Complexity Doesn’t Need to Be Complicated

Subtle Differences Can Be Huge

Some subjects are complex by their very nature

For example, when you take a business that already has its own complexities and overlay a family system, the overall complexity necessarily increases.

But does that mean that everything also needs to be complicated?

Regular readers will recognize that I’ve re-entered the fun world of discussing vocabulary, and looking at the meanings of similar words, to see what we can discern from their subtle differences.

The world of family business, along with all its variations like “enterprising families”, “families in business”, “dynastic families”, “legacy families”, (I could go on) is complex enough already, simply by virtue of all the interdependent relationships they contain.

So how do you make sure things don’t get too complicated?

 

Complexity Without Complications?

Please recall that these are top of mind thoughts in a blog, not scientific research in a thesis. Thanks. Here goes.

Complexity is used to describe things that happen automatically or naturally, while complications are man-made and result from a person or people intervening for some reason.

So if the complexity that comes from family members working together in a business, or owning assets together, or managing property as a group, is innate or natural, then there isn’t anything we can do about that.

We need to come to the realisation that things are complex and learn to live with that reality, and deal with it accordingly.

 

What Can We Control?

Yes, things could be simpler, i.e. less complex, if we weren’t in a situation where we were managing the family relationships along with the business/financial/ownership responsibilities. 

Many families eventually get to a stage where this becomes too big of a burden and then decide to separate who owns what or how things are managed, because the complexity outweighs the benefits.

Those situations are especially unfortunate when that result comes from the fact that the people involved were simply unable to avoid some of the complications that they somehow added to the situation.

 

Man-Made Complications

My “A-Ha” moment as I considered how to write about these two words came when I realized, while in the shower, that complexity is a reality that we need to accept and live with, while complications are things that we can and should work to minimize.

By my logic here, you can’t even truly simplify complexity, since it “is what it is”.

What we can do is to try to make sense of the inherent complexity of a situation by using models to map out what’s going on, so that everyone can get a better understanding of what the complex systems are, and how they’re inter-related.

Tagiuri and Davis’s Three Circle Model does this extremely well, and has been successfully used for this for over 40 years now. 

See Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Families who’ve managed to stay together through the complexity inherent in co-owning assets together over generations have succeeded because they managed to keep things as simple as possible, since they’re already complex enough.

See Stopping the Disintegration of Family Wealth

Those who cannot manage to keep the wealth of the family together often fail because someone introduced some extra complicating factors into the situation.

Ironically, this is often done with the best of intentions by someone, but thanks to the law of unintended consequences, these moves sow the seeds of the family’s ultimate demise.

 

Two Main Instigators Come Up

One of the ways the complications show up is when one family member has what I playfully refer to as a “superiority complex”.

You know the type, I’m sure. They feel like they have earned or simply deserve an outsized portion of the wealth or their say over it

This can lead to actions designed to allow them to benefit from this, and when other family members react negatively, things go south in a hurry.

The situation was already complex enough, but now it’s too complicated.

The other major way to overcomplicate things is to focus way too much time and effort on the financial wealth, at the expense of the human, intellectual, and social capital of the family.

Well-meaning professionals propose complicated structures designed to minimize taxes and/or limit people’s control over things, and the additional complications this introduces is enough to kibosh everything within a few years.

Enterprising families are already complex enough. Don’t make things even more complicated.

 

On Patience and Impatience in Family Transitions

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.

Challenging the Defiant Ones

Wordplay Rears Its Head Once More

Regular readers will recognize my penchant for engaging in interesting wordplay in this space whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Thanks for indulging me once again.

There’ll even be a “sidebar” bonus, because last week I didn’t have space to include another tidbit that fits into this category, and I hate to let a juicy bit of trivia slip by. 

 

A Client’s Defiant Daughter

This one begins with a coaching client of mine who was sharing a personal story with me (as clients typically do) about his daughter.

The young woman was being defiant, and they each stood their ground.  I’ll spare you the details of what happened for privacy reasons and since it’s still a work in progress (what isn’t?).

Let’s just say that her defiance became a focus of our discussion together.

It was funny because during our previous call, before a bit of a summer break, he was pleased with some of the progress he’d been making in his relationship with her.

I’d even given him some ideas around allowing her to choose the ways that she participated in certain family projects, rather than having Dad point her in the directions he preferred.

 

Playing the Translation Game

Neither of us actually used the word “defiant”, but it was certainly an adjective that could have applied to what he was relaying to me.

A few days later, when the word defiant came up, during a meditation recording of all places, a bell rang in my head (I mean a proverbial bell here, not the one that ended the meditation).

I thought of the noun, “defy” and a close and related French word, “défi”.

The English translation of the word “défi”, is challenge.

Ding, ding, ding.

 

If the Defiant One Challenges You….

So how should you react when a defiant one challenges you?

Inspired by “fighting fire with fire”, my conclusion is to challenge them back.

It isn’t even that far off from where I had him exploring with her a while back, letting her choose her own way to be involved.

Maybe all we need to add is a bit of a challenge to it, to encourage her to not only make it her own, but to really make the most of it and outdo herself.

 

Translation Sidebar

Last week, in Stuck in the Mud? Don’t Wait for “MayDay”, it pained me to not have space to include some more “bilingual trivia”.

Did you know that “MayDay” actually comes from the French “M’aider” (roughly “help me”)?

Likewise, the term “Pan Pan” that was also featured last week, also comes from the French “panne”, which is roughly a “breakdown” for example regarding one’s car (“mon auto est en panne”).

Hats off to any creatives who thought the “pan” in Pan Pan was about being in the pan just before going into the fire of “MayDay”. 

End sidebar.

What Do the Defiant Want?

Let’s get back to the matter at hand, i.e. finding appropriate ways to handle family members who are defiant.

First off, it may be worth taking a moment to think back to how we might have handled situations when we were their age.

This spring when many people had young adults return home unexpectedly, many of us got to live a situation that had both positives and negatives.

When my wife was less than thrilled with the reactions of our two homebound college students, I quickly reminded her that if I had been forced back home at their age, I might be a bit churlish too.

 

I’m Impressed. Please Continue.

I’ve shared with anyone who will listen how impressed I am with today’s young people. I’m hopeful for the future of our world, largely because I have faith in our young people to do a better job than those who are running things now.

For those of you who agree, and who are lucky enough to have young adults in your family, I think you should share that feeling with them.

“I’m Impressed” is something most people enjoy hearing.

“Please continue” to impress me, might just be the kind of challenge that will keep them moving forward.

It seems like something worth trying, and is clearly a Win-Win.

And it sure beats trying to deal with constant defiance.

There’s energy in defiance, and if you can harness it like a martial artist, maybe you can even make it work for you.

Stuck in the Mud? Don’t Wait for “MayDay”

Stuck in the Mud? Don’t Wait for “MayDay”

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.

Guy looking at night sky

Choosing your FamBiz Tour Guide

Preparing for an Important Family Voyage

Regular readers know that I have a certain penchant for metaphors, so this week’s blog post won’t be too much of a surprise.

Having previously shared my frustrations with what people who do my kind of work should call ourselves, (eg. “No Dad, Coaching Is NOT ‘Helping Losers’”) we’re back here once again, if only to demonstrate that we’re no closer to a resolution.

But let’s just say that the word “guidance” has always had a nice ring to it for me, so this week we’ll be talking about the value of a good tour guide.

And since families who own assets together have embarked on a long voyage together, I hope you’ll agree that my metaphor is apt.

 


 

“Coaching” Continues to Grow, Including On Me

It has taken me a few years, but the idea of referring to myself as a “coach”, first and foremost, is growing on me all the time. 

It probably has to do with the maturity of the industry and the fact that I recently completed my long delayed coaching certification process.

That process included many interactions with lots of different coaches who ply their talents and expertise is a vast array of fields.

Very few of them specialize in working with families who are either in business together or who own significant assets together.

This really is a niche inside a niche.

 

A Good Coach Can Help Anyone

It is true that a good coach can help anyone, assuming that person is up for it, and not afraid of doing the work.

There are plenty of examples of coaches who know little about any particular domain who have been able to help their clients make great strides despite the coach’s own lack of experience in their client’s particular field.

Going back to the idea of the coach as a guide, I think you’ll agree that someone who’s familiar with the terrain that the client is coming from, the ability of the coach to “get” the client, and truly understand what they are experiencing, is much greater.

A drawing of a tour guide leading a group

That NYC Tour Guide Knew Her Stuff

Imagine visiting New York for the first time and going for a tour. You get lucky and end up with the most personable and knowledgeable tour guide you could ever have hoped for.

So next year, when you decide to go on an African safari for your vacation, would you try to find that tour guide and ask her to lead that “tour” too?

I wouldn’t think so.

When I shared this metaphor with a colleague recently, she noted that she would never go see a male OB/GYN for the same basic reason.

 

“OMG! You Understood in Five Minutes”

I’m flashing back to a phone call I got last year from someone who had heard me as a guest on a podcast and who then felt compelled to contact me (that’s ALWAYS nice!).

As she related her situation, where she had recently been promoted over her brother, I noted some of the challenges that I guessed she was now dealing with, and she said “Oh my God, you understood in five minutes what nobody else seems to understand!”

Family members who work together have interdependent relationships that are unlike those of family members who do not, it really is as simple as that.

But as I always say, simple is not the same as easy, in fact, in cases like this, it is anything but easy.

 

Coaching Is Not Just a Skill

Learning to become a coach is something that just about anyone can do, but as with most such pursuits, there is a lot of “self-selection” bias, meaning that a group of coaches can often feel a bit too homogeneous. 

And while the type of people who are good at coaching can use their skills to be a great resource to just about anyone, there’s something about the “lived experience” that no amount of training can buy.

Some skills translate to any situation, but others are just part of who you are, based on what you’ve lived through.

 

Context Is Key

The “FamBiz Context” might be one name for it. Yes, every family is unique, and every family member lives it a bit differently.

But in the end, there are plenty of similarities when you look at the relationships in one family and contrast them with those in another.

Always go with the guide who knows the terrain, and the context.

Great Expectations in Enterprising Families

Great Expectations in Enterprising Families

Writing this blog every week means I’m constantly on the lookout for interesting viewpoints to expound upon in this space.

I usually collect ideas and set them aside for a time, and while they germinate in my head (and in an email folder) sometimes a new slant comes up and allows me to almost kill two birds with one stone.

So it is this week, with a look at how important expectations can be in a family that’s in a position to transition significant wealth to the next generation.

 

PPI Strikes Again

I lost count a long time ago as to how many of my posts have been inspired by my participation in events and webinars put on by the Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI).

So once again in early July the thought leader guests (Coaches Mimi Ramsey and Stephanie Hardwick) did not disappoint when they brought up “expectations”.

The money quote, which I hesitate to qualify as a quote since I’m not sure I got it verbatim, was that “unmet expectations are the biggest source of conflict”.

Wow, so true.  Can you think of anything that causes more; I can’t.

 

Family Enterprises Are Rife with Examples

Anyone who works with business families is familiar with the common refrain that they need to work on improving their communication, and that’s certainly true in almost all cases.

What they neglect to point out is that very often some of the most glaring gaps in their communication are around the very subject of expectations of one another.

A related idea that fits right into this topic is that loaded word, “assumptions”; i.e. everyone makes their own assumptions about how things are, and what’s expected, without ever checking to see if other people view things the same way.

Expectations are typically somewhere high up on the list.

Great Expectations in Enterprising Families

When a New Slant is Actually an Old Slant

I noted off the top that I love it when a subject comes up from two different angles, allowing me to tie them together in one blog.

The part I just related, about unmet expectations and conflict, was quite recent, but the other angle has been simmering in the back of my mind for quite a while.

This piece is a bit more involved, and it also comes from someone I first met thanks to PPI, none other than David York.

If his name sounds familiar, it may be because I’ve mentioned him before, including two whole blogs, each devoted entirely to one of his nuggets of wisdom. See Doing Better than the 4 D’s and Family Wealth Dynamite: One Stick or Two? I’m clearly a big fan.

 

Three Key Questions for Building Stewardship

Wanting to make sure I got York’s three questions exactly right, to quote them here, as they are so simple and so fundamental, I looked through my accumulation of various slide decks from presentations and happily hit the jackpot when I found that one particular slide, which read:

 

                                    Six Keys for Creating Stewards: 

5. Remove the Ambiguity

                                         – What can I expect?

                                         – What should I not expect?

                                         – What is expected of me?

 

Rising Generation Family Members Want Clarity

I think that anyone who puts themselves in the shoes of a person growing up in an enterprising family, or a family of wealth, can agree that having clear answers to these questions would go a long way towards giving them clarity on some pretty fundamental topics that will affect their lives in so many ways.

When parents do not communicate the answers to these questions, they leave their children in a position where they each begin to make their own assumptions as to what the expectations are.

As you might imagine, the various assumptions will often be quite different from what the parents are expecting, leading to unmet expectations, which invariably lead to: conflict.

 

Turning Expectations into Agreement

Back to the coaches on the PPI call I began with; they noted that what families should aim for is turning expectations into agreement.

In order to do that, like York says, you need to have conversations to clarify what those expectations are, and, as he notes, what they are not.

And let’s not forget York’s last point, about what the parents expect of their offspring.

None of these things are automatically known, they need to be discussed, and these conversations are not always easy to have, nor obvious to start.

They cannot be ignored forever, and a coach can help you.