An image by the author from upcoming book ‘Beyond the Pale’ publishing this summer through the Air University Press.
1 June 2023

Conceptualizing the Family Business and Business Family as a Möbius Strip [Recommended Innovation Articles (and Commentary) #29]

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Original post can be found here:

Today’s article uses a Mobius strip as a metaphoric device to reconceptualize complex topics beyond the traditional Platonic solids we prefer in not just military doctrine, but in much of mainstream western society. We use lines, arrows, ends-ways-means logic, hierarchies, triangles, triads, squares, spheres, loops, cycles, and so-on to conceptualize difficult concepts. Yet are we taking complexity and forcing into over-simplification by conveying it through flat, 2D, static representations? This article is titled “Two Sides of a One-Sided Phenomenon: Conceptualizing the Family Business and Business Family as a Möbius Strip” by Reginald A. Litz. The article appeared in Family Business Review, vol. XXI, no. 3, September 2009 and is available here:

Enter the Mobius strip, and the twist in thinking about complexity. This journal article by Reginald Litz is on family business, not warfare. Yet Litz challenges the business field on reconceptualizing the complex reality of family businesses using not a circle, loop, square, or trinity, but a Mobius strip. The Mobius strip is like the infinite staircase drawing by MC Escher that hurts your head if you stare at the stairs too long (pun intended!). Instead of a cylinder shape that would be closer to existing military orientable topology (the OODA loop, for example), the Mobius strip is a non-orientable, strange sort of shape that brings into play quite different attributes. As a metaphoric device, Litz uses it to reimagine how family businesses function in complex, emergent, dynamic ways.

Graphic from the Litz article, page 220

Litz writes a compelling article where the family business (and business family) are conceptualized not in the traditional Platonic styled, flat, static sort of geometric representation we tend to see in military doctrine, but in a dynamic and mind-bending sort of manner. The Möbius strip does not obey reality the way we are accustomed to, and Litz provides wonderful graphic illustrations on how one might capture the Möbius-like qualities while still presenting what must be rendered in 2-D space as a flat gaphic. In Figure 1.2 above from Litz’s article, the family business-business-family construct is illustrated in the ever-twisting, folding manner of this non-orientable yet 3D surface. You can make your own strip by taking a strip of rectangular paper and twisting it once before connecting the ends. Try drawing on both sides of it first, and then tracing with your finger as one can continuously move along the surface. Litz explains:

Building on this depiction,a business becomes a family business and,conversely,a family becomes a business family, whenever cross-system transfers occur (Figure 1.2). For example, when a nextgenerational family member becomes a business employee, he or she helps generate profitable transactions for thebusiness,which in turn provide monies used to sustain the family. In short, the family-firm interface becomes increasingly Möbius-like whenever each system’s outputs (the family’s child and the firm’s wages) are transferred across systems tobecome theother system’s inputs, that is, the firm’s workforce and the family’s income, respectively. The family-business interface is, therefore, like two pieces of paper (analogous to the two institutions of family and firm)being overlaid (analogous to being deemed interdependent) and then twisted and connected (analogous to being co-enacted interdependently). This creates a “one-sidedness” in which the business and family become a single unified entity where each is reflected in the other. The operative word here is reflected, insofar as the distinctive difference of traveling on aMöbius strip versus a regular band is that its traveler always returns to a mirrored reality. (p. 22)

Litz provides a powerful analysis and presentation in this lengthy article, and I think that perhaps Figure 5 is a wonderful last graphic to include below. Litz frames the family-business/business-family in a Möbius strip construct beautifully, where despite the image remaining “flat”, it is understood by readers of this article in a different, dynamic and systemic light. If the graphic below does not yet resonate with you, I urge you to create an actual Möbius strip out of a long peice of rectangular paper and try it again. The “ah-ha” moment will hit, and the graphic below should suddenly become powerful and impactful in how it is presenting complexity in a manner we generally are not familiar with.

Figure from Litz article linked above, p. 225

Now, after reading this, consider- how might you use a Möbius strip with military concepts? Consider campaign planning, or multi-domain warfare, or GPC contested arctic scenarios involving ground, air, land, sea, space, and cyber? How about the emerging cycle of terrorism, violence, nation-state destabilization, international intervention, and information exchange within any counterinsurgency effort. Or, perhaps we apply the Möbius concept toward drug cartels, illicit commodity cycles, and domestic drug culture/demands/tolerance? Cocaine delivered to a Hollywood studio apartment comes from a path of death and misery, but the tolerance or even glamorization of using cocaine reinforces the entire demand signal for more. Conceptually, this is powerful stuff and the Litz article in my opinion is a brilliant source document to draw further inspiration from.

I have been working with Möbius strips over the last few years quite extensively for reconceptualizing how militaries approach complex warfare, and if you like this article, I have a dozen more that are equally fascinating. I plan on recommending them over the next few months here and offering up more commentary and links, so be sure to follow my Medium feed and subscribe to the e-mail notification option to find out first when fresh content is up.

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