Knowledge & Wisdom Transition in Family & Business

Knowledge & Wisdom Transition in Family & Business

by Jonathan Roth Magidovitch

First, this note of caution: a poorly handled transition of knowledge and wisdom will set loose tsunami waves of disruption

We have an archetype of such a broken transition in Hebrew Scriptures.  From his death bed Jacob (Yisrael) the Patriarch gathers his children and shares key information with them:

Then Jacob called for his sons and said: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come. … Your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills.” Genesis 49

Jacob acts with best intentions, but the result is fraught with difficulty:

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” Genesis 50

This Biblical “uh-oh” moment is something many family businesses experience. Faulty transitions lead to infighting which is costly to the value of the business and to the cohesion among the family. Therefore, diving into the subject of transitions is of high value.

Our subject is transition of knowledge & wisdom in family business.  We make the parallel to elders blessing their children to provide a framework for understanding transitions.

Transitions are often thought of as final, definite acts by the patriarchal leader or his proxy. Given this compression into a single, final moment, such transitions tend to be dramatic, emotional and subject to a variety of disruptions.

There is little time and huge potential for interference making it difficult to validate the transition, contextualize it or stabilize it within the successor generation.

Key modes of understanding transition include:

  • magical
    • The elder manipulates forces (tools) which bestow upon the younger capabilities the elder deems core to running the business.  This transfer may not actually include training or information. Think here of the Wizard of Oz who bestows brains, heart and courage.
  • mystical
    • The elder invokes a metaphysical force which bestows upon the younger the rights and capacities of leadership.  This is akin to coronation in bringing to the younger a “divine right of kings” type leadership
  • informational
    • The elder turns over access to e.g. the CRM database, the location of skeletons, relationships with service providers; in sum, all the skills and knowledge to run the business.

Each mode comes from a mindset, a culture of the family.  Often, more than one mode is used though there is a dominant mode.

In the “magical mode” the most notable attribute is manipulation.  There is an actor, a decider, a doer.  And there are objects of action, receivers who are not given control, who are corralled into passivity and in whom there is a build-up of resentments.

A business might choose this magical mode with the belief that the competition it sets up among the owner-employees serves to hone the skills of each.

In the “mystical mode” there is a sense that this business is “bigger than each and all of us.” There are values here that the patriarch has been stewarding and now is passing that stewardship on to the next patriarch.

A business would choose this mystical mode with the belief that the business’ core values are broadly accepted as valuable and that broad acceptance sustains the business and unifies the owner-employees.  Typical of this mode is Subaru which promotes the values of sustainability and of multiculturalism.  These values are demonstrably present in their products and are central all the way from design through marketing.

The “informational mode” is marked by beliefs about adherence to best practices.  Emotion is allowed a place in the process but it does not drive the process.  Quantifiables are the drivers.  In this mode, there may be a patriarch, but this person would have powers limited by documented procedures.  Transition also would be delineated by those procedures.  This compares to the Kings of Ancient Israel who ascended to the throne only after having handwritten for their future reference a copy of Scripture and this text was kept handy on a shelf built into the seat of their throne.

A business would choose this informational mode with the belief that it provides stability by limiting capricious action.  This stability however is directly related to the quality of the core management document and its inherent procedures.

Timing is everything. The above modes matter, but as much or more, timing matters.

Returning to the image of a parent blessing their child, if a parent were to place their hands on their child’s head and say words of blessing, beautiful well-considered words, this would seem to be good.  But, if every day prior to that act of blessing the parent said and did things to and around that child that were difficult or damaging, it would be near impossible for that child to receive the blessing outside that context.

Therefore, rather than thinking of blessing as a final and definite act, consider blessing to be the sum total of all the energy that has ever been directed by the parent to the child.  Blessing begins at the child’s birth and continues 24/7 even if you don’t think the child hears and even if the child is not in the room at that moment.  This is not magical or mystical.  This is because actions come from somewhere inside.  If we hold a belief and only say it behind someone’s back, that belief still influences how we act and they still pick it up; they still feel its shadows and repercussions.

Similarly, business transitions of knowledge and wisdom are not effective if thought of as some final act. Transitions of knowledge and wisdom must be part of the ongoing consciousness and work of the business. From the moment of taking the helm, a leader must actively be preparing for their own retirement and for healthy succession.

The leader must consider ongoing that the future transition must be perceived as valid by the stakeholders of the business. The leader must create a context for transition and must be explicit about this context.  That is, transitional constructs cannot be hidden in hints and parables. The leader must stabilize transitions by creating a culture that supports transitions.

Don’t wait.  That is the central advice about transition of knowledge and wisdom.  As a family or business leader make transition an ongoing part of your work.

Jonathan Roth Magidovitch works in the US and Israel as a coach/consultant for individuals, families and family businesses. He is the principal of Yosef Meged Consulting.

The Second Hatching of Children: A Metaphor for Parents and Values Educators

The Second Hatching of Children: A Metaphor for Parents and Values Educators
By Jonathan Roth Magidovitch and Gadi Raviv
December 23, 2014

Many years ago during a lunch meeting of our Interfaith Clergy Association, we were bemoaning the disappearance of our youth immediately after their Bnai Mitzvah/Confirmation.

We of each faith group had somehow thought it was only our kids who left. We shared surprise and then shared this joke: “We had a rat problem at our church. Expert after expert would rid of us rats but they always came back. Finally, a professional came who rounded up every rat they could and Confirmed them. We never saw those rats again.”

This essay is to suggest a new metaphor, a new way of looking at how we work with our youth in their transition to adulthood.

Yesterday, a colleague got my attention. He said, “Children are little chicks. They hatch. They come out of their shell open and playful. “By first grade they start to build a new shell, and in their early teens they begin to break out of this shell.”

Why do those pre-first-graders build themselves a shell? As with Adam and Eve, shame and embarrassment are factors, perhaps generated or enhanced by elementary school or socialization in general. In particular, “children have begun to feel that peers are watching them.” They retreat behind a barrier of their own creation. Fear is not the major motivator for children building their second shell.

We believe children instinctively understand that they have a lot to learn about being with their peers. Observation, seeing, is by far the strongest learning tool we have. Intuitively, children understand that an unseen observer gets cleaner information than a participant observer does. The presence of the observer alters the thing being observed. This is the reason children build their own shell. It’s their duck blind. It’s their one-way mirror.

And, why do they as pre-adolescents begin to peck apart their shell? Their need to connect with peers overpowers their need to hide. Its biology; preservation of the species. The clock has ticked. Time has arrived to put knowledge into practice.

As their adults, it is our goal to provide them tools for breaking out, and this is where faith educators come in heavy with tools, conceptions and expectations for specific outcomes.

My colleague asserted that these kids are not interested in Bible, or Judaism (Christianity) or in performing, but they put huge effort into their Bnai Mitzvah studies because “They are proving themselves as adults.”

At this point, we add that so much of religious education feels like an imposition. Educators and parents feel pressure to inject stuff into our kids. It’s invasive.

Could we instead “go with” the urge to adulthood of our children?

With peers as witness, our kids need to prove themselves as adults. We want them to be adults and independent, but we want them to have the tools by which to live that life in the best way possible.

We are not neutral in what is “best.” And, broadly speaking, our children have already accepted the values we are trying to convey. That is, the vast majority of our children believe that the world is a better place if we all respect each other’s property and lives. Simply put, somehow our kids have already gotten the values. Now it’s about implementation.

What we have is a methodological problem. We tend to impose, restrict, manage and boss our children at the exact moment when they need to be self-directing.

We present them with tools and with myriad directions for how to use these tools.

Maybe when you were a kid, your dad put you on his lap as he drove the car. That was great and empowering when you were five. As a teen, it would be both creepy and dangerous.

Similarly, we need to put tools into our kids’ hands, the tools they need to live by their values. Further, we need to allow that our children might find tools of their own.

An example of that is social media. Values are developed and refined in their online communities. Those communities are generally pleasant places to be. They do have bad actors in them, trolls, and adult presence is important but best as supportive and background. Like driving the car, it’s unhelpful when adults take control in the spaces where kids need to be exercising their adulthood.

As for that joke about Confirming the rats, clearly our children are not rats. Also clearly, we do not really want them hanging around our houses as adults. We want them to go out into the world and find their life and build their home.

The home we built and raised them in was their “first shell.” They must hatch from it, be free of it.
Speaking of spiritual homes, Temple, Church or Synagogue, those were for our children “first shells.” We cannot expect them to take up residence in those spaces. In fact such expectation they will read as overbearing.

At the very least, if we want our children to inhabit the places of spirit and of values that we built, we have to give over our tools to them and the deeds to our buildings and give them our blessing to remodel the places to their needs.

Good if they choose to remodel, but just as good if they choose a complete rebuild. It’s their world, their life, and we do best if we trust them.

We are part of the shell they broke free of. There was a moment when we could see ourselves as their leaders. While they are still very young, it is best if we become their cheerleaders.

Performing rites of passage at the time of their transition to adulthood is instrumental in providing children and their adults with a textual and ceremonial platform to celebrate and exercise their “second hatching. The ritual here is vital because it acknowledges what is already happening.

Gadi Raviv is a Reform Rabbi in Karmiel, Israel and a 3rd generation kibbutz member. He creates life-cycle and holy day ceremonies for secular Israelis by mixing traditional and modern Judaism with Israeli popular culture, kibbutz heritage and humanistic psychology.

Jonathan Roth Magidovitch works in the US and Israel as a coach/consultant for individuals, families and family businesses. He is the principal of Yosef Meged Consulting and the Rabbi of Kehillat Ohel Moed.