Performance Perspectives Blog

Asking the right questions

by | Aug 1, 2011

One website I frequently visit is Fox News’ site. Since I’ve given up watching news on TV, my primary sources for news today are the WSJ, Bloomberg’s website, and this one. The Fox News site often has what might be called “human interest” stories. I found a report that individuals who use Internet Explorer aren’t as bright as those (of us!) who use Firefox. It seems that AptiQuant, a self-proclaimed “world leader in the field of online psychometric testing,” published the results of a study. Now who would have thought to inquire into the IQs of individuals who use one search engine versus another? I guess the question posed was “how smart are the people who use Firefox, as opposed to Internet Explorer?”

Anthony Robbins, the well known motivational speaker, published a tape series (probably now on CD) a few years ago that addressed specifically the “power of questions.” He was speaking more about the questions we might ask ourselves (e.g., “why am I so fat?”), and how they should be rephrased (e.g., perhaps to “how can I lose weight and feel good doing it?”). The notion of asking the right question has been one that resonates with me.

When it comes to much of what we do, we need to be mindful of what the question is! We give answers, often without being asked the question, perhaps presuming what the question would be. The reality is that when it comes to risk, return, and attribution reporting, the question should drive what the answer is. This is not to say that asset managers should not report performance and risk without seeking questions from their clients; but it should be understood the perspective of the information being shared.

We have been commissioned to conduct research for a client, and thus are phrasing the survey questions according to the interviewee, and in some cases recognizing that multiple perspectives are in order. Take plan sponsors, for example: when we speak of attribution with this group, do we mean “Brinson-Fachler,” for example? I would generally say “no.” But it, again, depends on what the question is.

We have all encountered dumb questions (reporters are known for asking some pretty dumb ones, yes?). The above study, to me, is just another example (though I did ask my management team what browser they’re using!).

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