by Lisa Niemeier

A family of wealth’s generations are a powerful energy source. This Generational Power Grid has the potential to recharge the family, prudently regulate its energy without suppressing it, manage risk, and bolster it against future shocks. Although many families are unaware of this power grid much less consistently tapping it potential, their women hold the keys to unlocking its potential. 


Study after study shows that women are more prudent investors, gather more data before taking action, and think beyond short-term benefits. This translates into excellent diplomatic and negotiation skills with the goal of finding enough common ground to make most family members happy, even if it means giving up a small bit of what they individually want for the greater good. 


A family’s maze of generations creates its Generational Power Grid. Families use this energy source well and thrive…or not. An easy comparison is the electrical power grid for a city. No one really notices anything has gone wrong unless there is a blackout, but almost every aspect of life is affected once a blackout occurs. 


Take the blackout of New York City on July 13 and 14, 1977. Although there had been other blackouts both before and after—in 1965 and 2003 most notably—the 1977 blackout resulted in city-wide mayhem including looting and arson. The 1965 blackout affected the entire northeastern part of the country—over 30 million people were left without power for up to 13 hours. 


The 2003 blackout saw little looting, but the city had become significantly more reliant on an even more fragile electrical system. People got stuck in elevators, computer systems were inoperable, cell phones didn’t work, and practically any business that didn’t sell flashlights, candles, and bottled water completely shut down. Only in America?


A Global, Phenomenal Impact


In the U.K. in 1972, a miner’s strike imperiled the power supply for almost two months—to the point of declaring a national state of emergency. The Great Storm of 1987 left 1.5 million people without power. London’s outage in 2003 shuttered the London Underground for over half an hour. The source? A failure in National Grid Transco, the grid for all of Britain’s power lines. Interestingly, these dates correspond to the dates of the power failures in New York. 


These crises did not happen ‘overnight,’ but by ignoring warning signs along the way. In families, these include tensions in relationships, unwillingness to update ways of doing things, and unbalanced focus on saving money. Like electrical blackouts, these elements within families are rarely recognised until they reach crisis stage. 


A family’s Generational Maze forms a web of energy that keeps the family going, recharges it when power is low, and ensures there will be enough energy for the future. 


Women are notorious for giving ongoing attention to those areas that are important for family health. Whether by providing nutritious meals all day, every day or making sure a company initiative stays on track to completion, their presence on the board, or in the role of CEO, women have the tenacity to monitor progress and effectively trouble shoot along the way. But are generations really that impactful? 


Although “pop psychologists” may have overused generational labels in the past, there are now reams of both theoretical and practical research on generational theory (GT) and its increasing importance in the world. Generational labels are thought to be uniquely American phenomena, but archetypal generational personas have as great an impact globally as social class or culture. 


GT lies at the center of research conducted by the Pew Research Center, “a non-partisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.” Marketers have been notoriously successful in targeting specific generational cohorts with the greatest buying power by appealing to their generationally-identified spending habits. Contrary to some beliefs, digital connectivity cannot negate this impact. Generational consultants are hired regularly by corporations large and small wishing to improve productivity and satisfaction in their places of work. 


If generational theory is viewed as central to scientific and academic research on the transfer of societal values, creating greater harmony and productivity in the workplace, and in monitoring societal institutions (a form of larger societal governance), why is so little attention given the impact of generations within families, particularly regarding family wealth? 


The Formation of the Generational Power Grid


Generations occur in families in two ways. One is through chronological proximity to the creation of the wealth—a commonly used tool notated by G1, G2, G3, etc. The other is from the fact that, although families are never large enough to create cohorts, each person is a member of an archetypal cohort in global society. 


Each member of a family either subscribes to or deals with the characteristics of their archetypal generational persona. This ‘sets up’ the family dynamics by bringing those characteristics to bear in interactions with family members. Family dynamics directly translate into how much money is transitioned to heirs, the way trusts are set up, a family’s philanthropic legacy, the succession or dissolution of the family business, the structure of the family’s governance system, the roles family members play, family member involvement in the family business, compensation, and myriad other aspects of family governance and wealth management. 


Thus, the family’s Generational Maze of impact houses a veritable power grid—a continual source of energy for the family. 


It is the fresh ideas of next generations that keep a family business vital and in sync with new technologies and business practices. The wisdom and experience of previous generations balance inexperience and inform next generations’ new ideas so they can flourish. Today, the wisdom from next generations as native members of the digital age and their determination to make a difference in the world can attract the support of current generations to procreate wealth in ways that previously may never have been possible. 


But it is also generational differences that often keep these ideas from being expressed or listened to with an open mind. The communication skills and emotional intelligence of women can facilitate greater dialogue between generations. 


Tapping into the Grid, Now and for the Future


In New York in 2003, it took the formation of a better governance system to eliminate the ability of a power failure in one neighborhood from affecting others. One might say the existing governance of northeastern power grids was thoroughly reviewed and effectively amended.  


Families who position women at all levels in their governance systems based on their unique Generational Maze experience myriad advantages. They create a flexible, renewable structure that invites valuable input from family members and takes it to heart. New ideas are properly vetted and/or intelligently put to work. “Circuit breakers” either prevent or better manage family crises. Next generations become apprentices as responsible and dynamic owners who know how to enjoy the gift of wealth in ways that contribute to the world as well as their own lives. 


Women function as the ‘circuit breakers’ within these grids, catching trouble points earlier and preventing family ‘power outages.’


Such a construct can render a family impermeable—able to withstand almost any challenge—and provide a renewable source for revitalization when needed

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