Mozart had an extraordinary memory. At the age of fourteen, he was visiting Rome when he heard Allegri’s Miserere performed in the Sistine Chapel; later that day he was able to write out the entire score from memory.1 This piece was eventually transcribed, then published, and is now one of the most popular a cappella chorales in the world. The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said that a phenomenon like Mozart is inexplicable.2 Mozart continued to work constantly to develop his music and in his final years of life (he died in 1791 at the age of 35), he produced some of his most famous pieces – The Magic Flute and the piano Concerto in B Flat.
While Mozart was considered a genius by many, others simply believe that his success was due to his meticulous compositional style. He kept track of his works through manuscripts and sketches to improve and create the masterpieces we listen to today.3 Genius or not, it is a challenge for all of us to keep track of important information. Many studies have shown that describing your goals in written form is strongly associated with goal success, and people who vividly describe or picture their goals are anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to accomplish them than those who do not.4
At Northwood, we help our clients reach their goals and objectives through customized family office services. When a client first joins Northwood, we have an introductory discovery meeting to gather all essential information about their personal and financial affairs. At this meeting, we ask questions that lead to a holistic discussion about their future aspirations and goals. We then produce a Net Worth Management Report that covers all aspects that are important to them, and that we believe need to be addressed. This report includes investment management, tax and estate planning, cash flow projections, risk, philanthropy, family dynamics, and any other important planning items.
As our relationship with a client develops, we have regular check-in meetings to make sure that Northwood and the client are on the same page, and that we are both working towards accomplishing the client’s goals. Once a quarter we meet for a formal review of their financial situation. After each of these meetings, we write meeting notes to summarize our discussions, and action items for both Northwood and the client to complete before the next meeting. We use these meeting notes to track the various action items and steps required. This is an accountability tool, as it helps to drive important follow-up activities, and measures progress. While minutes can seem like a small and simple task, our experience tells us that, unless you have a Mozart-like memory, things can get missed without a system for keeping track of them.
We see our relationship with our clients as a partnership. Both clients and staff need to work together to make sure family goals are achieved. At each quarterly meeting, a report or a specific analysis is often presented by Northwood. These proposals will often require some reflection by clients and follow-up at a later date. In the meeting notes, we capture these items and document whether a final decision was made or if refinement or further reflection is needed. Action items may require clients to complete certain tasks, while other tasks will be led by Northwood. Documenting who is responsible is an important step in making sure important issues do not fall through the cracks and move towards an effective solution.
Even a child prodigy like Mozart could get overwhelmed as he targeted his next milestone. In addition to using manuscripts to compose music, when he encountered difficulties that he could not resolve in his head, he drew sketches. There were often many revisions and reflections depending on the complexity of the piece. At the time of his death, Mozart left over 150 unfinished pieces.3
While having a sharp memory is helpful, it is not enough when it comes to seeing through long-term plans. Writing things down not only helps you remember, but it also makes your memory more efficient by focusing on what is necessary and most important. One of the inevitable consequences of financial success and many moving parts is mental clutter. At Northwood, we aim to help our clients sort through the clutter and provide the clarity and confidence to achieve their goals.