Entering Uncharted Territory
This week we’re entering some new territory, in a number of ways. First off, I took up this topic based on a suggestion from a reader I’ve never met.
I received a LinkedIn message a while back asking me to talk about addiction and the role it plays, and was intrigued.
I also realized that this potentially huge topic can be a pretty big deal for some families who are trying to create and pass down a legacy, and yet I’ve yet to discuss it here, despite having written over 400 posts.
That all changes now, as I want to share my thoughts on what is also “uncharted territory” for many families, who are often unprepared for how they should respond when a family member has an addiction.
I decided to revisit a version of the “5 Things” blogs I’ve done over the years, much to the dismay of my wife, who wonders aloud why it’s always five things, and never four or six…
1. You Cannot Change Someone Else
As much as we’d all like this to be different, you cannot change someone else. You can try, and many do, but true change really only occurs when the “changee” does the work.
This can be the most difficult realisation of your life, especially as a parent.
When they have young children, parents can and do manage to create many of the changes they hope to with their offspring.
Unfortunately, at some point, this ends. Then, the more a parent wants something, the less likely their children are to acquiesce.
If your instinct is to simply insist more forcefully, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
2. Look to Provide Help, Not to Punish
An initial reaction to a family member’s addiction might be to use some form of punishment to try to curb the unwanted behaviour.
Punishment, whether simply threatened or actually enacted, will often backfire and make matters more difficult to fix.
Nobody sets out to become addicted to anything.
Yes, there’s often some behaviour involved that’s less than desirable, but by the time they reach the stage of addiction, it’s no longer an easily-solvable problem.
Offering help, in the form of support and understanding, will go much further, and hopefully get the addicted person to cooperate, as opposed to rebel, which is what punishment will often engender.
3. Set Realistic Expectations
There’s no magic wand that will make an addiction disappear overnight.
These situations all vary, of course, based on what the addiction is, how long it’s been going on and how deeply affected the person is, and whether this is the first time or not.
Giving the whole situation the time required to be satisfactorily resolved is what I suggest, and it’s better to err on the side of planning for things to take more time (months/years) than less (days/weeks).
4. Work on Organizing the Rest of the Family
While the addicted family member seems to take up a lot of time and focus, you shouldn’t neglect the rest of the family.
In fact, I think it makes sense for most families to organize themselves to survive for the long term as if the addicted person will never get over whatever their particular affliction may be.
This is a variation on “plan for the worst” but also hope for the best.
If the addicted family member is putting the enterprise at risk, finding ways to minimize and eliminate those risks should quickly become the focus, and that means having different people assume certain key roles.
Making a plan that you can all work on together to get through this makes sense and should be a priority.
5. Bring in Outside Help to Manage It
Few families are well equipped to deal with such issues on their own.
Bringing in outside expertise makes sense for dealing with the addicted person, of course, but may also make lots of sense for the rest of the family as they deal with things in a new way.
I hold himself out as such a resource for families, so this suggestion shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone reading this, of course.
But an addicted family member creates emotional reactions that need to be managed.
You need to reduce the “reactions” and instead focus on a constructive “response”.
Ignoring the issue and hoping it will disappear rarely works out well.
It’s Usually a Slow Journey to the Top
As the world returns to more in-person events, I’ve been playing catch up with occasions to be with like-minded colleagues. I’ve just returned from New York where I took part once again in the Institute for Family Governance’s annual conference.
I also got in some family time with my sister, my nephew, and my son, so that was a nice bonus.
Since family governance is about improving relationships among family stakeholders, this opportunity of combining the conference with personal family catch-ups was a big plus.
When thinking about a subject like family governance, I normally like to look at it from each individual family’s perspective, since no two families should approach it the same way.
However, meeting with colleagues who all work somewhere in this space allows me to also take the pulse of the professional community to see how the subject is understood and received in general, and I’m left with mixed feelings on that score.
Caring Enough to Understand
Some of those who showed up didn’t seem to care enough to try to understand the family relationship aspects that actually create most families’ governance challenges.
Perhaps I was jaded by some interactions at my lunch roundtable, but the subject of the families and their challenges in establishing some sort of governance seemed far from the radar of many colleagues.
Having self-selected to come to this conference and sign up for a table to discuss “Family Considerations when Designing your Family Office”, I had assumed that they’d care enough about it to try to understand better.
Or maybe they didn’t understand enough to care; maybe some of each (?).
Enough about the negative, because as usual, the presentations contained many positive nuggets worth remembering and sharing.
Some Random Nuggets to Share:
Josh Baron kicked off the morning discussing Owner Strategy for Family Enterprises, and he reminded us all how important the owners of any business are and the roles that they can and should play as owners.
The group of owners is much more than whatever it happens to say in their shareholder’s agreement, and he was encouraging them to work together with intentionality.
What Does the IRS Have to Do with This?
A panel after that shared a couple of nice take-aways, notably that it’s important not to let the IRS decide things for you.
This underscores the need to make plans in advance of anyone’s death, although I suspect that for many, those plans are actually precisely about making decisions that are very much driven by the desire to deprive the IRS of any of the family’s dollars!
They also noted that there’s a serious lack of role models for generational stewardship for families to learn from.
I think this is largely true, and hopefully changing for the better.
On Family Business Boards:
Brendan Wall then shared his lived experience in his eponymous family enterprise, discussing How to Design and Implement an Effective Family Business Board.
Keeping the Board fresh by rotating directors on and off was noted, as was the need to put the right people on the Board in the first place.
He also mentioned that the qualities of who should be on a Board differ widely when looking at outside independent directors versus family members who sit on the same Board.
A G5 Keynote to Remember
Matthew Fleming’s keynote on the Importance of Family Values was fantastic, as he shared stories from the heart about his family, who are now in G5 (the fifth generation of his family), and how their multi-family office maintains their family’s values at the center of the work they do with all the families they serve.
He shared their model of the Four Pillars of Capital, and also left us with an existential question:
“Is your family office becoming a bigger problem than
the problem it was designed to solve?”
Hmmmm, as any family office heading towards a generational transition knows, this is an important thing to consider, as a need to evolve to serve the rising generation will emerge at some point.
After lunch we were treated to some wonderful examples of families who Use their Family Fortune to Serve their Community, as well as trip down memory lane for sailing fans, featuring a member of a three-generation family who repeatedly won the America’s Cup.
Next years IFG Conference in NYC is set for May 3, 2023, and I’m looking forward to being there once again.
I hope we’ll all be a few steps closer to the top of the family governance mountain then.
The Order is So Important
This week we’ll be looking at some ideas that are a bit different from those I’ve been sharing lately, so please join me as I “freestyle” a bit, while still trying to keep it real, too.
As is sometimes the case here, there’s kind of a convoluted story to how I got here, and I’m so glad to have a place to share these musings with others who appreciate my missives.
This week, we’re going to deconstruct “striving” and “thriving” to see what we can learn.
My first conclusion, which I hint at in the title, is that doing them in the right order is key.
A second take-away involves the fact that family members from different generations should probably experience them at different times.
What Does It Mean to Strive?
Let’s start by looking at the meaning of the verb “to strive”.
Here are some Google results I like:
- make great efforts to achieve or obtain something
- struggle or fight vigorously.
I like those because the words “effort”, “obtain” and “struggle” really resonate with me when I think about striving.
They feel to me like they are all about what you put into something.
What Does It Mean to Thrive?
Now let’s move over to the verb “to thrive”.
Here’s some of what Google comes back with:
- grow or develop well or vigorously.
- prosper; flourish.
Now when I look at words like “grow”, “develop” and “prosper”, what I see are the results of some of those same efforts that one has “put into”.
This exercise has already borne fruit for me, as the “input vs. result of the input” angle is an unexpected bonus for me.
Now let me get to the convoluted story to set up the bigger picture for enterprising families.
Beginning with the End in Mind
With a tip of the cap to Stephen Covey, let’s begin with the end in mind, which is how this topic landed in my lap to begin with.
I was on a Zoom call where a recently retired executive was talking about her exit from her prominent role in her organisation, and she smiled as she shared how it was all going.
“It feels like I’m thriving without striving”, she related.
I quickly jotted those words down, believing that that would be the blog post subject.
Lately I keep hearing about the fact that everyone in my field talks about preparing the rising generation of the family, while the senior, “NowGen”, who are expected to exit, aren’t considered enough.
“I’ll write about how important it is to find opportunities for them to thrive without striving”, was my idea.
Well, not so fast.
Where Else Does This Apply? (Everywhere!)
As I considered that after having strived for so many years during one’s career, later on it would be good to simply thrive, based upon all the hard work one had already put in, I then thought about the entry, as opposed to the exit.
Imagine my “A-Ha Moment” when I realized that sometimes, especially in very successful families, the rising generation show up and are already thriving thanks to the family’s success, while many of them have not been forced to strive for themselves.
Thriving without having strived seems like a bit of a disconnect.
If you know anything about the challenges that such families face, you will instantly recognize how relevant this can be.
Stumbling Upon a Fundamental Truism
Success means more when it is connected to one’s own struggles to achieve it.
This reminded me of one of my favourite Zig Ziglar sayings about putting in the hard work early in your career:
If, early on, you do: what you’re supposed to do
when you’re supposed to do it,
Later, you’ll be able to do: what you want to do
when you want to do it.
In a family enterprise, there is a time for striving, which hopefully leads to thriving. There can then be many years of striving and thriving at the same time.
Eventually, the leaders become elders and can continue to thrive, but without necessarily having to strive as much anymore.
After all, there are younger family members who are there for that, and presumably they’ve been well groomed for that.
Not Every Family Needs “Full Service”
The past couple of weeks we’ve been looking at “connecting” with members of client families and then matching the solutions we have to these families.
All this made me consider one of the biggest questions that people often have for me when they learn about the kind of work I do.
The questions come in a variety of forms, but generally boil down to this: “Who ARE these families that actually do all of this governance stuff?”, along with “where do you find them?”.
If you stopped 100 random people on the street, you likely wouldn’t meet any people from such families, and very few would even have a personal connection to one.
However, if you shared the names of families who continually work on their governance, those names would be recognizable to most.
Are We “Exceptional”; Do We Even Want to Be?
Not every family is destined to be exceptional, and many don’t envision themselves as such either.
For some families, just imagining themselves in this way is actually unnatural and even abhorrent.
Too often, though, professionals who serve families who’ve achieved a certain level of wealth creation begin to make assumptions about what these families should be doing to preserve that wealth.
Well crafted strategies to minimize taxes and keep financial wealth protected have become the go-to starting point for such families, because a whole industry of professionals exists to take care of these issues.
I’m always wary of situations where the tail ends up wagging the proverbial dog, and for me the “dog” is the family.
I prefer to help the family figure out what makes it exceptional and then plan for ways to grow and preserve that.
Once the family has set those priorities, by all means then let’s get the professionals involved to figure out the best strategies to employ to help accomplish that.
Many Varieties and Versions, and Ways to Make Progress
Some families will have an operating business that they wish to preserve, and finding ways to ensure that it continues to evolve and thrive with the economy, while still being owned by the family, might be their focus.
Others may have had a liquidity event, and are now searching for new opportunities, either through direct investing or philanthropy, or both, and incorporating the rising generation of their family into those projects will take center stage.
Still others may be searching for ways to recreate the entrepreneurial spirit and create a “family bank” that will allow their offspring and all of their human capital to thrive in their own ways.
There are so many possibilities, and the path chosen will vary from one family to the next.
No Two the Same = All ARE Exceptional
And because no two families are the same, they ‘re each potentially exceptional in their own right.
Too often, as advisors, we want to show how smart we are and we rush to get the family moving on our pet project for them, and that where we may be doing them a disservice, hurrying them into action.
A family is a system of many moving parts, and it takes time to engage all of those people properly, to the point where they even understand and believe that there may be a “family project” that will arise from the financial resources that have been created, by previous generation(s) of their family.
Vision, Mission, and Values Work
Some colleagues reading this will nod their heads and agree that helping the family identify its values and then figure out a vision and mission are great first steps, and in many ways I agree with them.
I’m advocating for more basic connection work in advance of those specific projects, which then become more clear with time.
Discovery work with such families can take months before recognizing where we should actually begin to co-create a family project together.
Yes, the values need to be surfaced at some point, typically early on. But then the mission and vision need to be carefully considered in the context of where the family is now, and what its capacity is to undertake its first steps together in new ways.
An Iterative Process, More Journey than Destination
We’re talking about a family journey over the coming decades together, so there should be no rush to complete the plan in days or weeks.
It should be an iterative process; more about a journey than a destination.
Plenty of Sophisticated Sellers Out There
The family enterprise world continues to evolve and mature, and it feels like the supply side is way ahead of the demand side in most cases, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
There really is no single reason for this, nor anyone at whom we need to point the finger of blame, it just seems to be that way.
With time and a bit of effort, and a bit more evolution and focus on what’s right for each particular family client, this is already beginning to change, albeit ever so slowly.
Let’s jump in and look at the problem I’ve dubbed “solutions in search of families”.
The “I Have a Hammer” Syndrome
The simplest version of the issue is that many solution providers are pretty much a “one-trick pony”.
If I go to the barber shop and ask them if I need a haircut, unless I got one there the day before, I can already guess the answer I’ll get.
Likewise, if a family leader who knows that they need to do “something” goes to see a lawyer, they’ll be offered a legal solution; if they start with an accountant, they’ll be offered an accounting solution, and so on.
For the simplest family cases, this is all “plenty good enough”.
For families with more complex situations, though, this is where we can end up with the tail wagging the proverbial dog.
Interdisciplinary Work Towards Custom Solutions
I have long been a fan of families working with a variety of different specialist experts in order to come up with a custom solution for their particular needs.
While it might seem expensive to involve so many highly compensated experts in such planning, the synergies the family gets almost always far outweigh the additional time and cost they absorb on the front end.
The field of such experts continues to evolve in this direction, as professionals learn to work together in the best interests of the families they serve.
As the pendulum continues to swing in this direction, I recently had lunch with a colleague, after which I had a bit of an “A-Ha” moment.
And it had little to do with the fact that I had just eaten the most expensive soup I’ve ever had. (Yes, it was delicious.)
Everything Is Available; Everything is Affordable
I’d been invited to lunch by a colleague from a large multi-family office (MFO) to discuss ways that I might be a resource to them and to the families they serve.
My original title for this post was “Beware Solutions in Search of Families”, because I had the “I have a hammer, so everything looks like a nail” idea in my head.
But the lunch with my MFO friend revealed another version of the challenge, so I rejigged the title to “Matching Solutions to Each Client Family”, because our discussion revealed a different challenge.
I heard about clients who could afford any and every possible “solution”, but for whom the “problem” to be solved had yet to be clearly identified.
I also heard about a firm that was positioned to be the resource to supply and/or coordinate each solution as needed, but, despite having their shelves fully stocked with great stuff, felt at a loss to figure out where to begin.
Crawl Before You Walk, Walk Before You Run
It became clear to me as I digested my soup and my seabass that both the supply side and the demand side of this equation, despite having met and decided that they were a good fit, were still at a bit of a loss to figure out the first steps.
Admittedly, I was hearing about some relatively new potential clients of this MFO, which for me is always the most interesting time, because there’s so much to discover.
My mind works on a much slower timeframe than most (thanks, Dad).
My advice was to proceed slowly, one step at a time.
You want to run with it, but you should walk first, and perhaps even crawl before that.
Taking Time to Properly Connect, First
If this has a familiar ring to something you read here recently, kudos for paying close attention.
Just last week, in Relationships Support Structure, What Supports Relationships, I wrote:
“If you are privileged to work with families,
and you want to solidify your relationships with them,
it is well worth spending time and effort
on your deeper connection with them.”
I recognize that many advisors don’t feel like they have that luxury of time to build this connection.
My suggestion is to find the time, because it’s usually worth it.
Five Key Considerations
Once a family has accumulated a good deal of financial wealth, at some point, it becomes wise for them to shift their focus from making their proverbial pie bigger, to figuring out how to preserve the pie and transition it to future generations.
This is typically a bigger challenge than expected, and despite having access to high-caliber experts to assist them, families often stumble here.
Many speak of family legacy (including me), but this week I’m pivoting to a related concept, to answer another question, i.e. “How do you build a family dynasty?”
Here are five important things to consider when thinking about this complex subject.
1. Families Grow Exponentially
As soon you mention the word “dynasty”, my mind quickly goes into “multi-generation” mode as a basic assumption.
We’re usually talking about wealth creation that began with one generation and then continued through at least one or two more generations.
Something that creeps up on families trying to stay on top of this is simple math.
As you add each generation of offspring, you’re adding people (or households, sometimes a simpler way to count) at an exponential or geometric rate.
If you take an example of three children per family, you go from one household to four, as the three leave the nest, and then if each of the three have three offspring, that’s already nine more.
I’ll stop the math there, but once you add that next generation, it quickly skyrockets.
2. Will the financial wealth grow at the same pace?
That takes some work, and usually lots of luck too!
- What Got You Rich Won’t Keep You Rich
Wealth is often created via an entrepreneurial venture that becomes a family business, or more recently by success in entertainment or sports, or having shares in a unicorn business that goes public.
Those occurrences do not typically happen or repeat often, and so the odds of them showing up in the same family again within another generation or two are low.
My point is, the skills that got you rich are not the same ones that will keep you rich.
That realization doesn’t always come quickly to the one who caught lightning in a bottle and then believes they have some special power and invincibility.
3. It’s More About People Than Money
I know that almost everyone thinks it’s mostly about the money, but that isn’t typically where things go sour.
Having lots of money and then staying rich isn’t that difficult if you’re only trying to satisfy one person, or one household.
When you consider a family that’s growing exponentially (see #1, above), making sure there isn’t a revolution, as they work to stay wealthy and become a dynasty family, you begin to realize it’s the people that you need to pay attention to, even more so than the dollars.
4. Family Governance Is Key
Long time readers of my work won’t be surprised that this post is now pivoting towards a pontification about family governance, because that’s a hobby horse I ride quite regularly.
Every dynasty family will continually need to work on answering three main questions:
- How are we going to make decisions together?
- How are we going to communicate effectively?
- How are we going to solve problems together?
When people hear the term governance, in relation to family issues, they typically make an unpleasant face, and I get that.
That’s when I share those three questions as my definition, which is easier for most to grasp.
5. The Work Is Never Done
Family governance itself has a few key characteristics that make it special.
- It’s less about formal agreements, structures, and mechanisms
- It’s more about informal agreements and ways of being together
- You cannot simply buy it off the shelf from an expert
- You need to co-create it as a family
- It needs to evolve as the family and its needs evolve
For those reasons, plus the fact that each of the growing numbers of people also continues to evolve, this is never a “one and done” or “set it and forget it” situation.
Yes, there are some family dynasties around, but not that many.
If you look at them closely, you’ll probably see that they fully understand the points I’ve shared here.
Can it be done? Yes.
Will it be easy? No.
Is this for your family?
Coaching and Podcasting Combine for Lessons
Ideas for these blog topics come from anywhere and everywhere for me, and often they just seem to combine thoughts from one part of my life with something from a very different sphere.
And so once again I’ll write about how some seemingly random discussions have come together for me in a way that allows me to share ideas that can be useful to families and those who advise them.
Regular readers will likely be familiar with the fact that I’ve done coach training and certification, that I’m a huge fan of the Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI), and that I have also been on a number of podcasts, on both sides of the mic.
All of these will come together this week in this piece.
Listening Without Judgement Is Where It Begins
Whenever people ask me about the coaching training that I did years ago with CTI, I almost always end up sharing the importance of listening without judgement, because that’s one of the two main takeaways from that whole training.
(The other is “being with”, for the record.)
Of course knowing that you need to listen without judgement and being able to actually do it does require a LOT of practice, but that’s a whole other post.
Being able to listen to someone speak, while suspending your own personal judgement about what you are hearing, is not as easy as it might sound, and for some people it’s almost impossible.
But if you want to be a resource for people who work with their family members, or who own assets together with their siblings, you won’t get far without that ability.
It’s Much More Than Just Listening
At first I really only thought about the listening aspect, but I had a recent A-Ha moment that put this subject back on my radar.
During one of the recent weekly Tuesday Thought Leader webinars hosted by PPI, the guests were Sandi Bragar and Cammie Doder, who co-host a podcast called Money Tales, where they interview guests about the role that money has played in their lives.
During the webinar, Sandi noted that it was important not to judge people as you interview them, and I naturally thought to myself “yeah, listening without judgement strikes again”, but then it hit me.
They’re interviewing people, so they aren’t only listening, they’re also asking!
Asking Without Judgement
So many of our conversations contain questions and answers, therefore much of the listening we do comes in response to our questions.
As you work with people with the goal of helping them through situations, you need to ask about a lot of subjects.
If you want to truly understand someone, which is pretty useful when you are trying to make their lives better in some way, it’s kind of important for you to get their true thoughts.
It should not surprise you that I think that what you ask them, and perhaps even more importantly how you ask them, can be pretty important.
Of course as mentioned last week in Yes, AND… Don’t Neglect the Follow-Through there is no magical “secret list of questions”
And even if there were, you need to know how to ask them (without judgement).
Being Curious for All It’s Worth
The good news is that once you realize how key it is to park your judgement at the door, it actually gets easier with practice.
Engaging and flexing your curiosity muscles can also be a big help, and if you truly want to be a trusted resource to a family, you really should be curious about what makes them tick.
Of course simply being curious doesn’t necessarily force you to ask less judgemental questions, it could actually take you even further in the wrong direction if you get too “inquisitive”.
I’m flashing back to when my kids were young and I can hear my son objecting to my dirty look with “What? I was only asking her a question” after an exchange with his sister.
Judgemental Family Members Are the Norm
It’s actually quite normal for the members of a family to judge each other; many have been doing it for decades.
We can’t expect them to change much after getting so much practice.
And that’s an even better reason why we, as the outsider, need to offer them something different.
On Rules, Relationships, Rebellion, and Respect
Connecting the Dots on all these “R-words”
Regular readers (thanks!) know that my inspirations for these weekly musings are varied and eclectic. I’ve had a number that’ve come from listening to the radio while driving, and this is another of those.
This week I’m delving into something I heard that made me look for a place to pull my car over, so that I could jot down the exact words I heard before I could forget them.
I didn’t have to go that far, because thankfully I hit a long enough red light to grab a pen and piece of paper to get the key words down.
I think you’ll like what I heard, because although the words were relayed in a sports context, they also apply to the world of family enterprises and the relationships therein.
Who Makes the Rules?
There’s a search feature on my website that I’m certain I use more than everyone else combined, because after writing hundreds of blogs over the past 8 years or so, there are few topics I haven’t touched on, at least tangentially.
So I searched “rules”, and noted that I had used that word in a blog title just a few months back, see On Rules of Engagement for FamBiz
The rules we’re going to be talking about here are slightly different, because they refer more to how people relate to each other over the years as they work on the details of how they govern the business of owning and managing assets together.
See Who Gets to Decide Who Gets to Decide for more.
A Basketball Coaching Relationship
Back to the radio quote. Jack Armstrong is a TV broadcaster on NBA games in Canada, covering mostly the Toronto Raptors.
He also does radio hits a few times a week on various sports radio stations, where he chats with the local radio hosts about goings-on in the world of basketball.
On this day a few weeks ago, he was talking about a team that had recently gone through some turmoil due to a coach who was probably acting a bit too “old school” with some of his key players.
This prompted the quote that I rushed to jot down:
Rules without Relationships = Rebellion
Rules with Relationships = Respect + Results
So that means that the key to making rules work for you, as opposed to against you, is the existence of quality relationships with those you are trying to “rule over”, or even “rule with”.
Making Rules for Working with Family
When thinking about rules in a family context, we normally imagine scenarios where parents make the rules for their children.
This is natural and works well enough as long as the children are young enough to accept being “ruled over”, and quickly loses effectiveness as they begin to want to assert more control over their choices.
That life stage rarely lasts as long as the parents would like, forcing them to change how they interact with their offspring as they mature.
When you think about it, it’s all about adapting your relationships to the situation, which need to evolve over time.
When my kids were young teens, it was much easier for me to “make them” do something or “forbid them” from doing something else.
Now that they are young adults, if I would like them to do something, my approach needs to be much different. I have also learned to adjust my expectations accordingly, but that’s a whole other topic!
The Need for Self-Control and Autonomy
Family business contexts by their very nature typically involve plenty of situations that have some rules inherent in them, due to the hierarchy in the business.
When you look at other family situations where there is a certain level of financial wealth present, with or without a current operating business, the family rules can be a bit trickier to impose.
As the rising generation family members mature, they have a natural desire and need to exert as much control over their lives as possible.
Too often, their parents resist this and unfortunately tend to revert to ways to use their financial resources as a way to enforce their preferred outcomes.
Respect Over Rebellion
If you are a parent who wants to have the respect of your offspring, and you want to avoid the pitfalls of rebellion, the secret is to work on your relationships.
Easier said than done, of course, but therein lies the key.
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.