It All Comes Down to Implementation

Back in June in Skills vs. Knowledge in Family Enterprises, we looked at the fact that knowing what should be done was nice, but if you didn’t know how to make sure it happened, you were bound to miss out on most of the benefits.

Since then, I discovered some more ways to get this point across, as well as some other related subjects.

I’ve decided to look at these scenarios as a question of “follow-through”, because too often lots of great work is done identifying what could be helpful for a family, but the good stuff never happens because things fall apart somewhere along the way.

Let’s Just Develop a Vaccine!

The most obvious analogy that jumps out is the idea that a vaccine can accomplish a lot in terms of eradicating a disease, as many examples throughout history can attest.

Unfortunately, our current reality demonstrates what happens when there’s a vaccine, but, not enough people are following through and getting the vaccination shot into their arms to have the desired effect.

I won’t delve into all the reasons here, because that’s not my beat, but I think I’ve phrased this in a way that explains that a vaccine without enough vaccinations doesn’t quite get us where we’d like to be.

Family Meetings, Sounds Good….

When it comes to my work with families, it’s actually relatively easy for many of the family members to understand the importance of the concept of having family meetings, so that everyone can get together to discuss important matters about the future, together.

For them to “get” the concept, unfortunately, is the easy part.

My Dad had a similar idea back in 1985, when he convened a family meeting with his three offspring and one son-in-law.  

It was mostly one-direction communication, not a dialogue of any kind, without any outside facilitation, and worst of all, no follow-up.

As a result, our next family meeting only happened again in 2006, and that was triggered by his cancer diagnosis.

Waiting 21 years between family meetings is “sub-optimal” as you might imagine.

Having the Skills to Make It Happen

We’re back to the idea of skills versus knowledge. Many have the knowledge of what should happen, but not everyone has the skills to make it happen.

You need to have people who are comfortable with the tasks involved because they are the ones who make the difference in the outcome.

Some professionals who work with families realize that they can add value to these family clients, and manage to convince family leaders to let them help, by facilitating a meeting, since it’s good to have someone from outside the family there.

That’s fine on the surface, but I know I’m not the only person who does this work who’s received a call from some well-meaning advisor who’s on their way to facilitating their first family meeting, begging “What questions should I ask?”.

If only it were as simple as having that “secret list of questions”.

Learning to Swim from a Book

I’ve got a new favourite example to illustrate this, that I now love to share.

But before that I want to rehash another version that I like to use when talking about learning Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST), which was the subject of my 2019 book, Interdependent Wealth.

Learning BFST just by reading a book is really not possible, you need to actually work at it, by doing your own personal work on yourself, examining your own place in your family of origin, for starters.

As I relate this idea, I typically bring up the swimming analogy, saying that if you read all the books about how to swim, but have never been in the water, and then I take you to the middle of a lake in a boat and toss you overboard, that “book learning” may only have limited value.

Well now I have my cow example of the skills versus knowledge concept.

Got Milk? (You Need a Cow)

So let’s say you like milk or cream in your coffee, but there isn’t any around. But now you spot a cow in that field over there.

Well, you know that milk comes from cows, so you should be fine. 


Not everyone can safely approach the cow and come away with the milk.

It takes more than a list of questions.

You need to know how to milk the cow.