I had lunch with a friend a couple of weeks ago, and it turned out that we had a mutual acquaintance. “Bryan” told me that he and “Larry” had recently had a long discussion about things that are actually truly “black and white”. I wish I had been there, because to me, “everything is gray” as I told him.

There is a folder in my email account in which I keep blog ideas, and I have had the idea for this blog about “grayness” in there for the longest time, so I figured it was now time to give it a go.

The title of today’s installment is a line from the 1998 Counting Crows song, “Mr. Jones”, which has long been one of my favourites. The song mentions “all of the beautiful colours are very very meaningful” and the singer continues, “Gray is my favourite colour”.

I have always loved gray, and not just because you can spell it gray or grey, it goes with everything too!

But let’s get back to gray versus black and white. I believe that between black and white there are over 49 different shades of gray. I have not read the famous book, nor have I spotted it on my wife’s nightstand.

But seriously, very few things are 100% in life, either black or white. As part of my former life when I personally managed the portfolios of our family office, I had printed out a copy of some newsletter writer’s “Twenty Rules for Traders”.

The list, which included one rule that said something like “You must always follow the rules”, later concluded that you needed “To know when you should ignore the rules and break them.” OK then.

Many people really like things to be black or white, because it actualy makes things a lot simpler when  making decisions is clear and rules-based. But there are inevitably exceptions that come up, and that is when you need to exercise judgement. As you may have noticed, not everyone has sound judgement, which can be problematic.

In the family business realm, some advisors learn to rely on certain practices that have worked well with a few clients and then assume that these should be applied as hard and fast rules for all their clients. Yikes, I always worry when advisors are so sure of the solutions before they understand the client.

I don’t have too many non-negotiables, because there are almost always some exceptions that will come up in some situation with some client.

If I did have one such “rule” it would be that before hiring their children to work full time in the family business, parents should insist that the children work for someone else for a few years.

But even though I highly recommend this practice, I am positive that it is not always necessary, and I could point to many cases where it was not done and there were no detrimental effects.

I still remember when I was just about to graduate from McGill and my Dad told me that he had heard from some people at a CAFÉ meeting (Canadian Association for Family Enterprise) about this idea of getting the kids to “go find a real job first”, I was quite excited by it, until he completed his sentence and said “But we’re not gonna do that”.

If you pushed me to find something that is not gray, I guess I would have go to the subject of integrity, because that is where there is no room for any gray.

And I just googled the word “integrity” to find an awesome ending to this post, and look what I found, an entry with two definitions of the word:

  1. The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.
  2. The state of being whole and undivided.

I can buy that. But gray is still my favourite colour!