I am often prone to thinking about abstract concepts, and lately my brain seems to be in overdrive in this area.
Hopefully, I will be able to tie things up into something relevant and useful for those who are interested in business families and the succession issues that they face. Ultimately, that is the goal of this blog.
We have all heard that ignorance is bliss. What that statement means to me is that sometimes when you are unaware of something (usually something bad), you are actually happier than you would be if you were aware of it.
Say you are in a foreign country where you do not understand the language. You pass a sign that says that you have just entered a dangerous area. Assuming you survive, would you have been happier knowing that, or remaining ignorant of the fact?
Now being ignorant of too many things is not necessarily wonderful either, in fact, the term “Ignoramus” is not usually used for flattery.
We are all ignorant of many things, due to the simple fact that no person can know everything. Some people act like they know everything, but that is another subject. They don’t. Nobody knows everything.
But there is another form of ignorance that is slightly different, and it is oblivion. To be “oblivious” is to be unaware. It is not a lack of knowledge of a subject in general, but a lack of realisation in a particular situation.
I get frustrated when I shop in stores with narrow aisles. I like to move quickly, find what I need, get in, and get out. But there are always (well not always, but it seems like always) oblivious people in my way. They stand in the middle of the aisle, sometimes with a shopping cart left in a spot that makes them even harder to get around, and they seem to be there to thwart my progress.
That kind of oblivion (the word “obliviousness” seems better in some ways, but is really not very elegant to say) is relatively benign.
My father was less ignorant than most people. If a subject interested him, he could study it quickly and get a deeper knowledge than many who were much more familiar than him.
But oblivion? Wow, what a difference. Maybe it was his entrepreneurial nature, always moving forward, always focussed on getting something done. Too much focus on one topic almost lends itself to being unaware of other things going on around you at the same time.
How many business families can relate to this one? Dad is hard at work, building the business for his family. What other things is he missing? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?
So if ignorance is bliss, what is oblivion? It could also be bliss, but my take is that it creates blind spots in some family areas that should not be neglected. And those who are in the family do not always find it easy to confront Dad about these subjects. They have learned that it is best to stay out of his way.
So what do you do if you are in a business family with an oblivious older generation? What is the point of even bringing it up, he probably won’t even listen. Right? You may be surprised.
Start. Start somewhere. Anywhere. Get together and talk in a group. Start conversations about how things are being done and how that affects everyone else. Bring in someone from outside the family if you need to.
Ignorance can be solved by knowledge. Oblivion requires awareness. Too many people are doing too many things while UNAWARE of the unintended consequences of their actions. They need to be made aware, to shake them out of their oblivion. It is never too early to start.