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If it Ain’t Broke, Break It?

One place I turn for information and inspiration in my professional world is LinkedIn.  I find so much useful content and plenty of blog ideas there every week.

I’ve also “met” some great new colleagues there over the years, many of whom I’ve yet to actually meet in person, but most of whom I have met over Zoom.

Recently I saw a video by a local family business leader who, along with his daughter, shared some ways they were adapting to the reality of this pandemic-stricken world.

One of the take-away messages they shared was around the ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi, resulting in an A-Ha moment for me, and the impetus for this post.

 

There It Is, Again

The Kintsugi angle was already on my radar, but due to sloppy note-taking on my part, I don’t recall where I was first exposed to it.

When I saw that video, I quickly made a note this time, to properly contextualize my blog about it. I also took it as a sign that this post was now due to be created.

Regular readers may recall that I’ve been inspired by something from Japan before, having shared Ikigai: A “Four-Circle Model” of Human Capital in 2019.

So what is Kintsugi?

You’ve likely seen some version of it before without realizing that it’s a style of art, from Japan, where a pot, dish, or bowl is broken into pieces and then reassembled.

The art is in the way it’s put back together, with glue-like substances, enhanced with gold or some other “fancy” elements.

The result is a reassembled piece, which is now more beautiful and special than the original.

 

And the Family Business Angle Is…?

Of course there’s also a resilience angle here, which is quite topical thanks to the lingering pandemic.

Almost everyone has faced, or continues to face, some sort of breakdown, and it’s important to normalize that.

Additionally, we need to realize that after a challenge, it is possible to emerge stronger and more beautiful than before.

There are also some other business family angles I’ve thought of that could fit into the Kintsugi metaphor.

Some may seem to be a stretch, and that’s OK too; I’ll just use a bit more of that “golden glue” on those to make them work.

 

Family Members Aren’t All Equal

We all know that family members are not equal, as each person has their own strengths and desires, making each one’s contributions unique.

There are often some who experience challenges in life, which may be completely involuntary or for which they are mostly to blame.

Regardless, they remain members of the family, even if they might be slightly “broken”.

One of the strengths of some business families is that they have an uncanny ability to help those “broken” family members, and even put them back together and make them stronger, finding ways to make them contributing members of the group.

 

Family Narrative with All the Warts

Another place where I think Kintsugi might apply is in the family narrative.

Story-telling seems to be all the rage now, and creating and sharing the “family narrative” has become a valuable exercise for many families.

It’s crucial to share the failures and recoveries, not just the successes, when sharing the story of the family’s path to their current status.

For more on this, please have a listen to this podcast I recently hosted. The Family Business Myth and the Hero’s Journey

 

The FamBiz Wind-Down or Wind-Up

I’ve got one more possible business family Kintsugi metaphor to share, and it involves situations where the family business that created the wealth is no longer part of the picture.

When a family business is sold, and there’s a “liquidity event”, the family can sometimes struggle to define reasons for them to stay together to continue to manage their wealth and assets.

I’m picturing the business as the pot or vase that was broken, and the family’s work to create ways and reasons to stay together as the gluing things back together in a stronger and more beautiful way.

 

Kintsugi as a Team Sport?

I used the word “create” above, and perhaps I should have used “co-create” instead.

Business family continuity is truly a team sport, and it must involve a number of people if there is any chance of it “sticking” on an intergenerational basis.

The more people involved in piecing it together, the better it will work, and look. It truly is an art.

Which One Is More Appropriate in a FamBiz?

During a recent board meeting for a local charity, the Executive Director asked us for guidance around a situation that was troubling her. The answer I gave her reminded me of advice my Dad shared with me decades ago.

Since Dad was the first Family Business owner I ever knew, and still the one upon whose wisdom I typically rely most, this incident provided a nice opportunity to share it here.

While Dad didn’t have a specific FamBiz application, because he concentrated on his own business, I do think about other people’s businesses, so I will adapt it to that situation.

 

Pandemic Safety or Easy Cash

The non-profit on whose board I serve has a large hall we rent out on occasion. Since our province has been on “essential services only” lockdown, that rental income really dried up.

Our government has allowed TV and Film production to qualify as essential, which, while being a bit of a headscratcher, became and opportunity for us.

We were approached by production crews to rent our hall for their people to take breaks and have their meals.

“Should we accept these rentals?”, was the question from our E.D.  “With so many government regulations because of our food bank, maybe we should ask first.

“How much do these rentals pay?”, came the first question.

 

Some Things Are “No-Brainers”

When I heard the answer, which was a decent sum, I replied that it was better to go ahead and do it, and ask for forgiveness later, if we got into trouble.

It seemed inadvisable to me to wait and ask for permission first. And that brought back memories from my father.

With Dad, it was typically when he wanted to build something that might require a permit.  He would “play dumb” and go ahead and build, figuring that asking for permission would cause undue delay and possible extra costs.

In our charity example, it was a no-brainer.

But what about in a family business, when you’re a rising generation “future leader”, does this advice also work?

 

All About Seizing Opportunities to Lead

There’s a plethora of potential examples that cover a wide swath of situations where this could apply, and the answer will of course vary depending on the context.

The message I want share here is that when there’s a doubt, oftentimes making the leap, and taking action, will be perceived as the better option.

When I work with different generations of a business family, I notice that some rising generation family members will defer to their elders on too many decisions, for far too long.

Yes, I understand the attitude of “But if I screw up, Dad will be mad”; been there, done that.

 

Act as If I Weren’t Here; What Would You Do?

As I wrote those words, I actually had a flashback to the 1980’s, when I once asked for Dad’s direction on a decision.  I don’t recall any details, but I do distinctly remember his words.

                     “What would you do if I wasn’t here?”

Interesting, I thought. And from that point on, for issues and decisions that were not critical, and for which a timely response was important, I began to make more of the decisions in my sphere of influence than previously.

Naturally it was better for both of us that way.

And, importantly, this began an ever-increasing responsibility load that I was able to successfully take on for myself. Another Win-Win.

 

They’re Probably Secretly Waiting for It

There are certainly some exceptions, but for the most part, parents are actually pleased, relieved, and proud when their offspring are able to take on more important roles, responsibilities, and decisions.

They’ll usually forgive you if you make a mistake, too.

Asking for permission on too many minor questions, for too long, is only going to delay the important transitions of knowledge, experience, and decision-making that are key to making a family business succession successful.

 

A Gradual, Iterative Process (Like So Many Others)

These transitions are a long time in the making, and tend to evolve gradually. They’re also iterative, meaning that you do something, learn from it, maybe take a step back, evaluate, and try again.

Over time, you make progress in the desired direction

Eventually, because a family is truly interdependent, especially over the long term, you may get to the point where you resemble a family discussed in Asking for Permission in a Family Business.

Eventually, the shoe gets to be on the other foot!

 

University of Vermont Case Competition

Every January for the last several years, the college town of Burlington Vermont has become the center of attention for people from around the globe.

Okay, so maybe it isn’t (yet) a worldwide phenomenon, but, for students learning about Family Enterprise, this is the one place that hosts the annual Schlesinger Global Family Enterprise Case Competition (SG-FECC).

The University of Vermont (UVM) has been doing this for a few years (this was the 8th edition) and they have it down to a science.

This year it was held virtually, for reasons that don’t require much explanation, and that could have caused all sorts of challenges (and likely did) but you never would’ve noticed.

 

An Impressive Bunch of Young Leaders

The second part of my title references a movie featuring one of my favourite rock bands of my childhood, The Who, so perhaps I’m dating myself here.

But I really wanted to properly frame the “A-Ha moment” that I had this year, similar to the one I’ve had every time I’ve participated as a judge. If I’m not mistaken, this was my 6th time.

You may think that I’m talking about the competitors, who come from schools all over the world, every year.  And you’d be right, the students who compete in the Case Competition have impressed me every year.

 

It’s really nice to see the social aspect of the competition when it’s done in person, noticing that some of these undergraduate and graduate students are seeing snow for the first time in their lives.

 

A Huge Volunteer Undertaking by UVM Students

But it’s much bigger than just the competitors, it’s the entire organizing committee, which is composed of a few dozen students, who take care of everything from A to Z.

Yes, they are led by a few paid “adults” who work for UVM in various capacities, all of whom fall under the watchful eye of the brainchild and fearless leader of this project since Day 1, Pramodita Sharma.

But what impresses me every year is just how mature, competent, professional and diligent these young people are, and what they’re able to pull off, with only minimal supervision.

What they do have is structure and people who have done the job in previous years.

Come to think of it, this is a lot like many family businesses, and that’s where we’ll turn now.

 

Motivated and Aligned Young People

The young people of today, who many label as Generation Z, are so impressive to me, in so many ways.

I know that many business families can be hesitant to incorporate these youngsters into important roles, but from my vantage point, many of them are way more ready than the young 20-somethings of decades past.

They also benefit from having grown up with the latest technology, and with school systems that do a much better job of giving them practice at working together on projects from a young age.

Many also seem to be much better than their elders at harnessing the collective wisdom of the groups to which they belong.

They typically have plenty of motivation, so if you already have some structure and some vision, they can often handle way more than you might expect. 

 

Great Examples Abound

The recent Presidential Inauguration gave us another great display, as Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old Poet Laureate knocked my socks off with her poem.

My own kids are 19 and 21, and I see so much promise in them and their friends too.  I see it in my clients’ rising generations and at SG-FECC every year too.

With the recent passing of Hank Aaron, I happened to hear his Baseball Hall of Fame speech, in which he said “A man’s ability is limited only by his lack of opportunity”

Amen.

 

Many Winners, Especially Wilfrid-Laurier and ESADE

There were many winners at SG-FECC this year, especially those from Wilfrid-Laurier University (Canada), who won the undergraduate competition, and ESADE (Spain) who took top spot in the graduate category.

I look forward to being back in Burlington for the next “in person” version, whenever that is possible.

Meantime, like so many other areas of life these past few months, we’re all adapting and realizing how much we can all still accomplish even in these sub-optimal conditions.

And with these promising young people taking on bigger roles all the time, the future is bright.

 

 

 

Communicating and Making Decisions Together

One of the topics I return to most frequently in this space is family governance. 

There are a few reasons for that, including the fact that it’s a really important part of why some families have been successful at transitioning their wealth through generations, as well as the fact that it remains pretty much a misunderstood area for families who simply aren’t there yet.

As I look back at how I’ve treated this subject in the past, I was happy to come across this blog from 2017, Old MacDonald Had Family Governance (E-I-E-I-O).

Those vowels from the children’s song happened to line up nicely with some adjectives I’d been thinking about when considering family governance.

 

Things a Family Needs to DO Together

So much talk about family governance surrounds the things that the family needs to do together. In a sense, they’re about creating a “modus operandi” for the family.

I need to give a tip of the hat to Walid Chiniara for this idea, as his recent book, Dynastic Planning is where the seed for this blog post was planted a few weeks ago.

Of course there is much that any family needs to learn to do together that becomes the foundation of their governance.

From communicating and decision-making to creating forums and learning to solve problems together, there’s always more that needs to be done.

 

Method, protocol 

When I went to Shutterstock to search for an image to accompany this post and I entered “modus operandi”, I got a couple of hits with those exact words, but also some other suggestions that made me think.

The two that stood out to me were “method” and “protocol”, which might be some ways to keep in mind as your family (or your client family) works to establish the ways that they are going to do things together, as they prepare for the family’s wealth to eventually transition to the next generation.

But of course the title of this post promised that there’s much more to family governance than a modus operandi, and so this is where I want to turn to now.

And this is where Chiniara’s inspiration from that book truly kicks in.

 

The Way a Family Needs to BE Together

I feel like I’ve been over this territory a lot, but it’s so important that it bears repeating nonetheless.

This “territory” is the distinction between “doing” and “being”.

It’s as basic as the difference between asking a child “what do you want to be when you grow up” as opposed to “what to do you want to do”.

And yes, I do realize that the two are very much intertwined, so for many people it may be a distinction without much difference.

But in the family governance realm, the way a family learns to be together is something that’s always worth working on.

 

Informal Family Governance

So much of what ends up driving a family’s governance is actually very informal, especially when a family is still figuring all this stuff out.

Before the “protocols” and the “methods” actually get formalized, most families more or less fly by the seat of their pants for a while, and that’s perfectly fine in the early stages.

And whereas the formal part becomes a “modus operandi”, the informal part is much more of a “modus vivendi”.  (Thanks Walid)

Vivendi translates to “of living”, and it’s all about how the family members learn how to live together and be together, when working on their governance.

Of course when you Google “modus vivendi” the top hits will direct you to an underwear brand that uses that name; I guess it is a pretty clever name for that intimate layer of clothing.

 

Practice, Practice, Practice

To reprise the punchline from the joke about “how do you get to Carnegie Hall?” the answer here is also “Practice, practice, practice”.

Family members who will be expected to work together to make decisions for the good of the family in the future need to practice working together and making decisions together before they get thrust into situations of real importance.

The longer the runway, the better.  Let the elders step aside and watch how their offspring actually act and behave as they plan and execute on events and ideas together.

The modus vivendi they co-create will become the foundation required to support the eventual wealth transition you’re striving for.

Yet Another Label for Generations

This week we’re looking at the challenges faced by one particular generation in many families. 

While we’ve previously discussed topics related to the “rising generation” in a family (a.k.a. NextGen) and on the leading or senior generation (a.k.a. NowGen), we’re going for something a bit different this time.

Most people are familiar with the term “Sandwich Generation”, based on the everyday challenges people in this position face no matter which socio-economic strata they inhabit.

I want to examine some of the special aspects of being in such a situation in an enterprising (a.k.a. affluent) family.

 

The Meat in the Sandwich

The term “sandwich generation” comes from being caught in between two other generations, much like the meat in a sandwich.

With increasing life expectancy, combined with couples having children later, more and more people in their 40’s and 50’s find themselves in this unenviable position.

Their offspring still rely on them and they’re rightly concerned with that following generation properly launching into independent adulthood.

Meanwhile, their parents have reached a stage in their lives where they also require care and attention.

This segment of the lives of the sandwich folks also happens to overlap with the most important years in their careers, and thus their work responsibilities, only adding to the challenges.

 

Patience Has Its Limits

A few months back, in On Patience and Impatience in Family Transitions, I wrote the following:

“The two (or three) generations need to take their time and incrementally move decisions and actions from the NowGen to the NextGen.  

 

That might sound like a very simple thing to do, but in reality it’s quite difficult.

This came home to me recently when my social media team put a podcast interview I’d done a while ago back into circulation.

On a 2018 episode of The True Wealth Project Podcast, which I recently re-listened to, I was personally stumped by a question about my own personal legacy planning vis-à-vis my children.

 

One Generation at a Time

The host asking me about my own family brought home the realization that I myself was one of these sandwich dwellers, and I knew that I was not alone.

In fact, when I wrote “The two (or three) generations” in that previous post, it should have been clear already.

Perhaps when I had written that, where the context was a family who were actively working on clarifying their legacy so that it would be successfully passed down, I was assuming that the generation in the middle would see themselves as part of the process and therefore not an afterthought.

But as I reflect on this, I can’t help but think that people in this position really need complete clarity of what is coming to them before they can think about how they’re going to eventually leave it to their offspring.

 

When Will Things Be Clear?

As I write these words and process them at the same time, it’s dawning on me that I’ve been confounding two separate issues: timing and clarity.

Last week, when I wrote How to ACE your FamBiz Succession Planning the “C” in ACE stood for “Clarity”, so I was unintentionally foreshadowing this point a week in advance.

But things don’t necessarily have to have already happened for them to be clear.

Perhaps the fact that I married into a family with little clarity has affected my view on this topic.

Don’t Wait for the Triggering Event to Ask Questions

Some families just never talk about things that are in fact inevitable, such as the eventual death of one of the family elders. 

They don’t want to talk about such subjects because they don’t want to be disrespectful or seem like they are rooting for something to occur in the near term.

Meantime, any planning for the future gets put on the back burner, because of the lack of clarity mentioned above.

Somewhere in a legal document lie the answers to many of the questions that are on the minds of many family members.

But nobody wants to ask the questions.

 

Coach, Coach Thyself

Every family is different, and some members are more comfortable in rocking the boat and bringing up uncomfortable subjects.

The expression “physician, heal thyself” comes to mind now, for me.

I’m not a doctor, but I am a coach, and maybe I need to think of myself as a coaching client and see if there are any ideas I might want to be pursuing myself, as I search for some clarity. 

Or maybe not.

Surprising Word Choice Proves Revealing

Regular readers know about my penchant for word play and finding lessons in unexpected places thanks to vocabulary, grammar, and translation issues.

If that kind of blog is up your alley, you should enjoy this one since there’s some of each of those on tap this week…

A few months back in Social Capital in the FamBiz World we looked at the human need for connection

Since then I’ve realized the importance that social interaction plays in my life, and I’ve also developed a new level of gratitude for the social capital that I enjoy.

 

Joining Yet Another Group

I’m a member of a number of groups, mostly with peers, that get together over Zoom from time to time for various forms of discussion and interaction.

Most of them actually pre-date this pandemic, so I feel like I had a head start on many people in learning to get the most out of this way of meeting.

I recently joined a new group, and one of the first meetings we had was the source of inspiration for this week’s post.

Unlike all my other groups, this one conducts its business in French, which is my second language, but being a lifelong Montrealer, I’m sufficiently fluent, and I speak it both professionally and socially on a daily basis.

 

Colleagues Learning from Colleagues

Our facilitator, Jessica, was setting up a discussion and at one point I thought I knew what she was about to say but then she went in a different direction and it threw me off a bit.

We were talking about choosing the kinds of things advisors might decide to specialize their practices in, and as she was listing ways to make such choices she began to mention “Dans quoi on est…” which translates literally to “In which one is…”

My mind jumped ahead and filled in “bon”, which is French for “good”.

Of course, we want to choose to do things that we are good at, right?

But then, instead of saying “bon”, she said “bien”, which means “well”.

 

There’s a Lesson (or Two) in There

Jessica was making the point that we should concentrate on doing things that we’re “well” at, or, as a better translator might say, things that make us feel well.

Could she be on to something, suggesting that things we can feel good about doing and that make us feel well and good is even more important than concentrating on things that we are good at, i.e that we execute well?

And although we were sharing ideas amongst advisors to family enterprises, what are the implications of such a “discovery” for the members of the families we work with?

Couple relaxing on bed

Doing Versus Being

This is all about the difference between “doing” and “being”, which are two really different yet related ways of looking at oneself. 

And, interestingly, the way they interrelate evolves over time. The more you practice doing something, the more it becomes part of who you are.

Of course this also brought back memories of a piece I wrote last year, Ikigai: a Four Circle Model of Human Capital

That was about finding the true sweet spot of things we do well, things we like to do, things the world needs, and things we can get paid to do.

 

Examples for Legacy Families

While reflecting on these questions is important for professionals who work with families, they can take on even more significance for members of those families.

And, they give rise to another aspect of belonging to such a family, as I noted earlier this year in Where Do You FIT in your Business Family?

I think it’s interesting that I noted at the beginning of this piece the importance of social interaction in my life, as I continue to figure out where I fit in this wonderful world of working with enterprising families.

 

Feeling Well and Doing Good

Being part of this evolving field and making whatever contributions I can makes me feel good and I think that I’m doing a decent job.

Members of legacy families can often minimize the importance of finding activities for which they get paid, by virtue of the fact that they may have other assets off which they can live.

When I work with families, part of what I’m hoping I can help them achieve is that each person can do some good for the family while also feeling good about their place within the group.

That’s often way more important than money.

Since 2014, one of the highlights of my year has been a trip to the annual conference of the Family Firm Institute each October.

It recently wound down for this year, and for a change I didn’t have to fly anywhere or check into a hotel. Alas, it was held virtually for the first time, and I’d be lying if I said it was virtually the same.

Oh well, all we can do is do our best, and I was still able to consume a huge amount of content relevant to those who inhabit the family enterprise space like me.

 

Worldwide Leaders Coming to Share

This space can often feel like a real niche, and so in order to find a critical mass of others who do similar work, a global network is actually almost a requirement.

While family businesses dominate the economy of almost every country on the planet, the vast majority remain typically small enterprises, who don’t necessarily require much special attention.

At the larger end of the spectrum, however, where we look at multi-generational family dynasties, spanning several countries, held up by complex family groups, the needs of families do warrant special attention and specialized professionals.

Source: https://digital.ffi.org/ffi-global-conference/

The Rising Generation as a Focus

There were a couple dozen presentations over two days, and often two sessions running concurrently, so there was literally something for everyone present.

There were over 300 people registered, from dozens of countries and six continents, and while cultural variations in the family enterprise world exist, there are more common elements present, making global sharing worthwhile.

One theme I noted was a focus on the rising generation in families. There were sessions on family culture, family engagement and family learning, that all spoke to the importance of getting the younger family members interested and involved.

There was talk of “values based investing” that brought all generations to the table, and a focus on having younger family members get their “Operator’s Licence” to begin running things in the family business too.

 

Complex Family Dynamics Always at Play

Aside from the focus on a particular generation, there was also a good deal of discussion around complex family dynamics that never seem to be far away when talking about family owned and operated enterprises.

There were sessions on family meetings, ethical dilemmas in families, and mediation for families who have conflicts that are difficult to resolve.

There was even some reflection for advisors to consider how comfortable we are with conflict, so we can assess whether or not we are the best person to serve our clients in such cases.

There was a great session on mental incapacity that left me with some great take-aways.

 

Repeated Messaging for my Own Good

As part of a number of different organisations that serve parts of this field, I’m privileged to cross paths with a number of great leaders who tirelessly share their thoughts in various forums every year.

The messages can feel a bit repetitive at times, but I’ve learned that even though I’ve heard someone on a subject before, I still learn something by attending again, because surely I didn’t catch everything the first time through.

The first example was Jim Grubman on mental incapacity.  I’ve heard Jim discuss it before, but this time something really stuck with me.

We’ve all known people who’ve begun to lose their ability due to age-related mental decline, and it can cause enormous complexity for a family to deal with.

Grubman highlighted part of the reason for this, and it hit home for me.

 

Legal, Medical, Business, Emotional, and Ethical Views

The reason they are so complex is that they are viewed differently through a variety of different lenses.

A person whose mental decline has begun raises issues in law, medicine, business, family emotions and ethics.

No wonder these things are so hard to deal with!

 

Dennis Jaffe Delivers Again

A few weeks ago I wrote about Dennis Jaffe in Legacy Families Rely on a Generative Alliance. He was the closing speaker at FFI, and even though I’ve seen him present many times, I still got something new out of it.

I was also pleased to have been featured myself, as Dr. Mariana Martinez and I kicked things off during the first day’s early morning session with Bowen: From Theory to Practice. Thanks to all those who gave me great feedback!

Looking forward to FFI 2021 in London next year; fingers crossed that it will be in person!

 

 

 

From the Backyard to Twitter

In our backyard we’ve had a rather elaborate set-up of four bird feeders for the past few years, and my wife has assumed the role of the “bird queen”, regularly keeping them filled all summer.

We’re treated to almost daily sightings of cardinals and blue jays, among others.

Thanks to “spillage” the visitors make a big mess below, allowing some local rabbits from the neighbouring golf course to also feed on the seeds, which is a nice bonus.

Of course there are also other, less welcome, rodents.

 

Acrobatic Squirrels

Witnessing the efforts that squirrels go through to get their share of the bird food, you can only be amazed at their creativity.

They’re also cute enough, and certainly prove themselves worthy of the food they steal from the birds thanks to their work ethic. 

It’s been pointed out that without their fluffy tails they’re just rats that know how to climb, but they do have those cute tails.

So many people make the effort to feed only birds and not squirrels that there are literally hundreds of designs of feeders available that have been conceived specifically to thwart the squirrels’ efforts.

 

The Twitter Cartoon

Being a witness to the heroic efforts put out by both the squirrels and my wife to keep the feeders full for our avian friends, my antennae are attuned to stimuli relating to this constant battle.

Lo and behold while scrolling my Twitter feed recently I noticed a little cartoon that hit home.

The drawing featured a squirrel in a precarious position getting his fill from one of those feeders designed to keep him at bay, much like the one in this photo:

 

 

And the Thought Bubble Said…

The punch line was in the thought bubble, which let us in on what the little rodent was thinking as he feasted on the seeds:

     “This squirrel feeder sure wasn’t designed very well”

I had not seen that coming, and enjoyed the chuckle. 

And then I thought about how this lesson could be tied into the wonderful world of families who are preparing for an eventual transition of their business or wealth to the next generation.

 

Isn’t That a Bit of a Leap?

I mentioned my antennae earlier, and they’re attuned to this world 24/7/365, so it wasn’t much of a leap for me.

There are certainly some analogies and metaphors that I can derive from this cartoon, but I’m not sure that any are conclusive.

But we can have some fun kicking them around, so I hope you’ll join me here.

 

Your Family of Birds

I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the birds that you want to feed are the family members.  You want them to have food so that they survive and thrive and keep coming back.

So who are the squirrels? This is where it gets more confusing, or maybe just more fun.

The squirrels could be all the other forces of nature that work against families who are trying to avoid the fate of families who succumb to the “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”.

 

What About the Cartoon Squirrel?

We can’t hold anything against squirrels in general, because they’re just doing what their instincts are telling them to do, and they also need to eat.

But what about the particular squirrel from the cartoon, who actually thought that the food was being set out there for him?

I have an idea about who he represents and I need to be careful how I put this.

In my role guiding families through their intergenerational transitions, those families invariably work with other professionals who take care of the legal, structural and tax minimization details.

On occasion, some of those experts can take on a bit of a squirrelly attitude.

 

Don’t Do It “Bass Ackwards”

I suppose they’re also only doing what their instincts tell them to.  When families approach such experts not knowing what’s most important to them, priorities may get skewed and tax avoidance or limiting what heirs can do may end up driving things.

To me when the structures are put in place before the family has figured out what their legacy should look like, it’s kind of “bass ackwards”.

You really should figure out the family part first and then get the pros to draft the perfect structures to fit that.  

The priority needs to be the birds, not the squirrels.

Both Are Needed, But Not in the Same Places

So many issues that families face in transitioning their wealth from one generation to the next come down to questions around timing.

You’ve got people from different generations, so you automatically have different realities relating to their current life cycles, which naturally make them feel certain urgencies that others might not appreciate.

Somehow things often go better after everyone has had a chance to share their viewpoints in ways that others can suddenly understand, but that doesn’t happen often enough, so let’s talk about that here.

 

The Bigger Picture: An Upstream View

Most of my blogs are “evergreen”, meaning that they can be consumed at any point in time, because they don’t depend on current events or seasons.

I’ve diverged a bit this year, thanks to the pandemic that had me refocusing topics this past Spring, and lately there’s been lots of focus on my summer weeks at my cottage.

One advantage to a nine-hour drive to my cottage is the time it affords me to listen to audiobooks, which are my favourite way to make the drive productive and enlightening.

On my last drive there, I listened to Upstream, The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen, by Dan Heath.

It was great and I recommend it, because it actually gives some great perspective on Systems Theory, and an appreciation for how important it is to look at how things are connected.

 

The Time Element in Systems Theory

If this is feeling a bit like a déjà vu it might be because I wrote From Upstream to Downstream in the FamBiz a couple of months back, and there are only so many “stream” blogs one can write.

That blog concluded with my suggestion to get moving early on eventual transitions, and that segues nicely with this week’s message.

Towards the end of Upstream, Heath has a great line about where to be patient, and where to be impatient, which bring us right back to our timing issues.

He tells us to be:

 

       Patient for Outcomes, and Impatient for Actions

 

If you’re like me, you’ll want to pause the recording for a minute and make sure you got all of that.

Pre-Digested Wisdom

Well, this isn’t a recording, it’s a blog, so you don’t have to stop listening, rewind, grab a pen, and make sure you got it all, because I already did that work for you.

Plus, now I’m going to spell out the key take-away, which I’ll gladly do because Heath, who’s written and sold quite a few more books than I have, is saying something really important, and it also happens to fit right along with stuff I’ve been saying too.

Here’s the simplest reworking of this advice into my own words:

     “Hurry up and get started, but don’t be in a hurry to finish”

I’m reminded of a blog I wrote a couple of years ago, There Is No Destination, which was inspired by a quote I had recently read, “There is no destination, it’s ALL journey”.

 

Being Impatient for Actions

Procrastination is probably the biggest enemy of successful wealth transitions in families. Put simply, people wait too long to begin the work.

It’s funny because work itself is not usually something that families who’ve been successful in building a business are “allergic” to; they’ve typically got a strong work ethic, which is how they got to the point where they’ve accumulated enough wealth to make a difference in the lives of all family members.

I’ve stated this plenty of times, going back to my first book in 2014, SHIFT your Family Business, in which the word SHIFT is an acronym, where the “S” stands for Start!

It’s impossible to start too early.

 

Being Patient for Outcomes

Transitioning wealth is not an event, it’s a process.  And while some processes are better to rush through, this is one that is better when it takes longer.

The two (or three) generations need to take their time and incrementally move decisions and actions from the NowGen to the NextGen.

When you’ve started early, you give yourself time to change course, slow down as needed, and be flexible, (the F in SHIFT) without having to start from scratch.

 

Adjusting your Timing and Re-Calibrating

This is truly a process with no real end, because even after the elders have left this earth, their wisdom will remain, to be passed to successive generations.

And we should never be in hurry to finish that job.

New Perspectives on a Flashback Memory 

In the summer I love being at my cottage, and when here, one of my preferred spots is on my kayak, hoping to spot some bald eagles while paddling around the Chockpish River. 

See: From Upstream to Downstream in the FamBiz

This week I ventured to a part of the river near the first cottage we stayed in here, years ago, and it created a flashback to a memory that part of me prefers to forget.

As I casually related that story to my coach, Melissa, this week, we ended up in some new territory that makes me want to share it here now. 

 


Just a Trip to the Beach

It was a nice day for a trip to the beach, which, depending on the mode of transport, is either a five-minute drive by car, or a twenty-minute paddle by kayak.

So Mom and our daughter were going to drive and my son and I were going to take the scenic route via the water.

I had one “Walkie-Talkie” and my wife had the other, just in case.

“OK, bye, see you there in a few minutes”.  Not so fast…

 

Boat Safety Training Comes in Handy

My wife grew up on a river with power boats, and we’ve taken our share of boating courses, many years ago. One part of the training included using a VHF radio to communicate and to signal distress

(The protocols on the water and for aircraft are similar if not identical.)

The Chockpish river is not deep, and in places you can run aground, even in a kayak, but there was another danger lurking beneath the surface.

My preteen son (at the time) got into the small kayak and I pushed mine into deep enough water to get going, and was then going to board (mine is a “sit-on-top” model).

Off we go, except…

 

Did I Tell You About the Moose?

Our neighbour, Doris, had recently recounted a sad story about a moose who “got stuck in the mud, and died” in the river, because she (the moose) couldn’t get out.

That story came to the forefront of my mind, as I too, began to sink into the mud as I tried to board my kayak.

With my son waiting, “patiently”, for us to depart, Dad kept getting in deeper and deeper. This was NOT going as planned.

Did Doris mention that the moose had a heart attack trying to get out? I wasn’t sure anymore.

I was slowly but surely reaching panic mode.

 

Asking for Help, Before It Gets Critical

I remembered the Walkie-Talkie, and I remembered my radio training. We’re all familiar with “MayDay” as a distress call, when it’s a matter of life and death.

Fewer people know that there’s another signal to call out, before things get that far, but I knew it was time to use it.

I turned on the Walkie-Talkie and said “Pan Pan”.

           “Pan Pan, I’m stuck in the mud, and I think I need help”

My wife knew that this was not a joke and that I needed help, and she turned around and came back to help.

The rest of the story is thankfully uneventful, because after seeing her, I calmed down, which helped me stop sinking deeper, and I eventually extricated myself, on my own.

 

Lessons Learned when Stuck in Real Mud

I hope you never get to the point where you’re literally hip deep in the mud, even in shallow water.

  1. Don’t wait until it’s “life and death” before asking for help.
  2. Know how to ask for the right help, and from whom.
  3. Remaining calm will almost always be helpful.
  4. The presence of a helper is beneficial, even if they aren’t the ones who pull you out.

 

Lessons that Families Can Use

  1. Don’t wait until it’s “life and death” before asking for help.
  2. Know how to ask for the right help, and from whom.
  3. Remaining calm will almost always be helpful.
  4. The presence of a helper is beneficial, even if they aren’t the ones who pull you out.

 

Did You See What I Did There?

I probably could have made this point without the repetition, but I wanted it to be “in your face”.

Families get “stuck”, and they know things won’t magically solve themselves.

It’s OK to ask for help, you’ll be glad you did.

 

Invitation:

Send me an email with “Pan Pan” in the subject line, and I’ll offer you two complimentary one-hour coaching sessions.