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Run Your Family Like a Business - WSJ.com
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THE SATURDAY ESSAY
Updated February 10, 2013, 4:26 a.m. ET
A new generation of parents is taking solutions from the workplace and transferring them to the home. From accountability checklists to branding sessions, the result is a bold new blueprint for happy families.
By BRUCE F EILER
Erin Patrice O'Brien for The Wall Street Journal
MISSION STATEMENT | At the center of the Kidder family's 'belief board' is a pledge 'to contribute our unique, Godgiven gifts' to improve 'the lives of others and the world.' It also lists a dozen core values, from faith to knowledge.
At 7 p.m. on a Sunday in Hidden Springs, Idaho, the six members of the Starr family were sitting down to the highlight of their week: the family meeting. The Starrs are a typical American family, with their share of everyday family issues. David is a software engineer; his wife, Eleanor, takes care of their four children, ages 10 to 15. One of the children has Asperger syndrome, another ADHD; one tutors math on the near side of town; one practices lacrosse on the far side. "We were living in complete chaos," Eleanor said. Like many parents, the Starrs were trapped between the smoothrunning household they aspired to have and the exhausting, earsplitting one they actually lived
lowered stress and made everyone much happier to be part of the family team. The past few years have seen a rapid erosion of the wall that once divided work and family. "The Secrets of Happy Families. The result is a bold new blueprint for happy families. they looked to David's workplace. "I was trying the whole 'love them and everything will work out' philosophy. As David explained. Companies followed the "waterfall model. hold daily progress sessions and weekly reviews. No wonder psychologist Salvador Minuchin said that the most important characteristic of families is being "rapidly adaptable. says Bruce Feiler. Instead of consulting relatives or friends. weekly family meetings with our then5 yearold twin daughters quickly became the centerpiece around which we organized our family. The meetings transformed our relationships with our kids—and each other. from timeshifting meals to more efficient conflict resolution." in which online. New technologies allow busy employees to check in with one another during "family time" and allow busy parents to interact with their kids during "work time. 1 concern.' I finally said. just as they stop needing us to give them a Bruce Feiler will provide answers on Monday. They turned to a cuttingedge program called agile development that has rapidly spread from manufacturers in Japan to startups in Silicon Valley. 'For the love of God. And they took up less than 20 The modern workplace has developed lots of tools for promoting cooperation and teamwork. Surveys show that both parents and children list stress as their No. they've rarely exchanged ideas.html#printMode 2/6 . "but it wasn't working." with WSJ Weekend Review editor Gary Rosen. selfhelp gurus and other "family experts.wsj. breakthrough ideas have emerged to make teams run more smoothly. He discusses his new book.com in. The Saturday Essay America's Baby Bust (2/2/13) Bill Gates: My Plan to Fix The World's Biggest Problems (01/26/13) The Guerrilla Myth (1/19/13) In Defense of the CEO (1/12/13) Have We Lost the War on Drugs? (1/05/13) The Future of Medicine Is Now (12/29/12) The End of the Map (12/22/12) minutes a week. 'I can't take this any more. improved productivity. Parents hoping to improve their families have been stuck with stale techniques from shrinks. "Having weekly family meetings increased communication. tantrums." But as close as the two worlds have grown. A new generation of parents is now taking solutions from the workplace and transferring them home. From accountability checklists to family branding sessions. they need our help dealing with online hazing." So has anyone figured out how? More In 1983. they start throwing like a business? Pose your questions in the comments. and we can use them at home too. bath." When my wife and I adopted the agile blueprint in our own home.' " What the Starrs did next was surprising. Just as kids stop teething. or tweet them using #happyfamilies." she said. families are finally reaping the benefits of decades of groundbreaking research into group dynamics.com/article/SB10001424127887323452204578288192043905634. in workplaces across America. It's a system of group dynamics in which workers are organized into small teams. A chief source of that stress is Want to know more about running your family change." Meanwhile.WSJ. Jeff Sutherland was a technologist in New England when he began noticing how dysfunctional software development was.2/11/13 Run Your Family Like a Business .
The key to the meetings is to let the kids pick their own rewards and punishments. "If I've learned anything by starting four companies. we cut parental screaming in half. Inevitably. The Starrs. loaded the dishwasher and fed the dog. Finally. she said. for instance. Ours girls turn out to be little Stalins." online. a Copycat Craze Are Polar Bears Really Disappearing? Go Directly to Success: Monopoly's Lessons But if agile is good at making families more adaptable. I told David. But the real breakthrough was the family meeting. fans of agile started applying the techniques to their families. Most projects failed. Parents often create a few overarching rules and stick to them. "it's that young companies typically fail because you have a charismatic leader with a bunch of beliefs. David Kidder is a serial entrepreneur.' But I was wrong. When I protested that my own girls would never be so compliant. created a morning checklist of chores. More from Review In Chinese Buildings. The agile family philosophy embraces the everchanging nature of families today and builds in a system to adapt to each new phase. empower the children. build in flexibility. set weekly goals and evaluate their own work become more internally driven and have greater selfcontrol." Mr. what have we learned? The Business of Happy Families First. Our instinct as parents is to build ourselves up. parents aren't invincible. so we often have to dial them back. a simple idea from the business world offers parents a clear path.WSJ. We can't. all adapted from agile: 1) What went well in our family this week? 2) What didn't go well? 3) What will we agree to work on this week? Everyone offers answers. Children who plan their own time. We even let the kids criticize us. Blogs popped up. On the morning I visited. agile development is used in 100 countries and is transforming management suites. This assumes we can anticipate every problem. then we vote on two problem areas to focus on. 'Leave your work out of my kitchen. Three years later. public boards on which people mark their progress. an author and the father of three boys. Eleanor drank coffee and inquired about the day. Following the lead of the Starrs and others." The week that my wife and I introduced our own morning checklist.html#printMode 3/6 .com executives issued ambitious orders that their harried programmers struggled to meet.com/article/SB10001424127887323452204578288192043905634. especially with their children. while the kids fixed lunch. we ask three questions. Significant brain research reinforces this strategy. Sutherland set out to design a more agile system.2/11/13 Run Your Family Like a Business . Sutherland told me. but those beliefs don't translate to the rest of their company. Second. Today." he told me. Mr. Teams use "information radiators"—large. which each child is responsible for ticking off. what about the flip side: teaching children core values? Here again. manuals were published. A central plank is accountability. Effective teams aren't dominated by a single leader. all members contribute. in which ideas would not just flow down from the top but also percolate up from the bottom. "That's what I thought.wsj. but abundant research shows that this type of topdown leadership is not the Stephen Webster best model. "I began to see a lot of people using agile at home.
He is the managing partner of BDT Capital Partners. Jim Collins. I've advised startups over the years. Finally we settled on a list of 10 core affirmations." The same applies to families. children learn those habits as well. Studies show that parents do a lame job of talking to their kids about money. ("We are travelers not tourists. he said. If kids see their parents worrying about money or being materialistic. While you need to keep introducing new ideas. we like solutions. His advice: 1) Show them the money.wsj. 'Do you know how a stock works?' " he told me. Families depend too much on osmosis. a former Oracle executive and the founder of FamZoo. he told me. When one of our daughters got into a spat with a classmate." Mr. A new crop of entrepreneurial parents is trying to revolutionize how families handle money. Godgiven gifts to have an extraordinarily positive impact on the lives of others and the world." says that great organizations "preserve the core and stimulate progress. It also creates a touchstone. The family mission statement is a clear way to articulate what your family does right. during which we voted on a list of values. "It's about understanding the concept of constraints. They offer pots for saving.2/11/13 Run Your Family Like a Business .com/article/SB10001424127887323452204578288192043905634." It then lists a dozen core values. The Kidder belief board has a onesentence manifesto. and one reason they're so innovative is they're constrained. I realized that I wasn't passing them on to my kids. with everything from the purpose of the organization to how to run meetings. you also need to identify the bedrock principles you believe in. She didn't want to burden them with the truth." Family financial adviser Byron Trott agrees. If they see their parents being responsible. "I told one of the richest women in America recently that she had to talk openly with her children. "Why not create a similar playbook for my family?" he wondered. Mr. Next we answered questions about what we liked most about our family. he said. Bill Dwight. spending and giving away. but that doesn't mean we're not imparting our values. One way to do that. Websites like Tykoon and FamZoo aim to bring 21stcentury tools to the 19thcentury invention of allowance.") What are the benefits of such a statement? A central finding of recent research is that parents should spend less time worrying about what they do wrong and more time focusing on what they do right. Suddenly we had a way into the conversation. which counsels many wealthy families. I grew up in a family business. Warren Buffett called him "the only banker I trust. is to do what other organizations do: create a mission statement. a pajama party with our daughters. we asked her which of our core values seemed to apply. In effect." online.com Mr. But while those skills have proven valuable to me. from faith to knowledge. Collins coached my family through creating a mission statement of our own. file and take payments.html#printMode 4/6 . we used contemporary branding techniques to identify what is most important to us. "We bring people together?" she said. I drove with my grandfather to a one story office building where I learned to type. they develop similar feelings. said that the goal is to promote conversations. Every Saturday morning. but burdening them with ignorance is really much worse. the author of "Good to Great." "We don't like dilemmas. Kidder created a company playbook. "Financial literacy is not.WSJ. "The purpose of our lives is to contribute our unique. along with artificially high interest rates. Trott told me that the country's top business minds often fail at the simplest tasks with their children. We started with the familial equivalent of a corporate retreat.
A key finding of positive psychology is that happiness depends in large measure on relationships. we have more knowledge than ever before to help make that work easier. if not more.com 2) Take off the training wheels. The task for parents is to find time to implement it. Though there is a lot of vagueness about kids and money." he said. While in the workplace. Finally. talk later. Some counterintuitive tips: First. Conflict resolution didn't exist as a field when Dr. "Warren thinks I'm successful because I had a lawn mowing business. "It's better to bike into the ditch with a $6 allowance. uses a simplified version of the Harvard blueprint for resolving conflict with his three daughters.000 salary or a $6 million inheritance. you work on that." he said. are better at making decisions than individuals. Your family requires just as much work. before anyone has spoken. much of it from America's leading organizations. Ury. have them open a lemonade stand. Weiss told me. you work on those." All families have conflict. a clothing store.wsj. have as many people in the discussion as possible. Your have your garden." Mr. cofounder of Harvard's Program on Negotiation and coauthor of "Getting to Yes." he said. vote first. Studies of corporate boards and federal judges concur. "I believe these strategies may be better suited for a family than a workplace. "But what if they drive into the ditch?" I said. As Harvard online. "than a $60. he coaches his daughters to step away." told me that since families are no longer topdown." Today. Groups with more women are more sensitive to others and reach compromise more quickly.WSJ. calm down and then return with alternative solutions. those who speak first will have too much influence. An executive at Google tipped me off to a 2010 study from researchers at Carnegie Mellon and MIT that showed that groups with a higher proportion of females make more effective decision. a protégé of Mr. William Ury. but a generation of scholars has introduced new techniques to resolve showdowns. "at home. the research is clear that parttime jobs are great for kids. Our families are our primary relationships. Trott said. "The most successful adults I know were all involved in business at a young age. yet we spend almost no time trying to improve them. from nucleararms pacts to general strikes. We adopted a few in our family to address questions like whether my mom should buy longterm health insurance and where to hold our family reunion. Otherwise. especially if they include nonexperts. As the psychologist Daniel Kahneman points out in "Thinking Fast and Slow. As Eleanor Starr told me in Idaho. "Ours is the first generation where continuous negotiation is the norm. you can't. your hobbies. new rules have to be brokered all the time. "You have your job.html#printMode 5/6 . You'll end up getting divorced or becoming estranged from your kids. especially extended families. The ones who handle it smarter are more likely to succeed. "you can avoid conflict. When fights erupt." 3) Put them to work.2/11/13 Run Your Family Like a Business . Trott chided me for not allowing my children to make mistakes with their money." Mr. These techniques also turn out to help when deciding who gets to wear the fuzzy socks this week.com/article/SB10001424127887323452204578288192043905634. Spock reigned." Other problemsolving techniques honed in companies can also help families. Mr. Josh Weiss." you'll reach a smarter conclusion if everyone expresses their views at the outset. The conventional wisdom is wrong: Too few cooks spoil the broth. Abundant research has shown that groups. If you really want your daughters to understand money. Second. have two women present.
" A version of this article appeared February 9. Rethink Family Dinner." which will be published on Feb. edition of The Wall Street Journal. noncommercial use only.html#printMode 6/6 .com psychologist Tal BenShahar wrote in his book "Happier": "There is one easy step to unhappiness—doing nothing. and Much More.2/11/13 Run Your Family Like a Business . Fight Smarter. For nonpersonal use or to order multiple copies. 2013. What's the secret to a happy family? Try. Inc. with the headline: FamilyInc.com online. His previous books include "The Council of Dads" and "Walking the Bible." The opposite also holds: The easiest path to happiness is to do something.djreprints. on page C1 in the U. this may be the most enduring lesson of all. Distribution and use of this material are governed by our Subscriber Agreement and by copyright law.S.com/article/SB10001424127887323452204578288192043905634. 19. —This essay is adapted from Mr. In the end.WSJ.. Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company. "The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings. All Rights Reserved This copy is for your personal. please contact Dow Jones Reprints at 18008430008 or visit www.wsj. Feiler's book. Go Out and Play.
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