Twenty-six years ago, I would sit at my desk and give little core knowledge speeches to clients (couples and business owners), hoping that some of the information would stick. It was a lousy, inefficient, expensive way to educate. And it wasn’t much fun. So often there was a strong incentive, by mutual consent, to short-circuit the educational effort and just move forward to make something happen, even though the client’s participation in the planning process was compromised.

But that all changed one day in 1986 when I figured out that I could record these core knowledge presentations on cassette tapes. I knew from experience that clients hated reading the core knowledge information and just wouldn’t do it. But listening to a fast-paced, carefully scripted, plainspoken audio presentation packed with information was different. Clients embraced the opportunity to listen to my words and learn at home before meeting with me. Many of them even claimed that they enjoyed the learning experience and shared their tapes with others.

These tapes soon improved the quality and confidence of the planning at all levels, with better efficiency and less hassle and expense. My job was easier because clients knew more and were better prepared. And my clients were spared the ordeal of trying to comprehend my words in a captive setting with a meter running. They absorbed much more by using the tapes to learn their way at their pace.

This cassette tape program worked so well that I decided to start a small business to sell my core knowledge tapes to other professionals. PlainTalk Planning was born. Two colleagues soon joined me in the effort, and we quickly added a staff of three who sent cassettes to planning professionals throughout the country. A total of 108 programs were distributed over eight years. In 1994, I closed down the effort because cassette tapes were becoming obsolete and we had nothing more to say.

Nine years ago I decided to wrap up my career by teaching business, tax and planning courses at the University of Washington School of Law, my alma mater. At that time, I knew that at some point I would resurrect the concept and name of PlainTalk Planning.  Cassette tapes have been replaced with online video presentations, and the service has been expanded to include family and business programs, articles, written memorandums and on-line learning quizzes.  But the fundamental premise of PlainTalk Planning remains unchanged. It’s all about the indispensable role of core knowledge.

Without core knowledge, it’s easy to fail. Many have opted for a self-help legal service, only to discover that their key questions remain unanswered, their specific objectives have not been addressed, and their confidence in the process is shot. Others have hired professional help, only to discover that they didn’t know enough to spot the phonies – those professionals who suffer from a blind incompetence that precludes anything better than the self-help stuff.

Core knowledge is the key in all situations. For those drawn to self-help services, it provides an essential foundation for tackling the planning challenge and compensating for the limitations of their self-help program (they all have them). For individuals who desire quality professional help, it makes it easy to spot quality pros and avoid those who know only a smidgen more than the public they seek to serve.

In no sense is PlainTalk Planning a complete answer to the core knowledge planning challenge. But for many couples, business owners and planning professionals, it will be a valuable tool that answers many questions, promotes a deeper understanding, and triggers ideas and insights that lead to smarter planning.

–  Dwight Drake