Late nights watching the World Cup got Dixon thinking about the rules of the game.
One set of rules, but numerous solutions. Some solutions are elegant, and some are highly technical. Some are thoroughly pragmatic, and some seem to be fairly useless. There’s intense scrutiny on the participants. They work out and execute carefully plotted strategies. Everyone’s an expert, especially those who know least about it.
At 4.30 in the morning, there seem to be more similarities than I first thought between what we do for a living and the World Cup. In keeping with Final Word’s view that real sport involves engines or balls (or, if you’ve ever seen Mark Webber in action up close, both), and almost never involves snow and lycra, the past month or so has been sheer bliss. Three Formula 1 Grands Prix and a full month of world-class football – does it get much better? As history now records, Spain won the 2010 World Cup, beating the Netherlands 1-0. As a showcase for the game, it left something to be desired. The pressure of a final often stifles the players’ natural flair and creativity, and the best games of the tournament are often played in the earlier rounds.
But the tournament overall showed how there is a wide range of possible solutions to a simple goal – in the case of football, overcoming 11 opposition players (or 10 if you’re playing against Australia) to put the ball into the back of the net. It’s a deceptively simple goal, but the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre is said to have remarked: “In football, everything is complicated by the presence of the opposite team.” (Sartre also said: “Hell is other people” – and I think we can all relate to that, too.)
In a broad sense, the World Cup demonstrates how ingenuity and know-how can be applied to produce a wide range of different responses, even though every team is subject to exactly the same rules. The way Spain plays football differs as much from how England plays it (England does still play football, doesn’t it?) as much as it differs from how Ghana plays it; the way Germany plays football differs from how the Netherlands plays it as much as it differs from how Argentina plays it. Competition is a fine incubator of innovation. There’s competition at a World Cup, and there’s competition in business. And even though we do not yet know what the rules for financial planning will finally look like (though we can have an educated guess), I’ll bet you a dollar right now that once the rules have been finalised and legislated, there will be as many solutions as there are planning firms. Well, almost – but you know what I mean.
The laws governing football are not meant to prescribe how teams play. They accommodate the strengths of different players, allow for teamwork alongside moments of sublime individual brilliance. They allow teams to adopt different strategies – the best contests are when two teams approach the task in contrasting ways. After the World Cup final, a lot was made of the fact that Spain has shown the world how to play football “properly”. But a Spain v Spain match would be utterly dreadful. Neither side would ever get near the ball. And the laws governing financial planning are not meant to prescribe in detail how planning businesses work. Different firms will pursue the goal of providing financial advice in different ways, using different techniques, and playing to their own strengths. They’ll define a range and scope of services, and devise innovative ways of charging for them.
In both cases, the rules are merely the framework within which players have quite a lot of freedom to move, literally, in football, and figuratively in financial planning. In other words, we have little to fear from the new rules, provided everyone who plays the game is subject to the same rules. In football we wouldn’t countenance one team (not even France) being allowed to use its hands, for example; everyone providing financial advice should also have to play by the same rules. But if that’s the case, we can look forward to a range of innovative and elegant solutions to the question of how to deliver meaningful financial advice to as wide an audience as possible.