“Know How” Vs. “Show How” in FamBiz Advice
One of the things I enjoy doing occasionally is revisit parts of my eclectic professional career and find subjects that can help me explain things in areas around my most recent incarnation as a family business advisor.
Exactly 20 years ago, I was studying Intellectual Property Law in New Hampshire (Franklin Pierce Law, now part of UNH). During a class on patents, the terms “know how” and “show how” were discussed.
The MIP (Master of Intellectual Property) program was aimed mostly at international students, many of whom came from Asia, to get a one-year intense dose of American IP Law. A classmate from Colombia, whose English was still not great, asked me to explain the difference between the two terms.
We were standing in the student lounge at the time, and there were some vending machines nearby. I always love the challenge of taking complex issues and finding ways to explain them in terms that everyone can understand.
So I started with Know How, and suggested to my friend that if he were thirsty, he should go to the machine, put some money in it, and press a button. He looked at me intently, and said, “Okay…(?)”
Then, I walked over to the machine with him, and said, “Show How: Put your dollar bill in this slot here, and make sure you flatten it out. Slide it in until the machine picks it up. Now, look at the choices and decide which drink you want. Press that button. See, this is where it comes out. Don’t open it yet, because it just dropped and might make a mess because it got shaken. Get your change out of this slot. Show How.”
He smiled and nodded. Mission accomplished. So what does this have to do with family business?
If you are looking for Know How on subjects surrounding family business, and more importantly business families, there is no shortage of it out there. Just ask my friend Google, and he will lead you to more content than you could read in your lifetime.
But just as you could look up and read millions of patents and still not be able to put the inventions into practice, most of the FamBiz content you find really would fall more into the Know How category.
I read stuff every day on the subject, much of it coming from my Twitter addiction, and there are plenty of great ideas for things that families should be doing to make sure their intended transitions from one generation to the next go smoothly.
My problem with so much of what I read is that I believe that very little of it will ever be acted upon.
This may or may not be the fault of the writer of the piece, but I often picture the reaction of someone like my father, or my father-in-law, both of whom started with almost nothing and built successful family businesses, and I simply can’t picture either of them ever putting the advice into practice.
The lack of action by many families has a couple of components to it, of course. Lack of time or urgency is usually one part, and so is insufficient belief in the worthiness of the expected benefits. I can’t help believe that not having enough “Show How” is a very big part of it.
If someone reads that having family meetings is important, they may think that it could be worthwhile, but then might get hung up on how to go about that. What is on the agenda, who gets invited, how often should we do them, how formal, what is the goal, how do we make “ground rules”, do we keep minutes, ah just forget it. Maybe next year…
Many ideas sound great when we hear them (or read them), but then we stumble when we try to implement them, because of some uncertainty in how it is supposed to all work.
There are people who can help show you how, but not nearly as many as there are out adding the vast store of know how out there. You just need to find them and reach out.