November 6, 2022

What If…

Josh Gentine

Bench Newsletter Nov 2022

My kids love to play “make-believe”. They create fantasy worlds, allowing their imaginations to run wild with endless possibilities. It is beautiful to watch them transform a couch into a fort to be defended or turn an empty paper towel roll into a weapon to slay mythical beasts. Unfortunately, the older we get, the less we play make-believe and our ability to expand our thinking beyond the present lessens with age. However, we haven’t lost the ability to pretend – we simply forgot that the here and now is not the only way to look at life.

Last week I attended two conferences focused on families and family businesses. During four days of meeting and connecting with family members of various family businesses, a theme emerged in my conversations: We all struggle to move past family conflicts. Family members would tell me about the conflicts associated with selecting a new leader, organizing the family around priorities, or trying to sort through the challenges associated with significant wealth. While some might contend that these are “good problems” to have, they are still problems that can ultimately fracture important relationships. Even worse, if the problems are acute enough, they can lead to the demise of storied family businesses.

So how do we move within and past the conflicts? One approach is to find a family therapist who can help navigate and sort through these complicated family dynamics. While there is value in that method, another option is to use the power of make-believe.

Let me explain.

When we’re locked in conflict with someone else, it is hard to see common interests and the value of being aligned. It might even feel better to remain angry with someone. Yet choosing this path often leads to the destruction of value, as opposed to creating value. I have seen staggering amounts of both monetary and emotional wealth dismantled due to unresolved conflict. However, we can unlock significant value if we learn to move beyond the anger. To get to this point, I suggest utilizing creativity to reposition the way we think. For example, I like to ask my clients two questions: What value and opportunities would open up if we could find a way to compromise or agree with one another? How would our lives and the lives of your loved ones be different if we weren’t locked in conflict?

Even when clients insist this approach isn’t realistic, I challenge them to try to imagine the possibilities. The answers typically fall out begrudgingly: Well...our families could spend time together again. We could both work at the company. We wouldn’t have to go through the trouble of splitting up assets. We could increase our profits together and spend far less. We would be a lot happier. We could spend more time with Mom and Dad. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

I am not saying this is easy. I am often hired because it takes an objective third party to ask these difficult questions and make something of the answers, but the value can be immeasurable if done right. So as hard as it may seem right now, challenge yourself to play make-believe and think about a relationship that needs to heal. Channel your inner child and make-believe those wounds are mended, then imagine everything that could be.

Please reach out if you would like to discuss more.


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