Our work as advisors to family and owner-led businesses is inherently interdisciplinary in nature. At CFAR, we often call upon best practices in business, strategy, family dynamics, anthropology, organizational design, and more. At this year’s Family Firm Institute conference in New York City, we decided to take the topic of interdisciplinary thinking a step further. Because the conference was taking place in the arts and cultural capital of the country, we wondered, “What could a room of advisors learn from a group of artists, and vice-versa?”
In collaboration with our friends at Geller, a wealth management firm, we formed a panel of both consultants and theater practitioners. Together in conversation at the Shed, we found several similarities between our practices and even some Tony Award-winning wisdom.
Know Which Hat You Are Wearing at Any Given Moment
Paul L. Coffey, an actor, writer, and director, spoke about the challenge of wearing “many hats” at once. This is the nature of his work with Fiasco Theater Company, where he is often acting and directing a play simultaneously. In business, one might be a C-suite leader, a board member, and a supervisor. Making an explicit statement about the role you assume in a given moment is helpful for everyone. Not only is knowing which mode you are in important for your own work, but overtly stating it helps those you’re working with as well.
Paul also shared that just because he is the director doesn’t mean he always has the best ideas. “We were doing a production of Into the Woods and trying to figure out how the wolf could eat Little Red Riding Hood onstage. We didn’t know how to do it, so we invited everyone in the room (actors, stage managers, designers, etc.) to suggest ideas to try. We dedicated a couple of hours just to trying things out. The best idea won. It didn’t matter who it came from.”
Borrow from Improv
One of the family business consultants in the audience expressed frustration with the concept of preparedness. “I often facilitate meetings with my clients that I plan and plan for weeks. But then, in the moment, I have to throw the plan out the window because something new or unexpected happens. It’s frustrating, and I lose momentum.” Tiffani Gavin, who works in new play development, discussed having to be improvisational in her work and adopt a “yes and” mindset. “Sometimes when I’m working with artists or in a business meeting, I have to keep the flow going by saying ‘yes and’ as opposed to ‘yes but.’ That helps us all be more creative together. One idea leads to another and to another and so on.”
As advisors, we often give and receive feedback from our clients and colleagues. (At CFAR, we frequently refer to Thanks for the Feedback both internally and externally.) Christine Scarfuto is a dramaturg who works closely with playwrights as they write and develop new plays and musicals. In her work, feedback is vital, and she often utilizes Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Method. Christine explained, “We tend to think of feedback as good or bad, and that’s not a helpful binary in my work. Making art is often deeply personal for the artist, and when we get into ‘I like’ or ‘I don’t like,’ it’s often subjective feedback that isn’t helpful. We want to get into a deeper, more nuanced conversation.” She explained that she shares what she calls “glimmers” with writers—specific moments in the play or musical that she finds evocative or captivating. We are incorporating the idea of Glimmers; it helps keep people tied to the Why of what they are doing and offers hope and opportunity to continue to pursue that why.
We’re in the Business of Relationships
Theater, like consulting, is driven by relationships. Joey Parnes, a Tony-Award-winning Broadway producer, explained that he views about half of his job as building relationships. “When I have a show running, I try to go to the theater weekly and talk to everyone‚ actors, ushers, stagehands, dressers, etc. Everyone. And I want to talk to them about anything that’s not about our work. We talk about sports, about our kids, about New York City. I do that because I value the people I work with, but it’s also because when there’s a challenge that we have to address, it’s helpful to have rapport and connection already established with the people involved.” In our work with families, we know we are working with whole people, not just a “G2” or a “G3.” If we want to help people move forward, it’s important to deeply understand what motivates them, what they’re interested in, etc.
This interdisciplinary discussion is one of the many ways CFAR ensures our thinking and approach are always evolving. We enjoy being curious and finding insight and ideas from areas outside our normal community. Lessons learned at this event will be showing up in our work and shared with our clients.