Woody Allen quipped, "Ninety percent of life is just showing up."

As a glib line from a comedic filmmaker, his observation is not a prescription for life or societal advancement. Nevertheless, "showing up" is a great start because in any group, only a few do so. You cannot contribute if you forfeit. Of those who do show up, a smaller number go on to make a difference.

Competition today in all aspects of society is tougher, and in our field especially. According to an August 2010 story by Helen Kearney of Reuters (called "Ranks of U.S. Financial Advisors Shrinking,") there were 310,000 financial advisors in the U.S. at the end of 2008, down from approximately 314,000 in 2004. Every significant economic down cycle precipitates a shakeout as marginal advisors and brokers leave the field.

To be successful in athletics, you must first show up for a tryout. Once selected, you must suit up for practice, on time, ready to work out. You have to love the game, and "begin with the end in mind," according to Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. You have to accept setbacks as a teaching moment, learn from your coaches and peers, contribute to the conversation and do more, much more, than your competitors to reach full potential and truly make a difference.

I once spoke with a young advisor who was working to build his practice. When I asked him if he was a member of the Financial Planning Association (FPA), he replied, "I was, but I dropped my membership. I wasn't getting anything out of it." He was referring to a large chapter, one of the more active and dynamic of the 95 chapters across the country. He clearly failed to grasp a basic truth: You get out of something what you put into it. You have to show up and get involved.

When babies are born, they first thrive on breast milk and are then spoon-fed. Eventually, though, humans have to wean themselves off those things and mature, learn to hunt, grow and process their own food to survive. In primitive societies, those who did not contribute to the tribe were shunned and often left to die. Cruel, but it worked.

A Clash Of Philosophies
On September 26, 2011, writer Matt Ridley of The Wall Street Journal was awarded the Manhattan Institute's Hayek Prize. His lecture appeared in an op-ed in the Journal, called "From Phoenecia to Hayek to the 'Cloud,'" that is a must-read for forward thinkers in our profession.

Proclaims Ridley, "Human technological advancement depends not on individual intelligence but on collective idea sharing, and it has done so for thousands of years. Human progress waxes and wanes according to how much people connect and exchange."

Ridley cites the ancients, noting that trading societies grew and prospered, whereas isolated tribes, cities and countries stagnated. Anyone who has traveled the trade routes around the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Seas marvels at the societal and architectural advances of the ancients-the Greeks, Romans and those before them.
Thousands of years before modern universities, before Johannes Gutenberg's initiation of the printing revolution and the emergence of the Internet, progress came from interaction, from a willingness to accept new ideas, from collaboration, from experimentation, from the joy of individual and shared success, and above all, from freedom!

Breakthrough ideas were developed in Islamic and Chinese societies, but such progress and freedom were later squelched by isolation and totalitarian controls. Ridley cites Friedrich von Hayek's 1945 essay, "The Uses of Knowledge in Society." Hayek, the quintessential Austrian economist and philosopher, declared: "Central planning cannot work because it is trying to substitute an individual all-knowing intelligence for a distributed and fragmented system of localized but connected knowledge."