I attended the Milken Global Summit this week where I was dizzied and dazzled by evidence that “life as we know it” is changing more rapidly than we collectively realize. A panel on precision medicine illuminated that as the ability to screen genomes becomes routine, current medical diagnostics will become obsolete. Elon Musk talked nonchalantly about terraforming Mars, a concept I first encountered in a sci-fi novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. Drones were discussed as a new delivery system that could replace Big Brown, and satellites with absurd new powers will redefine the quaint communication systems in place today. All around me were casual conversations about the coming disruptions of online education, alternative energy, electric cars, and the seeming insignificance of our actual brains compared to the new wave of smarter, cooler, and ubiquitous computers.
When any system is disrupted, overturned, or revolutionized, there are always winners and losers. Nick Dunne, the husband under suspicion in the runaway best seller Gone Girl described how disruption works in this way:
“We had no clue that we were embarking on careers that would vanish within a decade. I had a job for eleven years and then I didn’t, it was that fast. All around the country magazines began shuttering, succumbing to the sudden infection brought on by the busted economy. Writers (my kind of writers: aspiring novelists, ruminative thinkers, people whose brains don’t work quite quick enough to blog or link or tweet) were through. We were like women’s hat makers or buggy whip manufacturers: Our time was done.”
Anyone 35 and older must intuit this “brave new frontier” we are entering. And no parent attending the Milken Conference could help but leave with a renewed mission to go home and introduce their children to the final frontier (space) or the undiscovered frontier (the ocean). Others were thinking about how to break it to their children, intent on becoming doctors, that studying genomes would be safer than med school as we’ve known it. And parents whose fortunes are invested in funds that will be undermined by the “next new thing” surely left with a new zeal to mentor their kids to be disruptors before they are disrupted.
The world is a wild and unforgiving place when it comes to the speed of change. and I’m aware that in choosing to be a disrupter I am practically a chemical catalyst for life at the speed of light. Though I am part of the “slow food” movement and have built a “slow money” company, I seem unable to stanch the speed of anything.
So to help kids slide into the stream of change at warp speed, we offer Camp Start-Up, a summer program for teenagers growing up in the Age of Disruption.
No matter how privileged, smart, well connected today’s 10 year old, 16 year old or 25 year old is, the world they are inheriting requires a new kind of preparation. Anyone who knows me at all knows this is one of Independent Means programs I am most proud and fond of. This year we have moved the program to Santa Clara University, in the heart of Silicon Valley, to expose kids directly to the forces—and the opportunities—coming at them.
Teens who attend Camp Start-Up this year will spend time with a Google brainiac who will give them a tour of the campus and challenge them to consider what it would be like to work in a true meritocracy. Kiva Fellows will share stories of making a difference in far flung corners of the world, and all the teens will get a chance to go behind the scenes at Tesla, getting a glimpse of a car company that may be to cars what the Model T was to the horse.
At Camp Start-Up this year we will emphasize how to spot weak signals from the future (so teens can be proactive, not reactive, in their life dreams). They will practice the ability to spot and leverage opportunity and will go home with their first business plan done and presented—a skill much of the planet is still trying to master. And perhaps because I am also a bit wary of the unintended consequences that come with speed of light change, we’ve increased the time we will spend on conversation and case studies that explore ethics, stakeholder management, and social responsibility. All this will be imbedded in 12 days of fun, creativity, and adventure. We know teenagers, and unless we serve a serious program with serious fun, we’ll lose them. But this is our 19th year of operation and in all that time we’ve lost less than 1% to homesickness or lack of interest.
I feel good about our ability to prepare kids for the Age of Disruption—if not their actual arrival.
“and another book you MUST read is…”
I’ve done this so often lately that I decided to list a few here so I could more efficiently share my new discoveries. You will surmise correctly from this list that I am an eclectic reader. This will either make you think of me as a person with a wide range of interests or an eccentric who scans the world like an owl for a diversified meal of small prey after dark. Either way, this is not a boring list!
Among my new reads, must reads, is Resilience by Andrew Zolli. Andrew is the Exec Director of PopTech and a brainiac by any measure. This book is one of those “a ha” reads that illuminates the world while it puts words and pictures on your deepest intuitive knowledge. Resilience is wonderfully upbeat, and hopeful—it explains why in the midst of head-spinning change we are adapting, can adapt, will adapt, and maybe even get better. If you have not yet organized a family book club, this is the book that you might choose to launch one. A great read for anyone 15+, this is a book that will speak to each generation in a relevant and useful way. Download it before you get on that next flight.
Accidentally I read two books that, in the light of the Boston Marathon bombings, put a new light on war, random victims, and the implications for how cultures and communities are affected by the surreal dimensions of man’s inhumanity to man. The first of my accidental reads was a novel called The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau. Jonas got up in the middle of the night to empty his kidneys in a privy well away from his main house, escaping as in a strange dream the horror of bombs obliterating his family, his home, his village. A young boy, he runs instinctively into the mountains and hides in a cave, only to meet up with one of the soldiers responsible for the bombing. Their encounter and their impact on one another and on the lives of people who cared for them is a reminder that war is the great unraveler—its impact trickles and pours from one person and place to another…guns, bombs, and drones, no matter how well “controlled” are indiscriminate in the damage they do. This book pushed my pragmatic self to the edge of a radical pacificism. Like the second accidental book, Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden, I want to buy cases of these books and mail them to Congress (do we think those guys actually ever read anything that isn’t delivered as a poll or a review on their own behavior?).
Escape from Camp 14 was apparently first brought to the attention of the American public by 60 Minutes (I missed that episode). But the book surely brought North Korea to my consciousness in a whole new way. The book chronicles the existence of prison camps in North Korea that make Stalin’s Gulag look like summer camp—and it does this by following young Shin Dong-hyuk, as he escapes, impossibly, from Camp 14 and makes his way to China, South Korea, and eventually the US. I am embarrassed I was not more aware of the barbarity of North Korea—and it’s impact on our humanity.
I also finished Gillian Glynn’s Gone Girl. Fair warning: you will stay up all night to finish it. And Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons, is the amazingly vivid and moving story of an 11 year old whose name is not really Ellen Foster—and therein lies the tale.
Finally, lately I have gotten a number of requests for my favorite science fiction books (anyone who has heard me speak lately knows I am finally fessing up to the genre as one way I have kept my eye on weak signals from the future). At the head of the list is Kim Stanley Robinson (The Mars Trilogy: Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) whose stories contain remarkable scientific details. (May have something to do with his scientist wife, but in any event, he’s a brilliant writer). And now that the Mars Rover, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk are bringing Mars to our doorstep, his scenarios of terreforming Mars seem completely plausible.
I’m also a Neal Stephenson fan because he was the one who, for me, changed science fiction from ‘a distant planet, a thousand years in the future’ to “here” in the not so distant future. Cryptonomicon was the first book of his I read–it is a page turner and enormous fun. I went from there to Diamond Age and then Snow Crash. Both are dark but provocative. He has launched a new project I’m following with interest: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Hieroglyph
Of course Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury are the old classics—Asimov nailed the idea of singularity, which has entranced Ray Kurzweil all these years, and Bradbury was a much more philosophical thinker than most people understood. Shortly after Bradbury died, I shared a paper he wrote for USC’s management magazine in the late 80s, It’s a doozy and if you can’t find it, let me know. And Philip Dick has been so well discovered by Hollywood you hardly have to read him any longer, but I do like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.
Frank Herbert, who wrote the Dune series, got me paying attention to water issues long before I moved to California. And Mary Doria Russell’s book, The Sparrow is a very moving, very unusual take on science fiction. One of my favorite books, period. Wow, I could go on but this is already TMI. But check out our GoodReads website for titles we think are relevant to financial education in the broadest sense!
In the fall of 2011, I wrote a blog describing the phenomenon of really smart people who close down in the face of financial reports, news, and conversations. I suggested at that time that people who self-identify as “creative” literally DO shut down when confronted by what seems, on the surface, to be a linear, valueless, and rigid world of finance. Perhaps, I said, it’s time to create a new way of talking about money with creatives.
That blog triggered quite a response from readers and prompted us to create a new program called Learning Labs for Financial Creatives. The program begins April 21-23 and if you’re a financial creative, or know one, click here for more information and give us a call, 805-965-0475.
You won’t sit at a conference table and you will not endure the torture of mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations. You will connect with a small group of peers, who are intent on developing a voice and a set of skills that will facilitate impact at family meetings, in business discussions, and with the so-called “financial experts” in your life.
The first program is being held at the Ojai Valley Inn and SPA. I hope you, or someone you love, will join us.
The flight home took 16 hours, nonstop. Once home, I slept for 14–not a drowsy wake and sleep, wake a sleep, but deep, prolonged slumber, a dream state that gave me access to the sights, sounds, people, and experiences that overwhelm the senses when you travel to a part of the globe where camels ride in pick-ups, buildings compete to touch the stars, and men in white are both national identity and fashion forward. For days my dreams were a tumble of indecipherable symbols and images.
Dubai is life though a kaleidoscope: space age towers and ancient water taxis; girls in revealing dress and women seen through eye slits; boys in Armani and men in elegant robes and headdress; an avant garde art scene and a scene of material consumption so staggering it renders an organic girl speechless. But my sensual, visual memories are not the most important thing I brought home–the treasure was the time spent with families we were privileged to meet. And the best gift came in the form of a simple question.
The CEO of a multi-family office in Bahrain had invited me to speak at a conference for families from UAE countries. Abdulmohsin Al Omran is a visionary. While wealth in Dubai is often measured by the height of buildings and the gold and oil in your portfolio, Abdulmosin brought us to Dubai to discuss human capital. “Families in the UAE,” he told me the day before I was to present…
“…are often living beyond their means–even though their means are generous.
…worry about declining wealth as they watch the next generation consume without thought of creating wealth.
…believe it’s too late to make a difference with their family.”
“Ah, issues we face with families everywhere,” I thought, as he described his hopes for the next day. And the next day confirmed his observations.
The men and women of the audience, parents with children as young as 2 and as old as 42; people from Bahrain, Saudi, and Kuwait seemed open and eager to talk. When I asked if the phrase “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves” in three generations resonated in any way, one woman laughed and said, “Yes, here we speak of ‘fire to ashes’: the grandfather starts the fire, the next generation keeps it burning for a while, and the third let’s it cool to ashes.”
Only a small fraction (about 2%) of family businesses worldwide make it beyond the third generation with their assets intact. Abdulmohsin’s vision is to address those issues–to help families develop their human capital with the same fervor they attend to developing their financial capital–and to help a larger percentage of families keep the fire burning–or at least give the next generation tools to kindle a new fire.
As we jumped into a practice version of IMI’s Human Capital Audit, one woman said, “I had no idea this is a way to look at family!” Each of the participants seemed excited by a tool that would help them rethink the nature of wealth in family. It was, I thought, a great session and things were going well. Then one man asked, in as respectful a way as possible, “What do you know about families from this part of the world?”
His question was clean and direct. He caused me to pause, but in the moment, processing stimuli coming at me at warp speed, I gave an only adequate response.
But now, dreams and days later I know what I should have said: “Nothing. I know nothing about your families. Just as I know nothing about any family I first encounter.”
Twenty plus years, hundreds of families and many countries into my work one thing is clear: every family has its own unique makeup. Like a fingerprint, each family comes together in a way that is not replicated again. Entering a family anywhere on the planet, regardless of culture, religion, politics, age or generation requires mindful attention, an open attentiveness that allows us to SEE families as they are–without prejudice or assumption. When we can achieve that clarity of vision, we have the best shot at being genuinely useful. We have to enter each family humbled by the knowledge that we know nothing of their individual values, their experiences, their human capital. We know nothing about what matters in their heart or what their individual and collective worries are. That’s the information each family must teach.
And yet, there are universals that show up in family after family; country after country. Most families, if they are at all functional and have the privilege of basic well-being, financial security, and safety, at some point focus on the future of their children and of their families:
I’ll have good stories from Dubai to share over dinner for a long time. But the man who asked, “what do you know about us?” made the trip really count. As long as I remember that we know NOTHING about any family on first encounter, I have a shot at hearing and seeing the most important aspects of every family, regardless of where they live or who they are. Before the week is out I’m going to write and tell him what his question helped me remember. That’s a gift you can’t put in a shopping bag.
At an early stage of my career as a clinical therapist, I spent two years working with some of the country’s most violent children. These were children ages 10 through 14 who had been sent to a residential program because they could not be managed at home. One of the physically smallest boys in the program was one of the most dangerous. Most of the time he used his feet, teeth, and fists as weapons, but would use anything he could get his hands on to express his rage. His internal pain and confusion seemed to fuel a strength and intensity that I still remember vividly, decades later.
The children in this program did not choose to be so disturbed. And though they each had a diagnosis and we could often “explain” the wounds and causes of their psychological afflictions, why was an illusive question. Why this child in the family and not that one? Why this behavioral manifestation and not another? The program engaged in research to help illuminate why.
Of course, protecting the children from themselves and others was our first duty. Keeping scissors, sharp objects, and other potential weapons away from them was part of the treatment plan. Vigilance and protection was the staff’s responsibility. Trying to answer why these kids did what they did could not distract us from being attentive to their safety and ours.
I am reminded of this as commentators, legislators, and friends all ask why Adam Lanza murdered twenty children and eight adults in Sandy Hook. For me “why he did it” is a secondary question—one we may or may not answer over time. The urgent question is why are we not keeping weapons fit for war and law enforcement out of the hands of children who have not been identified as dangerous. (Though chronologically 20, Lanza’s actions were developmentally closer to the childish impulses of a 12 year old.)
I was lucky—the kids I worked with were plain to see and had been placed in treatment. But most bullies are undiagnosed; children who are depressed and angry may be viewed as “different” but are invisible until they demand our attention in the most terrifying ways. We have made access to dangerous weapons so easy that we practically invite them to play out their horrifying fantasies and their most dangerous impulses in the public arena. We fail children by not protecting them from themselves.
I am not an anti-gun fanatic. I grew up in a family of hunters. But my father didn’t bag a buck with an assault rifle. None of the hunters in the family felt a yen for an automatic. And the guns that were in the house were not accesible to my brothers and me. I do not think the solution to mass murder lies just in regulation of guns and ammunitions. But it’s at least part of the solution to a complex problem.
As one member of my staff (also a dad) observed, “You don’t hear a lot of reports about kids lobbing grenades into schools.” Grenades are harder (though not impossible) to get your hands on. “Why,” he wanted to know, “is it so easy to get access to endless rounds of ammunition and guns that were built for war?”
Regulating ammunition and passing laws against the proliferation of assault weapons is the equivalent of keeping knives and scissors from dangerous kids in treatment centers. As caring adults who profess concern for the well being of the next generation, our obligation is to limit access to weapons. I don’t need a gun to protect myself nearly as much as I need ways to protect children. I hope this is a moment when we will transcend the disease of polarization plaguing the country to come together and make some common-sense changes to our gun culture. (For clear thinking on the connection between freedom, gun control and culture, I recommend Firmin Debrabander’s piece in the NYT, “The Freedom of an Armed Society“).
And while we’re putting weapons out of the reach of children, we need to make access to help easier for troubled children. We’ve cut art programs and guidance counselor positions. Testing trumps the teaching of emotional intelligence. And as we reduce after-school programs and resources for kids, drops-out and social bullies channel their energy and their visions in all manner of socially destructive ways. By not investing in the most important asset this country has, our next generation, we put ourselves, our kids, and our future at risk.
There are a number of pending bills that could help us protect kids from themselves and from harming others. If you want to make a difference in the face of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, check out the two below. There are many more. Search the internet for “firearms legislation” to see if there is something you can get behind. Check to see what your legislators are supporting. And while you’re at it, think about what you can do—with your time, talent, and your philanthropic dollars to identify and serve the Adam Lanzas who live in every community. It’s a start.
The Assault Weapons Ban and Law Enforcement Protection Act: Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy has introduced legislation that (1) reinstates the law as it existed prior to September 2004 and (2) would make the assault weapon and high-capacity magazine ban permanent, and also significantly strengthens current law. Her bill would expand the definition of “assault weapon” to include post-ban “copy cat” weapons, which closes a loophole allowing kits to be sold to modify legal weapons into assault weapons, and enhances the tracing of assault weapons, among other things.
Legislation permitting access to certain information in the Firearms Trace System database. This legislation would repeal the “Tiahrt amendment” that has restricted the ability of local governments to learn the source of firearms that have been used in their communities.
A few years ago, a family member said to me (before meeting the love of his life and his now wife), “If you don’t like the pre-nup’ designed by your state, you’d better make one that fits you and your circumstances.” This was his way of reminding me and his generation that, like it or not, everyone already has a pre-nuptial agreement. Partly as a result of that conversation—and the urging of many other families since then—we’ve added a module on pre-nuptial agreements to the Great Families Curriculum.
Which is why I read with interest Matt Richtel’s NYT piece “Till Death, or Twenty Years, Do Us Part.” Richtel is also a novelist whose fictional work embraces unthinkable concepts, frequently nailing “weak signals from the future.” (Stay tuned for my next blog if you don’t know what weak signals from the future are.) Exploring the topic of marriage contracts, he writes from the shelter of what he calls, “a great marriage that, I’d bet the farm, ends no sooner than hospice.” Nonetheless, ”Marriages,” he tells us, “are more vulnerable than at any time.” Richtel then draws upon a quote by Stephanie Coontz, the research director at the Council on Contemporary Families: “Given how long we live, ‘Till death do us part’ is a much bigger challenge than it used to be.”
In the article, Richtel recounts conversations with expert after expert, each recommending innovation in marriage contracts. Referring to the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes marriage contract, implemented in their recent break-up, Richtel asked Kenneth Altshuler, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, if it make sense to codify renewable marriage contracts. Altshuler’s response (presumably from the perspective of deep experience) was to say, “There’s still a fantasy of Ozzie and Harriet, and if that’s what we’ve decided we’re striving for, we are failing miserably.” Richtel explains that much of the factors that influence a marriage are changing: “we’re living longer; we live apart from families and are less inclined to religion, both marriage support systems; and technology makes it easier than ever to flirt or cheat and fuels instant gratification.”
Yet, even after talking to numerous experts (he is a thorough reporter), Richtel says, “I found myself surprised and even unnerved by the extent to which some experts I spoke with say there is a need to rethink an institution that so often fails…. I fear that my own marriage would end if I, or, worse yet, my wife gave up the fantasy [that marriage will last a lifetime].”
Mr. Richtel has uncovered some unique ideas and possibilities for 21st-century thinking about marriage and marriage contracts, and his article is well worth the read for everyone affected by the coming together of two people in ways that will reverberate economically and emotionally well beyond the twosome. But his rational reporter self is clearly at odds with his romantic self—and in this, his article succeeds brilliantly in reflecting how hard it is for families to talk about pre-nups.
Happily, one thing we learned in the creation of the new Pre-Nup module for the Great Families curriculum is that what was once an automatic win/lose prospect for the pairing couple doesn’t have to be. Handled thoughtfully, a marriage contract helps the new couple be mindful and intentional about the goals for their union—it is a way to talk as a family about the fantasies and realities the two are embracing. The contract helps families be real, and real is always a better foundation on which to build a union than any 1950s-style TV fantasy.
I’d love to hear about your experiences, good and bad, in the realm of the marriage contract.
Lately I’ve become interested in the idea of regeneration, whether of family legacy, business, art, or simply one’s own life.
IMI’s spring season was a pip. Some of you know that David Wegbreit, one of our program developers, returned to grad school at Carnegie Mellon. I wrote a stellar recommendation for him, so his departure was not a surprise, but it created a hole in our company fabric. Also, I’d been coaching Sarah Frost (who is still a trainer with IMI) to go get experience in a larger firm where she could take on more responsibility—and she did! Again, not a surprise, but when she took my counsel, the hole in the fabric became larger. Then, when our COO Karen Cahill decided to pursue a new opportunity, I was looking at a really big hole in the lovely fabric that had helped hold the company together.
How then was I going to regenerate the culture of innovation and creativity that these people had helped create? For a few months I wasn’t sure it was possible—and my close friends understood I was living through an uncomfortable uncertainty and sadness. These were team members I had loved working with, and they were in no small way a part of IMI’s best accomplishments. Those of us left behind hustled to keep the boat afloat while working like mad to mend the hole!
So we spent the summer in a period of regeneration. New people joined the company to fill the hole and form a new team: an editor and curriculum developer with a deep history in educational publishing now oversees IMI’s Great Families Curriculum; a NY hedge fund alum who spent the last year working on micro-enterprise in Rwanda for Kiva is the new operations director, and a former manager at a major speakers’ agency is my new assistant. And over the summer a fourth person—a true wild card—appeared with skills that shook up our operations. This was a wunderkind who’s out of the box thinking was just what we needed at the time.
I resist change, kicking and screaming. But I’ve come to see the power and importance of big disruptions: loss, failure, accidents as an imperative aspect of growth, and yes, regeneration. IMI is stronger and more exciting than it was six months ago. We were comfortable together, not anxious to make change. Only the wrenching disruptions of loss woke us up. And the unknown possibilities that come with new team members emerge every day as we learn more about one another’s gifts and talents. IMI 2.0 is a beautiful thing.
On Sept. 19, I’m running a program for the Southeastern Family Office Forum for “next generation” family members. I suspect “next gens” are getting plenty tired (and skeptical) of the attention (for social, political and financial reasons) so many groups are giving them. So, I decided to focus on the idea of regeneration. This is only the second year of the SEFOF’s life, so many of you may not yet be familiar with it. But if you are a “next gen” or are part of another generation for whom the conference has relevance, I hope you will join me there. Regeneration is relevant to us all throughout our lives. As important to the novelist as the banker, to the gardener as to the entrepreneur, to the family leader as the family trustee.
Please call if you want more information. And if you have a story about regeneration in your own life, I’d love to hear it.