What Can Curious George Teach Us About Finding Your Successor?


He was a good little monkey and always very curious.

He came down from the tree to look at the large yellow hat.


Carefully George lifted the latch – and before he knew it, ALL the pigs had burst out of the pen, grunting and squealing and trying to get away as fast as they could.*


It’s not uncommon for me to hear business owners saying that finding a successor amongst their current staff is difficult.  I’m told that members of their team lacked the passion, or the initiative, or perhaps their employees couldn’t be trusted to make the right decisions. This very well may be the case. But ask yourself this question; how well did you do during your first year in business?  Were you trained properly or did you have to learn by trial and error? How long did it take you to  be confident? How long did it take you know what you know today? It didn’t happen overnight.

Psychologists call this forgetful state the curse of knowledge.

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that leads better-informed parties to find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed parties. In plain English- once we master a skill, we forget how difficult it was to master the skill.

All you have to do is watch the impatient piano teacher work with a young student.  You can see the joy being sucked right out of the child. What a pity.

After a recent talk I gave on this subject of succession planning at NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants),  I spoke with an owner and key manager (future successor) of a music store. The owner was very excited about giving more responsibility to his successor and eventually passing the baton.

We sat down together and I could see the young lady was busting with ideas, so I turned my Curious George hat on and started asking her questions about her unique perspective. It was like I turned on the spigot to the fire hose. The ideas were rushing out faster than I could catch. Her passion was contagious.

She began to communicate very clearly what she thought were important opportunities for the store. She continued saying that pursuing these opportunities, in her opinion, would be vital to the future success of the business. A business she was 100% committed to. The business owner sat quietly with a big smile.

I explained to her the importance of writing down her ideas, and how this could help the owner, clarify his own strategic thinking. She agreed, and a few weeks later forwarded it to me. Upon reading it, I couldn’t help but share the same smile as the owner. Not because it was my place to validate her ideas. Without additional research on my end, the owner was much better qualified to opine. What was exciting for me was to see her passion for the business clearly articulated in writing, which is a key step in succession planning because:

  • 89% of business owners have no written transition plan
  • 49% of business owners have done no planning at all

It’s not surprising that only 3 out of 10 business owners are successful in selling their business. Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” For this post I would modify Mr. Franklin’s quote ever so gently- If you fail to have a written plan, you are planning to fail.

Dr. David Chinsky, the author of The Fit Leader’s Companion, A Down -to-Earth Guide for Sustainable Leadership Success, offers a powerful suggestion.

So, every quarter I made a point to visit three or four of our regional offices. I’d spend an entire day in each regional office, and I would essentially conduct an account review. Everyone in the office was invited to attend this all-day meeting where we reviewed our relationships with all of our clients. It gave everyone in the office a chance to talk a little bit about what they were working on, and it gave me an opportunity to ask questions and to share my observations.

Business owners are  busy.  Often they don’t have time to sit down with their key managers and talk, listen, train, and mentor.

Take a tip from Curious George. Curiosity fuels conversation, and  impactful conversations builds confidence. Writing it down facilitates the succession planning process.

When you are CURIOUS you find lots of interesting things to do. Walt Disney.

* Curious George is a  copyright of Houghton Mifflin Company

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