The Paradox of Fixed and Flexible: How to be More Like a Palm Tree

In my last posting I talked about the advantages of being both fixed and flexible and promised a few specific examples. 

Let’s start by taking nature as our role model in this regard – trees that are both strong, deeply rooted, clearly bounded, and yet flexible enough to withstand high winds and driving rains. Imagine a palm tree bending and swaying in even the most chaotic weather conditions.  How can we create family businesses with that wonderful combination of strength and suppleness?


  • Build in regular opportunities for reviewing and updating family policies, structures and agreements. Don’t’ assume that the current approach will be the best forever. As time goes on, you will learn what works and doesn’t work – expect that things will change as time goes on. Some families even build in sunset provisions for agreements that force the family to get together and either affirm or alter existing policies.
  • Learn more about Fair Process. As described by Ward and Carlock in their Parallel Planning book, Fair Process requires both consistency and changeability. Families that find ways to honor both of these characteristics create approaches that all recognize as fair.
  • For family involvement and employment policies, plan to provide more flexibility for younger children (pre-college age) and more fixed rules for older children (post-college). Within the policies, some aspects are mandatory (we require all family applicants to complete a college degree) and some are flexible (we encourage family applicants to complete at least one summer internship while they are in high school or college).

There are many more examples of approaches that are both fixed and flexible. Perhaps in a future blog we should provide unfortunate examples of families going too far to one side or the other – being either too rigid or too loose.  We’d love to hear about any examples from your experience….


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