Family is Key

Craig Aronoff

The New York Times columnist David Brooks focuses largely on parsing behavioral science and moral philosophy for practical use.  His most recent books, “The Social Animal” and “The Road to Character” are worthy reads in this regard.

In a recent column, Brooks probes the role of “family” in society.  He notes that individuals “emerge out of families…” and that “the family… is the essential social unit.”

He then turns to statistics that are familiar to all who work with family businesses, concerning the prevalence and performance of family businesses.  He also notes the frequency of multigeneral family heritage in politics, and fields like music, sports and literature. (And he could have added science, law, or virtually all other fields.)

Probing why this should be the case, and without mentioning genetics, Brooks offers five reasons why “certain families are breeding grounds for achievement.”  These include:

  1.  Identity formation by which growing up in a certain kind of family lets you think of yourself in those terms at a young age.
  2. Practical knowledge learned by the example of one’s kin rather than in a classroom or a book.
  3. Level of skills that are cultivated and accumulated across generations. (“It takes three generations to make a career.”)
  4. Audacity in which you can dare seek high achievement because of role models in your family.
  5. Time horizon in that families think and work for the long term, seeking to pass a legacy to those not yet born.

Some people think that being born into the “right” family confers unfair advantages, says Brooks. “Families are unequal.”  And while that makes it harder for others to compete, the result is to make “society as a whole more accomplished.”

His conclusion:  “We wouldn’t want to live in a society in which family influence didn’t happen.”

All those who see their family enterprises as precious to their owners, employees, customers and communities, and mightily strive to maintain and grow all dimensions of their family’s legacy, can thank David Brooks for his recognition of the reality and importance of what families who work together accomplish.