Hawthorn: Reflections

A periodic blog on topics that help prepare wealth for families and families for wealth.

January 2021

What's a Financial Creative?

Many families have creatives in their midst but don’t recognize them because they’re not practicing culturally recognized arts. This month’s blog is for those creatives who would like to be better able to contribute to the financial issues of the family—but in their language.

By: Joline Godfrey, CEO, The Unexpected Table, Author of "Raising Financially Fit Kids"

What is a financial creative?

I’m one. A social worker by training, I grew up in a business family and spent my early years navigating the space between awareness of the “bottom line” and a growing fascination with the non-financial side of the business. Why did employees, managers, and customers—and my family-- behave as they did?  Why was my grandfather so effective with customers though my grandmother--lovely to me, but not so customer friendly--was so much better running the actual finances of the business?

Encouraged to study psychology (my brother of course would take over the business), I launched into a career in social work and in graduate school discovered scholars working at the intersection of work and life. This fusion made sense to me; not one or the other, but both. While there I learned of a job at the Polaroid Corporation, just over the river in Cambridge, and landed in a role serving the social/emotional needs of employees at all levels of the organization. I remember being very excited about that job. After working in a state hospital, then with violent adolescents, and later with residents of day treatment centers, I was ready for what I anticipated to be a more ‘normal’ client base.

But I had not been in my job for more than a few weeks when one day I received a call from a supervisor on one of the camera assembly lines. One of his employees was “acting funny.” Would I come talk to him—right then? Arriving a few minutes later I found a young man in a full-blown psychotic episode: he was “acting funny” for sure. That was my real awakening to the idea that psychological issues show up everywhere.

They may be dressed better and be trimmed in a job title, but emotional distress is out and about in the world and I had found my life’s work: I would focus on that intersection of one’s inner life and outer work.

And then another “intersection” caught my attention. Polaroid was one of the first companies to speak about the intersection of art and science. The inventor/founder of the company, Edwin Land, had a strong partnership with the artist/photographer Ansel Adams. The impact of that relationship on company culture was profound—and the permission it gave a young social worker to mix and match skills from social work training, life growing up in a family business, and a growing interest in anthropology as it applied to the work place, was profound.

Through much of my life I had a hard time ‘staying in my lane.’ I befuddled professors and grad school classmates because I didn’t ‘fit into” traditional social workers roles.  I was a “good girl” who had a hard time with rules. But inside Polaroid I was mentored by one of Land’s top officers, a University of Chicago grad who had majored in English and put himself through college playing high stakes poker. Working inside the lines was not his forte and he was well known as Land’s ‘gadfly.’ He was a disrupter who constantly encouraged me to ‘think out of the box.’ While much of my life had been preparing to choose a profession, this guy helped me see I could make one up. I share all of this to explain how lucky I was. I was encouraged to embrace my inner creative which had for a long, long time been labeled as disruptive, unfocused; interesting but not disciplined.

Polaroid was the source of my first venture capital—allowing me to start a company--years before most women (and maybe ANY social workers) had that kind of support. For the first time in my life I was not punished for my inner creative but encouraged.

Typically, when we think about creatives, artists, actors, writers, musicians, dancers, and maybe filmmakers come to mind. Happily, HGTV and the Food Network have expanded our thinking about what qualifies a creative. But creatives are a much bigger category. Many families have creatives in their midst but don’t recognize them because they’re not practicing culturally recognized arts. The kid who wants to code; the one obsessed with collecting sneaks or Legos may just seem like a kid obsessed, not a “creative” in the sense we think of that label. Creatives—especially financial creatives—may be outliers; deeply uninterested in how the family has made or sustains wealth, but with lots of ideas for how to put it to work. They may feel shame--about the wealth itself, or their ability understand how to put it to work. In a family of financial wizards, they may feel acutely out of place.

When the family CFO presents the year’s earnings, financial creatives may focus on their text messages or fail to get to the meeting at all. This aspect of family life may feel alienating. In families where financial fluency is highly regarded the financial creative may feel—and be treated—as an outsider.

Two experiences helped me identify the financial creative persona. The first was my own, described above. This was a revelation: I was NOT disinterested in the financial side of business—it had just never been presented in any meaningful way that made it relevant. Accumulation for its own sake simply escaped me. But as soon as I understood that profits from my business offered new ways to impact social change, I was hooked. Not only was financial fluency relevant to me, I wanted to make sure whole generations understood the extent to which this was vital! Fun! Meaningful.

The second experience was the result of a hunch I had years later when I offered a program called “Learning Labs for Financial Creatives. The idea was to just put the phrase out there and find out if people recognized themselves. The first invitation included these clues:

If you are…

  • creative, but slow to open the financial reports your advisors send out;
  • smart, but unengaged by most financial presentations; 
  • a leader, but not ready to critique your family’s financial strategies;
  • entrepreneurial, but not practiced in how to write or critique a business plan;
  • ready to flex your philanthropic muscle, but not leveraging your economic power
  • fearless, but uneasy in conversations about assets and liabilities... 

you may be a financial creative.

Then I waited. Would anyone respond? They did.

Learning Labs for Financial Creatives took off and became a new offering that brought together peers—men and women, younger and older--who felt relief at being recognized—or at least not punished for their seeming lack of enthusiasm during financial reports at the family meeting.

At the Institute for Financial Success we recognize financial creatives. Over the coming months we’ll be offering a webinar and workshops that provide a safe space and a welcome Zoom Room for those of you who would like to be more financially fluent—but in a context relevant to your values and passion; better able to contribute to the financial issues of the family—but in your language. Stay tuned and reach out. We want to hear from you.

More to come,


About Joline

Joline Godfrey is CEO, The Unexpected Table, and author of "Raising Financially Fit Kids". She is part of the Hawthorn Institute for Family Success℠, which is dedicated to preparing families for their wealth. In this capacity, Joline develops and delivers a series of products and services for nurturing financially mindful children and thriving families.

Contact PNC Private Bank Hawthorn for More Information