Pass the Chocolate, I’m out of Cash: How the Brain Deals with Fairness

I find money and food to be similar in many ways.  It seems to be difficult for many people to gain control over either and it seems that both topics can become emotionally charged, quickly.

Researchers have studied both, finding that the brain can respond similarly to both money and food behaviors. Surprised? Me neither. But I do find it interesting what the neurosciences have discovered. Let me share a little of that with you.

The brain, you should know, responds to fairness. One study asked their participants if they would agree to someone else’s division of money. If they declined, neither party would receive anything. Offers were made, each amounting to receiving $5 but from different totals. Some were offered $5 out of $10 while others were offered $5 from $20+. And here comes the interesting part: the brain’s reward circuitry was activated only for “fair offers.” In this case receiving $5 out f $10 was registered in the brain as being fairer than receiving $5 out of $23.

This part of the brain, one that reacts to “being fairly treated” is the same part of the brain responding to certain cravings, like for chocolate. Why? It seems to that the brain area that is activated in receiving a fair offer is the same area that is activated when we eat craved foods, like chocolate.

For those who are interested, the regions in the brain that respond to fairness are  the ventral striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

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The Hero’s Story is Significant

 

Over the holidays, I attended the annual Seattle Business Magazine’s Family Business Awards Dinner. It was a fantastic event, honoring family businesses who deserve recognition in categories such as: Best Practices, Community Involvement and Family Business of the Year.

During the dinner, Chris Schiller, Managing Director of Cascadia Capital, gave a compelling introduction to the Family Business of the Year award.

I would like to quote Chris, as I thought his words were applicable to those of us who ork in guiding and consulting with family businesses and/or their families.

Chris began his talk by saying: “In thinking about tonight’s wonderful celebration of family business, it struck me that the eminent mythologist, writer and lecturer, Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, is much like the story of family business. All of the family businesses in this room have followed a similar path to Joseph Campbell’s hero, with you or one of your family taking the risk to start a company, then embarking on the journey of building your business, meeting tremendous challenges and personal struggles on the journey, finding various mentors (maybe including the family business advisors in this room) to help you overcome those challenges, and then crossing over into a period of transformation that leads to your ultimate success as a business and a family.

For all of you family businesses in this room, you likely have not arrived yet… rather your story continues to grow with your current generation and the next generation coming up. Often the journey is more important than the destination, as they say.

As investment bankers, my Cascadia colleagues and I live in a world of left brain… financial statements, revenue and EBITDA, numbers. Often the value of a business is ascribed largely to these numbers. However, what I have learned and what drives us, rather, is the stories of our family business clients. We are able to exercise our right brain to tell our client’s story to the market in a way that we find the optimal partner that embraces that story, and thereby sees value that others do not see in just the numbers. These stories are really what drives our passion for working with family business. “

These words were inspiring for me. Thank you, Chris, for speaking them and then letting me share them here. The story of the business is so important for families who continue their businesses across generations.

Key Strategies to Keep Money Intact Across Generations

When the subject of passing money to the next generation is broached, a question that is often asked is: “What are you going to do with the money?” Although this is a great question, I think there is a farther-reaching question to ask as well: “How is the recipient being prepared to receive their inheritance?” What make this question so compelling? Because it redirects the subject from being about the money to being about preparing the inheritors. And this is so important yet often omitted.

There is a common phenomenon taking place around the world. This phenomenon even has a phrase associated with it. It has to do with the common consequence to inherited money: inherited wealth does not tend to survive beyond 3 or 4 generations. Independent studies have found that 70% of families lose their wealth by the end of the second generation while 90% of families lose their wealth by the end of the third generation. The common phrase that accompanies this horrible unintended consequence is: in the U.S., shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations; in China, rice paddies to rice paddies in 3 generations; in Italy, barn stall to stars to barn stalls in 3 generations. Although this may be a common consequence to wealth, thankfully, today, this common phenomenon is being addressed head on. Families are looking to change the statistical probability to their accumulated wealth.

Let’s look at two strategies families are using to keep their wealth intact as it moves across the generations.

The first strategy is the passing down of the story, the one that describes how challenges ere overcome, how successes were dealt with, and what it meant for the creators of the wealth to build that which they can pass on. This is important for a family to have because each generation is farther removed from the wealth and having the story reminds them of their roots and of the principles it took to accumulate the wealth future generations have become accustomed to having. When succeeding generations understand what it took to build the wealth in an experiential rather than in a didactic fashion, there is a much greater chance for financial stewardship across generations.

The second strategy is to pierce the veil of sheltered silence, that silence protecting the status quo and instead, talk about the purpose of the money and supporting money stewardship in the family. Teaching money skills, like the 5 S.I.D.E.S. (Save, Invest, Donate, Earn and Spend)© of Money, help family members feel more confident with money conversations. Developing family philanthropic initiatives give families a formal method to talk about how their money impacts their community. Holding Money Nights, where one topic about money is discussed without judgment or interruption, develops deeper trust and more engaging conversations around money.

Find tools to use with your family so that the money you accumulate can stay intact across generations.

How do you view money as a family? Let me know your thoughts.