perpetuate who we currently are in the future, but to become different — and, most important, from our clients’ perspective, ever better — preferably in a thoughtful, affirming and enjoyable way.

If (beyond the capability to develop sufficient technical skill) "culture add" is a primary qualification for our future talent, then we have to embrace and engage in the successful practice of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging.

One final thought: if you notice, the underlying theme of this article is the imperative of thoughtful, strategic and proactive personal and organizational evolution. But it really doesn’t serve us to become different and, conceptually, to grow and develop individually and to get bigger and achieve scale organizationally, if we don’t also get better. After all, we’re not trying to become a huge mess, but a soulful, systematic and sustainable collaborative.

Which means that we also have to commit to the practice of Evolutionary Excellence, which, organizationally speaking, is the proactive pursuit of ever better systems, cultures and people that coalesce to serve clients in ever more idiosyncratically resonant ways, producing a CX that is positively competitively differentiating and, ultimately, industry-leading and -dominating. If it’s imperative for us to grow in order not only to survive but thrive, then our directional focus should always be toward excellence, as this alone, successfully achieved, will enable the sustainability of our efforts.

Walter K. Booker is the chief operating officer of MarketCounsel, a business and regulatory compliance consultancy for investment advisors.

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