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Shaping Family Legacies

Photographs capture events, landscapes, and individuals. Each photograph is a framed picture composed by the photographer, they freeze time, emotions, and narratives. Here we are taking a look at the elasticity of family legacies and the gravity of family narratives. How would you like to be remembered?

Grasping the Family Essence

Multigenerational family legacies and family stories are usually captured by historians and archivists, who meticulously unearth the various historical aspects, even long-hidden truths, about family members, branches. Some even cover business milestones, and make historical connection points that marvel and bring key insights to the commissioning business families.

However, their capacities and capabilities in creating a well-rounded picture of the family essence are very much limited on many levels. Firstly, they do not bring in the layered business, geopolitical, emotional, intellectual, social, cultural, imaginative, inspirational, aspirational, talent-related, values and purpose-based aspects. Neither can they fuse all these strongly intertwined facets and nor do they propose to form key narratives that are critical to anchor families and their legacies. Most importantly, they can’t bring the family together around a recollection of catalogued books and historic data and keep them engaged for long.

In addition, they don’t have the ability to frame and continuously reframe the family narratives with the change of time due to lack of family insights, as usually they work alone with limited access to, let alone co-creating with the commissioner family. Hence, they mostly rely on the data that they discover and uncover.

They might even unwillingly add their own bias and assumptions to the findings before these are presented to the family. This means, historical and archives are mostly only a small fraction of what makes the family fabric, and having these archives do not, by any means, signify that the family would understand, form a shared meaning around, and thoroughly engage with their historical legacy depiction.

Managing Inconveniences & Conveniences

Addressing all these missing links and the need to understand the complex nature of business family legacies are particularly timely and relevant. As photographs can be coloured, enhanced with filters, and brought back to life with innovative technological tools that all add to and bring out further elements of truths from these pictures, business families also go through and are placed under different new innovative microscopic and other lenses. These may direct attention to not yet explored and surprising territories and may hold reputational risks, and asymmetric threats to the families and their communities, and beyond.

These territories, depending on the angle the light is shining on them, can bring excitement and amusement or even a potential crisis that needs to be mitigated.

Associations, business practices, family characters that were accepted in the past might have been praised or hidden (intentionally or not), may now cause serious headaches to families. At the same time, hidden characters or long-forgotten tales, centennial family best practices may take new centre-stage as they receive a sometimes even unexpected positive light, and are perceived and surrounded by different rewarding narratives. Assumptions and new labelling practices may either come handy or bring frights to families.

Many sustainability-driven family business best practices that have been followed for decades or centuries are now taught as case studies at prestigious universities, and followed by not only business family peers, and their communities, but also by the corporate world.

Diversity, educational, talent-based, and other types of inclusivity-related long-established activities by business families are also further accentuated and celebrated, and taken as examples for other families, and beyond.

The Shaping of Narratives

In fact, as more female family members take up and thrive in substantial roles in the family or in one of their entities as family principals, some family members even begin to wonder how their family stories and key narratives could be different had any of their female family members been in the driving or narrating seat in the past, or at least would have received more representation or influence in shaping them during the course of their family history.

The Elasticity of Family Legacies

We are experiencing shifts in perceptions, evaluations, expectations, and, consequently, in the narratives that families need to be proactively driving to best represent their own family, employees, business and different other entities, and their wider communities.

Due to all the aforementioned narrative shifts, as well as the invaluable legacy marks that the next generations will be adding to the family legacy, it’s critical that business families hold a nature of plasticity and elasticity to their legacy. Especially, as the next generation already have different sets of aspirations and expectations about their roles, responsibilities, the roles the family should play in their life, and in the lives of their communities.

Family legacies should be able to withstand pressure and portray resilience as the new threads are pulled out or reveal themselves in various shapes and weight of importance. These continuously shaping legacy features should also be reinforced and highlighted to family members, as well as to their communities, as well as the family’s best practices on how to handle them efficiently and in a meaningful way.

Therefore, archives, libraries presented by historians and archivist do serve as a recollection of historical facts and portraits, however, they do not cover the legacy curation and narration aspects in their entirety at all.

Legacies need to be first understood, interpreted, and continuously re-interpreted, and have a sense of fluidity and ideally also a springy character to them too, to be able to promptly capture, absorb, and reflect the zeitgeist and signal the future for generations to come.

About the Author - Zita Nikoletta Verbényi is the Founder and Legacy Aesthete at The Legacy Atelier, and the 1st PhD Candidate in Family Legacies.


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