Ask VeraSage: What percentage of CPAs really “get it?”

This past week I presented at the 53rd Annual Minnesota Society of CPAs Tax Conference, attended by about 1,400 people. I presented three sessions: Succession Planning; Human Capital, Not Cattle; and Everyday Ethics.

I always love going to Minnesota because the CPAs we meet there are very progressive, as it their Society and its leadership. At the end of my Human Capital talk, a 30-something CPA approached me and asked me the following profound question [I’m paraphrasing here]:

Ron, I’ve been following your work for years, have read a lot of your books, heard you speak before, and read the VeraSage Web site regularly. I wrestle with your ideas. They are quite difficult.

I think you’re right about what is needed to rejuvenate our profession, but I’m curious: How many of the CPAs that you present to truly, really, understand your message?

This is something we at VeraSage think about all the time, and there’s no easy, empirical answer (I wish there was!). Some people take years to absorb these ideas, others grasp them immediately. I had to answer in total candor that only 10% of any given audience will actually be able to implement what we discuss.

There are many reasons for this, many that are beyond my capacity to understand. But I do know this. The people who seem to grasp the ideas sooner rather than later are all intellectually curious. They are all voracious readers.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if you’re not reading at least 50 books a year, your Intellectual Capital (IC) is depreciating at such a rapid rate it’s nearly obsolete. How does a knowledge worker replenish their IC if they don’t read? Yet, when we ask audiences how many books have you read in the last year, very few can hold their hands up beyond a dozen or so.

I often hear the excuse, “I’m too busy to read.” What nonsense. Reading isn’t leisure, it’s work, or should be if you are a true knowledge worker. The “too busy” excuse doesn’t hold water, being a poor excuse itself.

Along with Tim Williams, I have recently had the great good fortune of working with the legendary Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency. Tim used to work there. When we first met, Tim told me that O&M people are readers, intellectually curious and constantly challenge the status quo. I recently did a presentation for a high-level group outside of London, near Oxford. [Where I also got to tour Blenheim Palace, where Winston Churchill was born].

I had some of the most intelligent conversations with this group, as they had nearly all read my Pricing on Purpose book. You could tell they were wrestling with the ideas it contained.

And maybe that’s part of the answer. People want easy answers, but pricing is like theology. You simply must wrestle with it, grasp it from different angles to gain a deeper appreciation for how complicated it really is to do optimally. We don’t give people easy answers, checklists, formulas or other pabulum. We transfer enough IC where you are capable of developing your own, and that’s the best we can do. Anyone who claims they have a “system” or “process” for pricing is a mountebank.

So what? Well, if we can only reach 10% of our colleagues, hopefully that will be enough to start a real diffusion (or “tipping point”) in the profession. The question is, what does one do about the other 90%? Do you waste precious resources trying to convince people who might never get it in the hope that, as they say, when the student is ready the teacher will appear?

I’d be interested in your thought regarding this issue. In the meantime, if you’re reading this, you are obviously a 10-percenter.

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