Communication Next Generation Other Family Business

Three Tips from A Filmmaker: How to Connect With The Rising Gen

I have spent most of my professional life working out of my right brain, a.k.a. the artistic side of our craniums. As legacy filmmaker and private podcast producer, I’ve collaborated with some of the most successful families in the world. The techniques I employ to build with interview subjects can be directly applied to situations in your own life.

Here are my top three tips for connecting with your family, especially your Rising Gen.

Tip #1: Forget the Questions and Listen
When I first begin to work with a family on a project, someone invariably asks for my “interview questions.” Could you send them to me? In your own role, whatever it may be, you probably feel it is imperative to arrive at meetings prepared. You want to prepare questions to guide a conversation. I’m here to urge you to do just the opposite. Come with a blank mind. Lose your list of questions.

If you come to a conversation (what I call an interview in my line of work) with strong opinions and a rigid list of questions, you’ve cut things off at the pass. Instead: listen. As much as you can bear it, come to family meetings, especially ones that include multiple generations of your family, with a beginner’s mind. Bring your full, undivided attention. This is a new approach that will, no doubt, catch everyone off guard. At least two things will happen when you do this:

1. Critical information may come out that your questions would never have elicited
2. The person you are listening to will feel respected, seen, and heard

If you are looking down the barrel of succession planning, you may hope that one or two of your rising gen will step up to the plate.

Alternatively, if you are an advisor facilitating a meeting around a succession plan, you need a clear and powerful consensus to build a strategy. All of this requires connection and new ideas. There will be plenty of time for your lists of ideas.

Your invaluable experience will be sought out in time. But, first, be present and be quiet. See what reveals itself.

Nothing could be more important than hearing the deepest underpinnings of familial concerns before making a business move.

Tip #2: For Goodness Sake, Have Fun!
Mitzi Perdue and I connected at a conference some years back. Over a cup of coffee, I asked her: “What makes a family stick together?” Mitzi is the widow of Frank Perdue, the poultry magnate, and the daughter of Ernest Henderson, co-founder of the Sheraton Hotel Chain. Mitzi has a deep understanding of how to create and sustain a successful family business. She told me her secret: deliberate fun. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that deliberate fun is a critical family value when you’re sitting in a boardroom.

Mitzi gave me an example: “Family vacations are a time apart from day-to-day business and normal family affairs. It’s a special time.” When we are enmeshed with our loved ones in financial affairs and spend substantial time in serious discussions that make us want to tear our hair out, we need opportunities to connect over fun experiences.”

When I first sit down with a family to design a legacy project, they invariably ask me, How long does a project usually take? It is a great question, but the more important issue is the one most people miss. Time collaborating on a family project is a form of deliberate play. If family members enjoy being around one another, they are better set up to attack the nitty-gritty details of shared assets, governance, and tax options.

So, maybe a film about the family’s history or a multigenerational family vacation to the Dolomites seems like an accessory, ¬¬but if it gets your Paul talking to your Paulette, we’ve solved a big problem, haven’t we?
My advice: intentionally start with the fun stuff.

Tip #3: Have a good opening sequence – the first 15 seconds count
In creating a film or podcast about a family, it is critical to invest considerable thought into the opening sequence. The first 15 seconds of a film should intrigue the audience. It should create a question that must be answered.

Engaging your family is not so different. When we move into the affairs of a family office, it often becomes all business. “We must accomplish x, y, z.” Approaching the younger generation with this sober tone might fit the central work at hand, but it is a terrible opening sequence.

When working with families, I am charged with creating a compelling narrative that delivers a meaty message. The creative problem is how do we draw the audience to that message. Poetry, art, colour, emotion, humour. These are openers than get viewers to the first act. My advice? Invest considerable time reflecting on an opening sequence that makes your loved ones wonder: what’s the story here?

There are consultants aplenty who can teach your kids about investments. Your job is communicating the “why should I keep on listening” that gets your kids to buy in.

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