Inconvenience vs Problem – Learn the Difference | Compass Point Skip to main content

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Life is full of inconveniences.

Life can be full of problems, too.


There is a difference. A striking difference.


As a business owner, you wrestle with both every day. When you add family and stakeholders to the mix business, the line between inconveniences and problems can blur quickly.


Adjusting your shift schedule to address staffing needs is an inconvenience.

Closing your business for a day – or longer ­– due to no staff is a problem.


Here’s another story to drive this principal home.


If you are a GenX-er or late Boomer like myself, you will remember an author by the name of Robert Fulghum. One of his most famous books is “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”.  It was followed by a book titled “Uh-Oh” which shared a story that I believe is foundational to building character – a keystone to creating a family business legacy.


In the story, Fulghum is talking about himself and a crummy job that he had.  He describes working in a warehouse late one night. He goes into the office to complain to his boss about how… “nobody’s doing their job, that it’s messy out in the shop, life’s unfair, blah, blah, blah.”


His boss stares at him and grumbles, “Fulghum, sit down! You need to learn the difference between inconvenience and problem.” And then he proceeds to say, “Fulghum, inconvenience is a lump in your sugar.  Problem is a lump in your breast. Learn the difference between inconvenience and problem, Fulghum. Now get out of my office.”


I recall reading that story and thinking to myself, “Yeah, life is full of inconveniences. That’s just the way life is.” There are inconveniences and there are problems.


Can you tell the difference? Or are you caught up in the internal and external noise that is making it hard to see the line?


The sooner we can learn that, learn how to deal and not get all wrapped around the axle about every inconvenience, the better our lives will be.


The better leaders we will be.

The better our families will be.

The better our family businesses will be.


And when REAL problems arise – which they will – we will be prepared to take them on, to give them the attention they need, and to have the mental fortitude to push through.


I believe that the mental fortitude and mindset needed to not let every little inconvenience balloon into a problem is what creates character in a person and builds Families of Character.


Character, as defined by Webster, is “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.”  Individuals make up a family and family is our most fundamental unit of social organization.  Your family influences your personal, emotional, intellectual, and social development. Character has a place at the dinner table, so if you really need to know who you are, look no further. It really is ALL in the family.


Family businesses are described as a system of three overlapping domains – family, business, and ownership. There will always be unique perspectives within this system, depending on where the person sits. The magic lies in the ability to acknowledge and communicate around these perspectives. That is where character plays a vital role in success of a family business.


A Family of Character understands the difference between an inconvenience and problem; whereas a family bogged down in drama, with no governance, will see everything as a problem.


A lump in your sugar is a lot different than a lump in your breast.


A great distinction to learn as a family.

A great distinction to share with your kids.

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