20150821 Recognising when you are clever, and when you are just a smart-arse

20150821 Recognising when you are clever, and when you are just a smart-arse

Nigel Morris-Cotterill

We all make mistakes and often for the best of reasons. Often, it's difficult to make the judgement to correct them, partly because of ego, partly because we don't know what's gone wrong and therefore a fix is nothing more than a shot in the dark, or sometimes it's because we know what has gone wrong but we don't understand why it has gone wrong.

All business has, at its heart, risk management. I know, salesmen say it's sales, accountants say its money, production say it's about scale, marketing say it's about profile, but the bottom line is this: successful businesses spend as much time staying out of trouble as they spend doing anything else.

And even then, someone comes along, has a bright idea, it's put into practice and - hey presto, it's a dud.

Here's mine. I've written several books. The titles all reflect the content. But when I wrote about suspicion in financial crime, I did something different. I decided to tease, to entertain, to challenge my market with an ambiguous, humorous title. I thought I was being clever; it turns out I was just being a smart-arse.

"How does that make you feel?" drew attention to the primary thesis of the book, that suspicion is an emotional reaction to facts, and not an analytical, empirical process. So, by relating the title to psychology, by using the phrase that the whole "talking therapy" industry is laughed at for using, I thought it was jokey, showed that the book would be interesting and easy to read. I ignored those who questioned it, arrogantly saying "my market is clever, they will get the joke."

Well, clever or not, very few people seem to have got the joke.

"Look," said one friend. "You know people don't want to think. If you want to get their attention, you've got to slap them in the face with a wet fish."

That didn't seem like a great idea, aside from the practical difficulty of walking around the world belting people with a salmon, or something. No, not a good idea at all.

And so it was decided to do the next best thing. We decided to change the title to something that was unambiguous and try to never be clever again. At least, not on the cover of the book. On the inside, however, of course that's clever.

Today, "How does that make you feel" has become "Understanding Suspicion in Financial Crime." It's been reformatted for layout, typos and grammatical errors have been corrected and I've modified some phrases and expressions that could have been misunderstood because of my use of English. But there are no material changes. The book is good, it's the title that's rubbish.

I've learned my lesson: keep the clever stuff for the interior of the book and for seminars and briefings. When I've got a room full of judges or prosecutors, of financial institution risk officers or regulators, when I can see the whites of their eyes, then I can tell if they are getting the jokes or if I have to explain in a different way.

But on the cover, I have to eat humble pie and say to myself "you don't read the ingredients label on a packet of food until after you've picked it up. You pick it up because the big writing tells you what it is. So you should apply the same principle with a book."

So here it is: the big writing tells you exactly what's in it.

Understanding Suspicion in Financial Crime.

Now it's up to you to find out what's inside.

[update May 2021: the book is now updated and enlarged and republished as an advanced course.

See https://financialcrimeriskandcompliancetraining.com/public/content/most-... ]

Me? I'm just cross I didn't listen to the common sense others said, that I thought I knew best when what I really needed to do was pay attention to the voice of reason and modify my approach.

Sound familiar?