This month’s legacy article covers how a business family legacy does not only serve as a thought garden, an oasis of wisdom for the family, their employees, and community. It is also a critical family education and engagement tool.
During the pandemic, ethical or moral philosophy, e.g., stoicism has gained a renewed popularity. Stoic teaching has been used to help readers focus more on what matters the most in the long-run, learn how to become resilient, find hope, and fight anxiety.
Epistemology, the branch of philosophy focusing on knowledge and how we perceive reality, has been less explored. Despite the fact that we are in the midst of an epistemic crisis, surrounded by mere opinions, falsified information, and twisted narratives. In a family business context, it’s about making a better sense of the intertwined layers of complexity and enhance family engagement. This article will be briefly steering into what we can learn from sense-making and meaning-making, knowledge sharing, and knowledge transfer mechanisms, and how these also form a crucial part of the various educational and engagement-related activities.
Each multigenerational family legacy is a rich compressed tapestry filled with recurring and moving family patterns, characters, forged and oscillating compound situational identities and alliances within and beyond the family. It also holds a precious collective family intelligence of innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, compromises, horizon fusions, memories, laughter, and more importantly, lessons from everyone and for everyone. A condensed knowledge base that serves as a garden of inspiration, primarily for the family itself.
How can a multigenerational business family decompress and understand their complex marbling, and keep their legacy alive with all its moving parts?
Family Historiography & Rooting
Families firstly need to relate and synthesise their intertwined family facets, stories, narratives; their ancestors’ co-created history. The family and their various entities’ long-term success is contingent upon keeping a close contact with their family heritage. Otherwise, their own legacy will be disconnected from it, and they can start building a new one. It is therefore vital for families to share memories, thoughts, and stories, and purposefully co-create a contingent collective family knowledge of their past and present that is agile enough to be recalibrated as the contexts and the family members’ interpretation of them change continuously on all levels.
Our thoughts are built from our past experiences and accumulated knowledge, our stories related to these experiences are engrained in us and are in a constant flux also due to our continuous opinion and knowledge transmissions. Consequently, there is need for constant reassessment and reiterations of these stories and experiences too. This is an important element, as the various family, social, emotional, intellectual, business, financial, personal, collective, etc., contexts usually don’t move together and some outpace the others, or prompt families to over focus on a few areas and leaving the others behind. The anchoring tool for keeping a balanced overview on all these knowledge-seeking and changing configurations is the family legacy itself. Preserving and collectively building upon the family legacy despite any types of volatility is an efficient rooting exercise for multigenerational families.
These assessed contexts and co-created floating constructs that families pass on to the next generation along with the family’s value framework will become one of their most important family educational tools that they can further shape and navigate with in the future. Especially, now, as generational divides happen much quicker due to the pace of innovation that propel change also in how we think and act.
Each family is constantly renewing itself and its legacy, and each revisit asks for a reconceptualization of their key their narratives and legacy traits. It’s not only about further escavating and relating to the past, but observing how the various current and future generations surface and resurface with different additions to the family legacy.
Therefore, family constitutions or other guiding documents can only capture a current or aspired status of a business family, once they capture and co-created their current fused and aligned views of their rules of engagement.
In the future, these will serve as a backdrop of history for any upcoming generations during their family legacy territory hiking exercises. Family members will try to relate to the indications and any condensed references, unpack and reframe their ancestors’ stories and co-created constructs, hopefully leaving the chapters open for the new generations to formulate and write their own stories.
The Legacy Edit – Picturing the Moving Family Fragments
Paying attention to not only observe their surroundings and run short-cutting the understanding process in a cultural auto-pilot mode, but carefully evaluating and also interpreting their findings to effectively navigate diverse narratives at all scales and in all shapes is critical. Family members are encouraged to co-evaluate and co-interpret their experiences and thoughts with others, and form as well as fuse their narratives together.
Contemplating by the outside needs to be followed by contemplating from the inside. To master this, families should evaluate how they acquire, appropriate, and hold their various understanding landscapes and horizons. Understanding how they are historically, culturally, socially, emotionally, etc., conditioned and how the various conditioning may distort or challenge their interpretation. They may introduce and embrace evaluation processes; explore and develop realistic evaluation activities on the most pressing questions about values, relevance, impact, excellence, then assess, analyse and interpret the evaluation responses, and use evaluation findings to make decisions, increase impact, and demonstrate value. These reasoning and validation processes may result in ontological shifts in the minds and collectively, in the family’s precious collective intelligence.
Evaluating Real Duration of Events and Relationships
For better evaluation and validation purposes, the real duration of any story or event needs to be assessed too. Henri Bergson points at the importance of a critical evaluation of time, it’s duration as it holds qualitative multiplicity. Bergson separated how we actually live time and the mechanistic time of science. How we perceive time fundamentally engrains how we perceive all other aspects of our life too, how we rise above the accepted, proposed family facts, narratives, above the convention, traditions for new summits of shared understanding and truths.
The Legacy Edit – Picturing the Moving Family Fragments
As if we are to watch a directed theatre play based on a “true” story, it’s a collage of different conversations that did not necessarily happen in such particular chronological order, the final editing, condensing of the play, the dramaturgy, and direction all serve to facilitate the spectators’ comprehension, the characters’ relatability, and to enhance the key message points.
Also, what we see in most films is a succession of different photographs, freezing memory points that are all framed in different ways. In the decades and centenaries of family legacies, there are many pauses, and often long-standing legacies don’t even have a specific momentum or year that serves as the beginning of their heritage. For some families, it all depends from when they start to count any type of legacy creation; from when they start sketching on the canvas the first layers of family synchronicity.
Focusing on Synergies instead of Points of Conflict
When we talk about passing on the torch to the next generation, we also talk about transferring knowledge, skills, capacities, ideas, roles, and responsibilities from the current leader(s) to the upcoming one(s), and to all other family members. Translating all these from one generation and cultural system into another is quite a task, it relates to many shades of relation from conflicts to accommodation during the transitioning period, and beyond.
Highlighting the fractionality and fragmentedness in our relationships and the lack of shared understanding may lead to further tension and consequently to disintegration. Instead of focusing on the points of conflicts, laying an emphasis on the synergies and synthesising insights and learning points can create a fertile ground for enhanced family engagement and connectedness. This is when families create dialogues and stories of conciliation that help them bond with each other and form deep connections.
Each family member goes through endless reminiscences about when they were born, how they fit in, what skillset they deploy, and what their legacy marks will be on the family legacy. Each member remembers stories differently and hold only a fragment of the whole family landscape. They may also examine critical junctions in the history of the family, usually connected family members to whom, or any events to which, they can relate the most.
Enacting Participatory Sense- & Meaning-Making
How well we understand anything and anyone depends on how much we relate and engage with them on any levels. In a multigenerational business family, the collective meaning-making exercise that families embark on to explore their shared values, mission, and vision, might be precedented with a process of collective sense-making and any subsequent collective knowledge-acquiring activities too.
The presence of intersubjectivity is vital for the sense- and meaning-making exercises; sharing experiences, expectations, knowledge with others, and fusing understanding horizons with family members.
Enacting participatory sense-making is important, as it’s the co-ordination of intentional activity in interaction, whereby individual sense-making processes are affected and new domains of social sense-making can be generated that were not available to each individual on their own.
The key is participation, for each family member to show up, and engage in a proactive way. Doubling down on learning from their family legacy also to assess and be able to handle the various interconnected layers of complexity along with their character formations.
Legacy-based learning, a family-related contextual and collective learning method, is a fantastic way to enable and enhance connection points through e.g., family portraits, and other heritage artworks that invoke memories, and can create nostalgia, and a shared understanding, and alignment between various family members.
Leverage your legacy as your competitive advantage, a complexity premium, build upon it, and preserve it for generations to come.