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Human Insights from a Family of Geese

When people ask me about my favourite place to be, and I want to be really specific, I mention sitting on my kayak, on the Chockpish River behind my cottage in New Brunswick.

I’ve written posts about my time here over the years, notably Stuck in the Mud? Don’t Wait for “MayDay” about an incident that has stayed with me for a long time, as well as From Upstream to Downstream in the FamBiz in which I raised some wealth transition lessons from a natural phenomenon.

But today I’m writing this post after a fresh experience that I had early on a Monday morning as I paddled along and came upon a family of geese.

Most of my blog writing occurs on Fridays and Saturdays each week, so for me to be working on next week’s post this early, you know that something resonated with me.


Just Minding My Own Business

I woke up early and decided that the combination of the weather, the tides, and a light calendar of Zoom calls offered me an opportunity to get out there an explore the river just after sunrise.

It was a rare trip already when I met an oncoming canoe in the first 10 minutes, and I jokingly mentioned to the couple and their dog that I didn’t expect so much traffic.

Little did I know at the time that I was foreshadowing lots of honking!

Onward I went, minding my own business, when I approached what shall henceforth be called “Goose Island” heading south.


Mother Goose Shows Wisdom – Father Goose, Not So Much

A family of Canada Geese were all on this small island, and one of the adults, who I assumed was Mom, saw me coming from afar and began heading to the far side of the island and into the water.

She was eyeing me the whole time, and seven of her brood slowly got up and followed her into the water, heading away from me, the oncoming perceived threat.

Nicely done, mama goose, I thought.

Then a moment later, I notice another adult, Father Goose, I assumed, who saw me a bit later, and who had three of their youngsters in his charge.

I had hoped that he would lead them away from me as well, but if that would’ve happened, there would’ve been no goosebumps nor story to tell.


Honk, Honk, Honk, He Bellows

Father goose, with his three offspring, Tom, Dick, and Harriet, all enter the water on the side of the island where I’m trying to simply glide past them so as not to cause any unnecessary fear.

The incessant honking has now begun, as father goose is likely trying to scare me and also alert the mother of their goslings that there’s a danger in their midst.

They continue swimming south, trying to outrace me, and the honking gets more aggressive.

I’m trying to speed past them to put any fear at rest, but instead I’m seen as more of a threat as I accelerate.

I try widening my distance, but the narrowness of the river prevents me from doing so.

At one point, Dad even starts flying to get further ahead of me.

And then, suddenly, something changed.


The Rising Generation to the Rescue

I looked down at my leg and noticed goosebumps, and was struck by the irony that they were caused by a goose, which I guess gives me a story to share if ever I’m on Jeopardy.

Suddenly one of the goslings, likely Harriet, decided to do a 180, and began swimming northbound, you know, the other way!

Her brothers did the same, I was finally past them, and Dad finally gave me a final honk, which sounded to me a bit like “honk off!”


Some Morals from this Story

Aside from the fact that the gender attributions I made are mere guesswork, and that the whole affair didn’t last any more than a couple of minutes, I do have some take-aways.

Parents don’t always make the best decisions for their families.

What is perceived as a threat is not always a threat, and I was riled up by this too, as I did not want to get goosed!

Sometimes a well-timed move by one family member can end up benefitting the whole family, and often that member is part of the rising generation.

Later, as I passed Goose Island on my return, they all just watched me intently, with nary a honk. Phew!

For years now we’ve been hearing about the huge multi-trillion dollar “wealth transfer” that’s occurring thanks to the demographics of the Western world.

As baby boomers age, there’s no escaping the new realities that this huge demographic shift is causing.  But hopefully, we can escape some of the negatives that might accompany it.

I believe that when we think about how a family’s wealth should move from one generation to the next, we shouldn’t be thinking about a transfer, we should be thinking about a transition instead.

 

 

Is It Just Semantics?

I’ll leave it to interested readers to Google these words in an attempt to parse all of their differences, and will instead concentrate on some simple and observable comparisons and contrasts.

The most fundamental aspect to consider is the time that something takes, from start to finish.

When I was a kid, one of my friends moved away because his Dad was transferred.  One day he was working in Montreal, then suddenly, he was transferred to Toronto.

He finished work on Friday in one place and started up his new job 500 kilometres away on Monday.

 

Wire The Funds

If you’ve ever wired funds somewhere you know that one day the money is in your account, and then the next it is not.

Somewhere during the day (usually at around 2 PM for some reason) the funds instantaneously go from one account to another.

They have been transferred. Boom.  Here one minute, gone the next. A single event has happened and is now complete.

When a family’s wealth, including the financial wealth and everything that comes with it, is transferred as a one-shot event, it can be a real shock to the system.

The word “shock” is rarely used as a positive in the area of family business or family wealth.

 

Arrow on wall

 

Slower, Smoother Transition

So what do I mean when I say “everything that comes with it”?

I actually wrote about a few of these details back in 2015, in Transition Planning: No Day at the Beach.

In that blog, I wrote about the transitions of management, leadership, and ownership.

Strictly speaking, a transfer typically deals with the ownership of the wealth.  When someone suddenly owns something, they are then usually expected to also manage it as well.

 

Ownership Is the Big One

One of the problems that can arise with intergenerational wealth is that the ownership sometimes goes from one individual to a group, who are often siblings.

This is where the questions surrounding management and leadership come in.

When more than one person now owns the wealth, how they will manage it, and who will take the lead are also questions that get put on the table.

If the word “governance” is suddenly coming to mind, congratulations, because that’s certainly where my mind is heading too.

 

Respect My Authority

Another related concept that doesn’t necessarily get discussed enough is that of authority.

With ownership of any asset comes certain authority, but it can depend on so many details.

And when you talk about authority, there is of course explicit authority and implicit authority, which do not always go hand in hand.  (Note to self: there’s a whole blog right there!)

Numbers and pie charts

Interdependent Wealth

The distinction between transfer and transition came up for me recently as I continue to make progress on my next book.

My working title is “Interdependent Wealth”, with a secondary title as follows:

How Family Systems Theory Illuminates Successful Intergenerational Wealth Transitions

That’s nine words in a secondary title, which feels like a lot, but I can assure you that a great deal of thought went into each and every choice that I made, right down to the final one, Transitions.

 

A Gradual Handover

It was during the choices I was making about these words that the whole transfer thing really hit me.

On a macro level, society is certainly witnessing a huge transfer of wealth.

But what’s more important to any family is what occurs on a micro level, and families should be concentrating on their wealth transition.

 

Event Versus Process

Bottom line, a transfer is more of an event, or one of many components or things that need to happen.  It is a tactic.

A transition is a process, it is the overall strategy required to make the right things happen, in the right way.

Focus on the whole transition, not just the transfer.