Starting at sundown last Wednesday night, Jews across the globe ushered in a New Year, specifically the year 5772. It struck me again this year, how many tensions and contradictions are found in the traditions surrounding the holiday. These paradoxes echo many of those familiar to family businesses and quite a few that are described in Family Business as Paradox which I co-authored last year with John Ward and Stacy Stutz.
For example, as we contemplate the yet-undiscovered possibilities of a brand new year, we are brought up short by a major theme of the New Year’s service: Teshuvah or ‘return’. How is it that a new year begins with a ‘return’? Upon reflection we realize that meaningful new efforts are rooted in the legacy of the past. They are shaped by the treasured values and lessons learned by those that came before us.
This tension is a major theme for family businesses that must find ways to honor both tradition and change. My co-authors and I have been inspired by many family enterprises that grapple with this paradox, notably Beretta and Cargill.
There are other paradoxes with resonance for family enterprise – for example, the tension between structure/rules and spontaneity/intention*. As with all religious observance, there are plenty of rules related to the holiday, and proper observance is spelled out well in advance. However the tradition also makes clear that observing the law alone is not enough – one must observe with an intention that embodies trust and respect, and that resonates with caring, even passion.
Family enterprises also wrestle with a similar tension. Policies and rules are essential– for family employment, for compensation, for ownership. However, they can’t stand alone. They have to be partnered with the right intention – the right relationship. And they are best when infused with real commitment and passion. Although it may seem impossible, families must find a way to approach policies and practices in ways that are both fixed and flexible.
I’ll share some real world examples in an upcoming post. In the meantime, do you have stories to share about these familiar paradoxes?
*Known in Hebrew as keva (fixed structure in ritual, fixed texts) and kavana (intention, focus, concentration).