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A Faster Way to Answer Family Business Questions?

John Krubski's approach, albeit unusual, can produce meaningful solutions.

John Krubski, Founding Director of Insights LLC, has a knack for asking questions that are decidedly disruptive, intentionally irritating and profoundly productive. The approach obviously works because his clients include American Express, DreamWorks, The Guardian Life Insurance Company, General Motors, as well as some of the most famous family businesses.

In a moment we’ll get to how this can impact the families you advise, but first, what is Krubski’s secret sauce?


The Secret Sauce

At its simplest, Krubski mirrors Socrates’ method from 2400 years ago. Krubski asks questions that lead to fresh and useful ways of thinking about things. He prefers to do this in group settings in which all those who are directly affected get to participate.

He’s seen that when groups get together and are challenged with penetrating questions and when they have the opportunity to come up with solutions in a structured setting, insights can rise to genius level.


How It Works

A day with Krubski can provide answers to some of the most serious, deep-seated questions an organization or a family can ask such as, “What is our brand?” or “What is our family’s purpose?”

He does this in a one-day session, and he gives a guarantee: “At the end of the day you’ll have a solution and an action plan. If I don’t deliver, you don’t pay.”

For a sample of how this could work for the family businesses you work with, let’s take a look at a family business that hired him to help figure out the “Who We Are” question.

When planning for the day, the family patriarch asked Krubski, “Whom do we include?”

“Everyone who could ultimately screw things up,” Krubski answered.

“But there are 70 people who have a huge stake in it, and we have huge disagreements!”

“Then I guess we need to find a bigger room,” Krubski said.

When the meeting began, a family member explained why the family was special. “We always hire the best people, and we have the best products in our category!

Sounds like a good, positive start, right?

But then Krubski asked a couple of his trademark makes-you-think questions: “Do your competitors intentionally hire the worst people? And somehow you get all the good ones there are? And if yours are really the best products in your category, why are you #3 in market share?”

Asking these kinds of questions can cut through hours of posturing. Taking Krubski’s approach can shorten the time it takes to get to what’s meaningful.

Questions aren’t the only tool he recommends. His method involves a plan for taking peoples’ thinking from beyond brainstorming to actionable insights.  To do that requires greater structure than you’d find in the usual brainstorming session.


The Seven, Three, One Template

The structure he recommends is powerful because it’s simple. He gets the group to list the seven most significant facts to be considered. Examples for a family business might be: “We have more debt than ever before,” or “Half the fourth generation isn’t showing up at family get-togethers.”

If there are more than seven significant facts, the group has to narrow it down to the seven that matter most. This means an exercise in intensely disciplined thinking. In Krubski’s experience, whether there are five people or 70 involved, they’re fully engaged, and you won’t find any of them checking their iPhones.

Once the seven significant facts are agreed on, Krubski guides the group in developing three actionable propositions. “The propositions must be different yet complementary,” he points out.

In the case of a family that’s deciding on their purpose, the propositions might include: “We’re a contentious lot,” and “Deep down, we all love each other,” and “We each know that we would be better if we cooperated more.”

From there, Krubski leads them into the Central operating principle (COP). Each organization typically comes up with its unique COP. In the case of the hypothetical family we’ve been looking at, the COP might be, “The most important thing is, we want to stay together both as a family and as a family business.”

Once the family has its own unique COP, it’s ready to advance to an action plan. Krubski guides the participants in identifying three actionable strategies. From there, the group outlines seven “executions.”

Using Socratic questions and a structured way of arriving at answers, Krubski’s approach enables organizations to take advantage of something Frank Perdue used to say all the time: “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

It’s the perfect antidote to doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome. Even without his guarantee, your clients may discover that asking disruptive questions and then going through Krubski’s ladder of insights could make a huge difference in their joint lives.

For more information on Krubski’s approach, contact him at: [email protected]

Mitzi Perdue is a business owner, professional public speaker and author of the book, HOW TO MAKE YOUR FAMILY BUSINESS LAST. Contact her at [email protected] or call her at 410 860-4444.

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