How to untangle your thinking
Joining the family business can be a momentous decision. When next generation members finish school or university they are often faced with the choice between applying for a job or joining the family firm. It is a situation fraught with emotional considerations as often they face a trade off scenario between going after their own career ambitions and satisfying their family obligations. In the ideal case, the family business represents the career next generation members imagine. However, to assess this complex situation and make the right decision can be daunting. In his article, Mathias Vestergaard, Founder of Think Clearly, US, provides a decision-making tool to enable next generation members to untangle their thinking and make the big decision.
Life is full of choices and we are constantly making decisions. Some decisions are simple, and have consequences that can easily be anticipated. Other decisions are complex and their impact can never be fully imagined in advance. While simple choices can be fun, exciting and empowering, research shows that complex decisions are often a source of significant stress.
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Whether or not to join the family business undoubtedly comes into the “complex decisions” category. There are many factors at play when we decide whether to work with the family or not. A family business can be both a great opportunity for you to live out your passions and ambition, but it can also be a place that is so bound in tradition that it can feel completely stifling to a young creative mind. There may be different philosophies and beliefs at play; you believe that sharing and collaborating is important while others believe that independence is the most important thing. Basically, it is hard to estimate how well you would fit into the family business and whether you will be able to live your potential to the fullest.
The option of not joining also has several potential consequences. The young generation often feels a sense of obligation to join, and there can be a deep fear of letting down the family if they choose to work outside the family business. This emotional pressure can make it even more difficult to clearly understand the situation and make an informed decision.
In order to make a good decision, you need a way to untangle the complexity. A visual process is the most efficient manner of going about this. You can do this with pen and paper, or if you have an iPad, I suggest you use the Paper-app or Adobe Sketch. In the next section of this article we will explore how you can make the complex decision of joining your family business or not in six simple steps.
Making complex decisions
1: The first thing you must do is recognise that the situation is a decision. This may seem self-evident but this is not always easy to grasp. Whenever there is a sense of obligation, most people tend to forget that they still have a choice. In other words: If you feel a lot of “I should join the family firm” it might camouflage the decision and make it look like a given.
One startup founder I worked with was in the process of selling her 40-employees company to a big corporation. She talked me through all the different scenarios for about an hour. She kept talking about the sale as something inevitable that would happen to her — until I told her to pause, and said “It’s your company right? Correct me if I’m wrong but can they buy it without you accepting?” Her sense of responsibility towards her employees prevented her from even recognising this opportunity as a choice that she alone could make.
The point is not to run from your responsibilities but to recognise what is within your control and what is outside of your control.
2: Once you have recognised that it is a choice, bring out some paper and pen or an iPad. Spend 10 minutes learning to write legibly and draw simple diagrams. It is easy because you are able to do this already; you have simply forgotten that you once made a choice to believe you couldn’t. Most likely you convinced yourself of this. Make a new decision now to once again believe that you can do this.
Here is how you write legibly on an iPad: get a stylus, and learn to write all caps letters in one stroke, without lifting the stylus. The challenge of writing comes from the lack of precision when lifting the stylus off the screen, which results in gaps in the letterforms making it impossible to read. By using one stroke letterforms like these, you will be able to write legibly in minutes.
3: Reflect! Use the top-right corner of the page to answer this: What is it really that I want in my work-life? Do you want challenges that will allow you to grow? Do you want to travel the world? Write down all your ideas and leave them there for a bit.
4: Draw a decision tree and various scenarios for each of your choices: Joining or not joining the family business. Be clear about what choices you can make and what are the potential outcomes that are not up to you.
You may have to draw a few different versions of your decision tree before you get clarity. You can begin with the question of joining or not joining the family business. Then explore each path. What might happen in each case? How likely is it? Draw it out and look at it. If you join but realise that it is not a good fit for you, will you leave? Then what? And if you do not join, what will you do instead? Could you potentially join the firm later, after having explored something else?
5: Once you have your decision diagrams laid out you can test your assumptions by talking it through with someone else. You can do it with a trusted friend or even a family member — just be aware that they each have their own biases and they may not even realise this fully while advising you.
6: Go back to the top right corner and look at all your ideas for the things you want in life and relate them to each of the two scenarios. Which of these two options seems most aligned with what you really want in your life?
While going through this exercise of untangling a complex situation, remember that there are no perfect decisions. But with this process you can be mindful and reflective about your choices. You may need to draw the diagram multiple times before it makes sense. You may get stuck somewhere. Perhaps you realise that you never actually thought of what you could do in life if you chose not to join the family business or what your options are if you do. Give yourself time to properly imagine these scenarios. It is all part of the process.
Tharawat Magazine, Issue 23, 2014