Family Business in london

Everything Is Something

The post’s title is a three-word expression I heard from a colleague several months ago, and my goal is to turn it into something entertaining and useful for people who work with enterprising families.

Let’s set the context a bit.  I got this “everything is something” line from a colleague last October in London at the annual Family Firm Institute conference.

I’m pretty sure it took place at the reception for speakers and sponsors.  I’m not exactly sure what we were talking about but at one point my friend said “everything is something” and I gave her that look.

What look?  It’s a look that combines surprise, gratitude, and inspiration.  She had seen this look before, as she’s inspired at least one other previous blog post. (Thanks, MM!)

 

A Coaching Term (?)

After we got through the obligatory “Hmmm; I like that…  There’s a blog in there…”, she told me that this was an expression that her coach uses with her.

Now that I’m writing this, part of me wishes I’d asked her to expound on this and maybe give me an example from her coaching conversations for me to relate here.  But alas, I didn’t do that, since my mind was already beginning to think of some of the many possibilities the expression presents.

 

The Family Business Angle

As usual in this space, I now need to pivot my story into ways in which it applies to business families.  Even though the inspiration came at a conference for people who work with family firms, that doesn’t make this an obvious leap.

There was, however, a reason that this expression hit me square in the face.  It all comes down to the different perspectives that people in a family have when they think about and talk about their family situations around their business or their wealth.

Rather than starting with “everything”, to clarify what I meant, let’s look at a simpler example, like “any one thing” instead.

So, any one thing, be it a comment, a situation, an event, a payment, an email, a story, or whatever, that seems to one person to be “nothing”, or at least “nothing special or noteworthy”, has the potential to be “something”, and often “something really BIG” to another person.

 

Assumptions and Misunderstandings

Far too often in cases where family members interact with each other closely around important and sensitive subjects, the differing viewpoints of the different players are ripe for these sorts of misunderstandings.

Some of the biggest possible irritants occur when something seems so inoffensive and even irrelevant to one person, yet to another person it’s actually a huge deal.

When these things occur infrequently they can often blow over pretty quickly, but when they begin to pile up in rapid succession, look out.  There can be a cascading effect that can quickly erupt.

When I assume that something I did, said, or wrote is benign and inconsequential, yet the receiver or even another “bystander” views it much differently, often because of a simple misunderstanding, that can be sufficient to create a highly combustible pile of kindling.

 

Just Add a Spark

When there’s a lot of kindling, a simple spark can start a fire that can then turn into a raging inferno.  So if we continue with this analogy, there are two things to avoid: the kindling, and the spark.

The kindling is made up of misunderstandings or assumptions that have not been verified.

The way to avoid those things happening is to make sure that the communications channels are clear and used regularly.  You want to avoid having these things pile up.

 

Clear Things Up Regularly

Some families do this really well, getting together frequently and talking openly about important matters, even when some of them are sensitive.

Other families are less good at this, and I will usually encourage then to meet more frequently.

But then there is also the need to avoid those sparks we mentioned before.

 

High Anxiety and Possible Sparks

When things are going well, there’s a lower chance of sparks happening.  But when things are stressed, and anxiety is running high, sparks will typically occur more frequently.

My conclusion is that when things aren’t necessarily going perfectly well, then it’s even more important to communicate clearly and frequently, to clear up any misunderstandings.

Because in a family business, everything is potentially something.