Pens & Pencils

Pens Vs Pencils for Your FamBiz

This week’s topic is pretty simple, it’s about not overcomplicating things when it comes to working on the family issues in your business family.

To make my point stick, I want to share a story that I heard many years ago; you may have also heard some version of it too.

Part of me was tempted to do some research on this, to get the details correct and even verify that it is in fact a true story and not just an “urban legend”.  

But the lazier part of me won out, as I rationalized the fact that the details of the story really matter very little.  And, even if the story isn’t actually true, well, it could be!


Crazy Government Budget Stories

We’ve all heard various versions of stories where some government department spent $856,000 on a hammer, because of bureaucracy and overly complicated specifications.  My story is kind of like that too, with an added punch line. So here goes.

It seems that in the early days of the U.S. space program, there was a concern that because of a lack of gravity in outer space, conventional pens would not work aboard the spacecraft.  Gravity is one of those things we take for granted, and we only really appreciate some aspects of it when they aren’t there.

As the story goes, countless engineers and scientists got to work on a solution, to design a pen that would still work, even in the absence of gravity.

Of course putting lots of people to work on something ends up costing a lot of money.  And so nobody would be surprised to learn that the final cost was somewhere in the zillions of dollars.


A Cheaper Alternative

Meanwhile, in another country, over in Europe or Asia (or maybe both) they too were working on sending people into space.  They too had recognized that pens would not work due to the gravity issue.

Their solution? 

                                   To use pencils instead of pens.

The moral of the story is that there is often a very simple solution to every issue, if you take the time to look for it.

The issues that I typically talk about here are all about enterprising families and how they need to learn to work together as a family.

When people consider this subject for the first time, it can quickly seem complicated too, but it doesn’t have to be that way.


A Constitutional Crisis

As I wrote last summer in Behind the Flawed Family Constitution, some families believe that they need to create a full blown constitution for their families, right off the bat.

While it’s true that some multigenerational families do have their own constitution, I’m willing to bet that not one of them used a family constitution as their starting point in the creation of their family governance.

What they all likely did, way back when they were beginning to walk down that path, was to start with a family meeting. In fact, they might have even had a meeting about having meetings, which is actually a thing.


Family Council Meeting “Number Zero”

A client family I’ve been working with for the past few years, (mostly with the rising generation but also with their parents), started having quarterly “family council meetings” a couple of years ago.

When we all gathered for the first of those meetings, I handed out an agenda, which clearly stated that this was simply “Family Council Meeting # 0”.

It was a meeting about the kinds of meetings we were going to be having, and it’s where we decided, together, on some basic guidelines for these meetings going forward.


Not Carved in Stone, Just Written in Pencil

Most important of all is the attitude involved and the acceptance that there is not a single way to do this, and that the best way to go is to let things evolve, slowly but surely.

I’m reminded of a post I wrote a few years back, Start Cleaning Up your MESS where “MESS” is an acronym to help recall that you should “Start Moving”, “Start Early”, “Start Small”, and “Start Slowly”.

You also need to be flexible in letting everything develop at its own pace, and not be in a huge hurry. This is NOT about having one family meeting.  It’s about beginning a series of regular family meetings.

Take notes in pen or pencil, your choice.