The Blue Blaze

Ready for Your Optimal Life? First, Ask the Right Questions.


Frank Corrado, a Blue Blaze financial life guide, encourages a client to do a deep dive into her goals and motivations. 

We're talking about my money, Right? 

(No. Not first thing, anyway.)

Remember the first time an adult you respected told you, “If you’re having a difficult time deciding what is the right thing to do -- just listen to your gut. Deep down, if it’s right, you’ll feel it.”

That’s exactly how I felt the first time I was introduced to the concept of appreciative inquiry.

After years of providing excellent financial planning service to my clients, the traditional model I’d been trained in just didn’t feel right anymore.

So I started talking to everyone I could, reading everything I could, searching for a way of serving clients with a need for financial services that felt right. Then I found Appreciative Moments, by Dr. Ed Jacobson. Dr. Jacobson was my first teacher to introduce me to Appreciative inquiry (AI).

Appreciative inquiry is a conversation model that engages stakeholders in self-determined change. The diagram below does a pretty good job illustrating the process.

appreciative inquiry, Cooperrider


My first exposure = Mind Blown. This felt right.

I was a successful financial advisor and had been helping clients build their net worth for more than fifteen years using tried and true, traditional financial planning principles. But after working with scores of clients for nearly half my professional career, I was questioning the impact I was having on the lives of my clients. Sure, I was helping them make more money through better investing and financial strategies, but I felt strongly that there was more I should be, and wanted to be bringing to the table in these relationships.

Advice v.s. Guidance: Yes, There’s a Difference

I was great at giving my clients financial advice, but what I was beginning to realize, is, that on occasion, my values and assumptions were creeping in to the advice I was giving. Advice should be fact based and provided with an overriding sense of expertise, and mine certainly was.

What I discovered through learning about AI was that, in certain situations, what’s even more valuable to clients than advice, is the opportunity to offer them guidance -- and yes, there IS a difference.  Advice is about giving recommendations to solve a problem. Guidance is about helping someone figure out how they can solve their problem.

Appreciative inquiry is one of the fundamental communication skills we need when providing guidance. (And it’s transforming the meaning of  ‘client-focused’ in our industry.) In my current practice, AI gives me a great tool to empower my clients, helping them discover their true passions and motivations and allowing them to set truly personal, meaningful goals that catapult them into their optimal life.

Let me share an example of why AI is now embedded our practice.

As I was sitting with a colleague the other day, we started sharing tidbits of interesting stories we are reading on social media. We exchanged insights about finance and finlife topics that seem to be trending on Twitter and Facebook.

After a few minutes, she stopped and scrolled through a website on her phone. “Frank, what do you think about this?,” she asked me, handing the phone to me.

I did a quick scan of the article, a well-written piece by a blogger who was thanking a dear friend of for good advice. You see, he had started canning his own food (and just put up 24 jars of pickles).

As he told it, what started out as a test to see how much money he could save putting up his own fruits and vegetables quickly became an obsession. In his story, he shared how he delightedly told his friend -- also his business coach -- how he was saving an average of $1.30 a jar by making his own pickles. The blogger then shared his friend-coach’s response, “You’re not really saving money,” the friend asserted. “You’d make more money using the time you spend canning to grow your business.”

In other words, according to the 'friend-coach', Time = Money = Value. And the main takeaway the author was driving home in his blog was this: this is valuable advice, "I can make more money using the time I spend canning on building my business, instead - much more money than I'm saving making my own pickles." 

Looking up from the 7” screen, I asked my colleague, “Do you agree with the author?”  She frowned. “I understand the point, but I wondered if you see it the same way.”

“I think you know the answer to that,” I replied, handing the phone back to her.

Appreciative Inquiry and True Client-Centered Conversations

The article my colleague shared with me that day was a perfect example of traditional advice given in the standard context of a financial planning relationship. However I started Blue Blaze to deliver a different level of professional service to clients -- one that helps them identify and achieve their true life’s purpose - their optimal life. The operating assumption of Life Guidance is that money is not the answer to achieving one's optimal life, but rather a means to that end.

Appreciative inquiry is smack dab in the heart of the financial life guidance process. We want to understand, “What is good here? How do we get more of it?”

“Did the author say whether he enjoyed making pickles?” I asked my colleague.


“Maybe he enjoys making pickles,” I speculated. “Maybe, the smell of pickles reminds him of time spent with his extended family, his grandmother. Maybe,” I continued, “He loves the feel of the jars as he fills them and the challenge of measuring the ingredients for the perfect taste. Maybe the real payoff for him is the satisfaction of coming up with different recipes for pickling spices and sharing something he created himself with other people.

Maybe the time is really being spent on building business- a new pickling business! 

If he didn’t ask his friend any of these questions," I continued, "and the author didn’t ask himself or even know to ask -- how does he know the real value of each jar of pickles? His friend surely doesn’t.”

Being empathetic, asking those probing questions -- questions that encourage our clients to truly focus on their emotions and the motives for their behaviors -- frees them to connect with the feelings they feel when they're doing what they do. This is the value added of using appreciative inquiry.

My takeaway from that article is, perhaps the author himself didn’t truly connect to why canning was so important to him. Maybe if he did, he’d discover the true value of cracking open a jar of his own, crisp, sweet or sour pickles. Author's Pickles = $priceless.

Make Your Own Pickles.

By using appreciative inquiry techniques, we can all build richer experiences and relationships with those we care about. When we are truly appreciative and inquiring, we are not necessarily focused on an “appropriate” question, but instead, we want to ask questions that help us connect with the respondent. This is the beginning of true conversation and discovering what's really important.

The next time you speak to your spouse or your child, instead of asking them, “How was your day?”, try it differently with, “Tell me what was great about your day?”

See what happens. See how they respond. See how you feel.

What's Next?

Blue Blaze is going down its own path with Appreciative Inquiry. If you would like to have a conversation with one of our financial life guides to see how we can help you identify and realize your optimal financial-life balance, we encourage you to reach out. We have a few remaining complimentary consultations available in 2017!

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Topics: Financial life guidance, Optimal Life,, Purpose,, Values, Appreciative Inquiry