The Parable of the Parachute; A Recurring Theme

June 27, 2015 - Posted by: admin - In category:

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Some people tend to overestimate their abilities, and this is sometimes done at the peril of such persons and others who fall within their orbit of influence.

Once upon a time, there was a man named Pete. As a heart surgeon, a concert pianist and accomplished entrepreneur, his life was a recurring story of successes.  Pete was self-taught regarding many of the skills and much of the knowledge he possessed.

One day Pete decided that he wanted to go skydiving. Given his track record, when it came time to tackle the seemingly “easy” task of learning how to jump out of an airplane, he determined that this was yet another instance where he could teach himself all that was needed, and this included his parachute. After all, how complicated could it be to make a parachute and jump out of an airplane?

Pete first undertook the task of making his parachute from scratch. Please remember that he had PLENTY of money and that had he so desired, the cost of the best parachute money could buy would have been a routine trip to the ATM for this guy. Likewise, although skydiving schools can be costly for the average person, our friend was anything but average, and the money required to attend the most expensive skydiving school would have been but a rounding error in his finances. On the other hand, he had become wealthy in part by scrimping on every penny and never paying for something that he could do himself. He was not about to change his approach at this stage in life and for such a “simple” matter.

When the day arrived for his first jump from the plane, because of his connections, Pete was able to bypass all of the usual certification requirements and walk right onto the plane with his home-made parachute. As the plane became airborne, Pete turned to the Jumpmaster seated next to him to ask a few questions. Pete told the Jumpmaster that he felt more than prepared for this jump, but thought it would be good just to run a few things by this guy before he took his homemade parachute on its maiden voyage. When Pete asked his very first question (just to “double-check”), it was evident to the Jumpmaster that Pete had no idea what he was doing and that Pete’s life would be in danger should Pete jump with his homemade parachute. However, Pete was not to be dissuaded from his course of action. After all, Pete was a heart surgeon, a concert pianist and a very successful businessman. In contrast, this Jumpmaster’s formal education ended after high school, and he drove a 15-year-old automobile (so he obviously didn’t have much money). Even though the Jumpmaster was, well, a Jumpmaster, who had jumped from a plane more than 2000 times, why should those facts alter Pete’s approach or make it necessary for Pete to defer to the knowledge and expertise of such person?

With great arrogance, at the appointed time, Pete fastened his goggles and walked to the airplane door and then jumped…What happened to Pete? Did he make it? Did his homemade parachute open and work correctly? Who cares, this is not a real story…:)

There are several lessons to learn from our imaginary Pete. This story has direct application to the world of professional services, including legal services in general (estate and business planning in particular), tax planning, financial planning and just about any other area of expertise for which we typically retain professionals to advise us. Most of us realize that just because we are relatively intelligent and have had several years of general and specialized education, that does NOT make us an expert in all things. Even the most accomplished dentist would realize that he is not qualified to do heart surgery on himself (that would be a real trick) or anyone else. Somehow, as we leave the medical field and instead of using medical instruments, we are dealing with legal doctrines, papers, words, statutes, tax codes and numbers in general, there is sometimes a tendency to believe that such things are within the realm of “do it yourself” matters.  You and I have paper, a computer, a calculator and the Internet…so how hard could it be to do your legal work, tax planning, financial planning, etc.?

Please consider the parable of the parachute (and Pete) and think about what lessons you can glean from the same. Also, remember the old axiom that just because you CAN do something, that does NOT mean that you SHOULD. Finally, consider that there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom.

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