Facts versus Opinions and Assumptions

Hand holding a Facts 3D Sphere sign on white background.

Opinions disguised as Facts

This week I was participating in a monthly online group meeting with colleagues who are all Bowen Family Systems Theory enthusiasts, and one of them made a statement that immediately struck me as “blog-worthy”.

She was talking about her family of origin (the one in which she grew up) and when referencing her father, she attributed the description “someone who stated a lot of opinions as though they were facts”. Wow, I thought, that sounds like my Dad!

This got me thinking about the characteristics that helped my father become successful, which included his “don’t take no for an answer” approach to life, his self-confidence, and his ability to size up a situation quickly and develop a plan of action.

When I think of what helped make him a great businessman, these are some of the attributes that made him who he was. Even though I am certain about them, that doesn’t mean that my assertions qualify as “facts”. They are, quite simply, my opinion.

I am less prone to act quickly, preferring to observe matters, take in various details of what I see and hear, and then take my time before deciding if any action is warranted. Perhaps it’s just my nature, or maybe part of it comes from the fact that I usually feel like I have the luxury of time to think.

Looking back at my Dad and his own upbringing and the circumstances under which he built his business, for the first 50-some years of his life, I doubt that he ever felt like he could afford to think about taking his time.

 

Important succession character traits

When business families start to look at the questions surrounding succession of their business and who should be involved, the ways that the different generations consider these issues start to come into play.

An entrepreneurial business founder who started a company, and against all odds built it into a sizeable organization, will likely have many of the traits that my father had, including an action-orientation that leaves little time to consider various opinions about important matters.

The character traits that will help ensure that the company and the family will continue to prosper into the next generation, however, are likely to be quite different.

If the number of people involved increases from one generation to the next, as it often does, then the ability to consider the opinions of all stakeholders will likely become a factor going forward.

Sometimes the hard-charging founder will have a child who is literally a “chip-off-the-old-block”, and they will usually be seen as the “heir apparent” early on, with the thinking that what was important for the business in one generation would continue to be key in the next.

The problems with that line of thinking include:

  • The skill sets involved in growing a business from the ground up, versus those of maintaining it, are sometimes quite different;
  • Technology changes over a few decades can be considerable;
  • The main group of concern may no longer be the company, but may well have shifted to the family.

 

Expert Opinions are still Opinions

There is no simple answer to these questions of course, but as an advisor to families who are faced with business and wealth transition situations, I can affirm that the most successful plans come after consultation with the stakeholders.

The leading generation often seeks the input of trusted advisors, all expert in their particular domain, like legal, tax, or accounting. These experts are also prone to offer up their opinions cleverly disguised as facts, which makes them seem incontrovertable.

When a family gets the experts involved before including the family, a plan is usually presented to the family after it has been made, as a “fait accompli” (note that “fait” is French for “fact”).

The opinions of those for whom the plan was made, usually the children, will not have been considered (at least not their true opinions). More likely the parents will have made assumptions about what was best for them, without asking.

When you look at how often “assumptions” and “opinions” get treated as “facts”, you can understand why so many family business transitions fail.

Stick to the facts.