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Random Thoughts on Independence

Posted By The Practitioner, Tuesday, July 03, 2012
Updated: Monday, July 02, 2012

July 4, 2012

And Now a Word from our President   

The Practitioner enthusiastically presents our second Guest Blog entry, courtesy of FFI’s president, Judy Green--a woman instrumental to the global success of FFI and a leading voice in the family enterprise space. Take it away, Judy!

On Listening to Art, the 4th of July, and Random Thoughts on Independence
Judy Green, Ph.D. 

I want to start this brief blog with a caveat that any direct applications to the practice of family enterprise advising will have to be made by the reader!

For years I have been perplexed by art museums offering headsets to people coming to exhibits – a phenomenon I call "listening to art”. Why? Because, it essentially turns a visual experience into a mediated lecture. Seriously, aren’t we talked to enough? Don’t we already have an abundance of information on everything? Doesn’t such superfluous noise create yet another barrier between us and the "real thing”?

Not only that, it’s frustrating to be in a gallery where the pace of viewing is governed by the length of someone else’s audio clip!

These thoughts resurfaced last month, when I visited the Damien Hirst exhibit at the Tate Modern. One of the exhibits included a room with paintings of butterflies, accompanied by living and expiring butterflies. Forty-nine people were admitted to the exhibit at a time. In my group, I was struck by how at least 40 of them dutifully concentrated on the recorded words – all the while quite oblivious to the butterflies flying and dying around them.

Ironically, another installation focused on self imposed restrictions got me to thinking how these headsets were exactly that: self-imposed restrictions preventing viewers from cultivating their own sensibilities and enjoying their own reactions to the artworks. Listening instead to the droning voice of the biographer, curator or critic hidden in the headset.

With all of that said, I must confess to my own self-imposed restriction. You see, when it comes to the world of sports, I like to watch the instant replays on the big screen – the slowed down, over-analyzed versions of the games. Because then I somehow forget that I didn’t have a clue to what was happening when it actually happened!

So what does all of this have to do with the 4th of July and random thoughts on independence?

On the 4th of July Americans celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, an important document in global political history. In many ways it is also a celebration of the freedom of the human mind and human spirit. But…in and outside of the US, in some mundane and some profound ways, people like to wear headsets and "listen” to art – rather than celebrate some very core human experiences. Why?

I don’t profess to know why people do what they do, but I have a theory that wearing headsets in an art gallery is a metaphor for self-imposed restrictions that keep us from experiencing non-verbal truths and realities. In the end, I think it’s about:

  • Self-discipline: I have to concentrate and form my own opinions on things I’m not familiar with? Oh, no!
  • Humility: OK, I really don’t get what Hirst is all about and I’m not fond of dead butterflies, but that is all beside the point.
  • Respect: Artists usually are hoping for unmediated aesthetic experience – sorry, no third parties in headsets!

So there you have it, and despite the opening caveat, maybe self-discipline, humility and respect do have some relationship to the practice of family enterprise professionals! You decide.

In any case, if this blog sets off fireworks in your brains (or eyes, ears or mouth), please let us know! Controversy is at the heart of the 4th of July!

About the Contributor: 

Judy Green is president of the Family Firm Institute. A frequent commentator in the field of family-owned business, Judy is the author of numerous articles and was the technical editor of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Successful Family Business. Her article "Four Aesthetic Models for Relevant Research in the Field of Family Enterprise” appears in Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise. Judy is a member of the Advisory Council for the International Family Enterprise Research Academy (IFERA). In 2008, she received the Barbara Hollander Award from FFI. Judy holds a Ph.D. in aesthetics and education from Marquette University as well as a CSS certificate from Harvard University. Judy can reached at

Wow. It’s The Practitioner again. Color me impressed! I hope you all feel the same way I do: flush with compelling, thought provoking ideas to contemplate moving forward.

And speaking of moving forward: The Practitioner is grateful for the interest you’ve shown in submitting Guest Blog entries of your own. But remember, we’re also looking for guest companion articles, so if you have an article or ideas for an article that you would like to contribute, don’t be shy and speak up! We’d love to have your contribution, and as always, we appreciate your readership.

Stay tuned next week for an article by author John Geddes entitled "Succession Planning in the Palliative Care Unit.”

Yours in Practice, 

The Practitioner

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