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Linearity and Liminality

Photo by Matt Nelson on Unsplash

Human brains are innately wired to appreciate and search for stories.  From the movies we watch to the books we read, narrative structures deeply resonate with how we interact with the world.  The wonderful part of stories is that they are linear following a simple structure of if/then.

And yet, much of life is non-linear, and we should not be surprised by the consternation this can cause.  In the family office world, one common non-linearity highlighted are paradoxes.  A paradox is a state of affairs when two poles (or polarities like a battery) that seem to be mutually exclusive, are true at the same time.  Ex – Maintain tradition and seek innovation.

But, a lot of my thinking and reading recently has been around a second non-linearity – namely something known as liminality.  Liminal is a slightly obscure but helpful word to describe transitional stages and the boundary/threshold between two things.  Liminal spaces are fraught with risk, but at the same time full of opportunity.  It has been suggested by professor and ethicist Christine Pohl that the way we approach work in liminal spaces is through the practice of hospitality.  Or as restauranteur Danny Meyer describes it, “hospitality exists when you believe that the person on the other side of the transaction is on your side.”

Families of wealth are full of liminal spaces – family/business, current gen/rising gen, client/advisor, liquidity events, etc.  As such, we must be on guard to manage the appeal of bringing straight forward linear thinking into circumstances that are anything but that.

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