Family, Inc.

Make technology work for you – instead of letting technology simply make more work!

Family, Inc…  Family, Inc.  What’s that?

No, Family, Inc. isn’t the latest family focused start-up aimed at toppling Disney or Pixar.  It’s also not the pre-quel or sequel for Monsters, Inc. Family, Inc. is one of the latest trends in parenting.

If you’re like me, it’s actually hard to keep up with all of them.  The trends mash with the descriptors:  helicopter parents, mindful parenting. We’re told only tummy sleeping for safety, then no tummy sleeping for safety…swaddling for comfort…No, just kidding, no swaddling……NO SWADDLING?? WHAT???  How do I keep up?  How do I make sure my house is one of harmony, health, and happy memories for all?  It seems like the age of technology has given us so much information and so many trends that we don’t know where to turn.  So, why should I try to understand one more trend?  What is this Family, Inc.?

In a nutshell, Family, Inc. is the trend towards using work tools to manage your family.  The basic premise is that corporations have spent decades of research improving and perfecting group dynamics for optimal output.  Why shouldn’t we, as parents and families, reap the benefits of the findings, methodologies and tools to improve our family’s daily chaos?  There’s a lot of chatter on this topic. This Wall Street Journal article offers a great summary and describes it in these terms: “A new generation of parents is taking solutions from the workplace and transferring them to the home. From accountability checklists to branding sessions, the result is a bold new blueprint for happy families.”

A summary so that you don’t have more to read:

Family Inc. = Using the best of the business world to help manage family life (mission statements, team meetings, accountability checklists, tools, etc.).

I have to admit, as a working mom, I like the idea of utilizing what I know works in managing teams.  After all, my family is a team, right?   And a blueprint for a happy family sounds like a huge win.  This said, the last thing I want to use when I’m at home are cold, corporate tools that are often difficult to decipher and quite frankly, painful to use.

Then I read the entire article (and a few more) and told my inner skeptic to park it.  There were really good ideas there.  After all, I want harmony, health, and happiness, right?

It hit me then.  It was time to make technology work for us instead of letting technology simply make more work.  It was time to utilize the “skills” I’d practiced in the workforce to lay the harmonious foundation I so desired for my family.  The next big question was: Where. To. Start.  Yikes.

Family branding, empowerment, etc. sounded fantastic on paper, but how and where were we going to stay aligned on the basic day to day family functions?  Honestly, I couldn’t even dream of branding my family team before I solved some of the coordination stress.  What we needed before the full incorporation of the family was the startup phase…a simple dabbling in staying on the same page and reconnecting.  Was there something simple I could break off first for my very busy family?

Identifying primary causes of family dysfunction and stress resulted in three main buckets for us:

1)      Internal family coordination (who’s running carpool, what’s for dinner, etc.)

2)      External coordination (all those organizations and people that help us raise our kiddos…boy, do they generate a lot of ‘stuff’ for us to deal with)

3)      Capturing and sharing the joy that is our family (oh the stress of being the family historian and realizing a year has passed without organizing ANY precious mementos or memories…I actually feel the stress rising as I admit that).

Given that these were/are our three main areas of chaos, it seemed like it would be simple enough (yeah, right) to pick one and get moving.

First step:  Internal family coordination = Mom and Dad on the same page.  No more schedule mishaps + clearer check-ins BEFORE 9 PM when the kids were finally down for the night…a pulse throughout the day as needed to maintain the family conversation.  Why wait until we’re past the point of weary to share the anecdotes of the day and the things that made us giggle?  Why not share them as they happen, and allow each other to participate in the conversation and moment when we can?

Yes, a lofty goal.  One that used to be forever out of reach and take multiple applications and devices, one that used to result in lost e-mails, forgotten texts, buried photos in a smartphone, dates scattered between paper calendars and multiple online calendar apps, a goal that used to go unrealized.  To truly move forward, it was critical for us to have a tool that could combine all our needs (sharing, remembering, and coordination) in one place that we could utilize either on our laptops or mobiles.

I’m happy to say that we’ve progressed; we’re not perfect, but it’s much better.  We’re now working on sharing those snippets and thoughts that happen throughout the day in addition to sharing a private calendar that either of us can update wherever we are.  We share fun and important moments and photos as they happen, not only with each other, but with our extended families too.  Even more, we’re sharing and scheduling in the context of each of our children so that we can quickly identify what’s happening in each of their lives.  Our conversations are no longer lost in e-mails or split between different accounts or handled in tired voices when the house is finally winding down.  Conversations happen throughout the day as the memories or thoughts occur and are there when we want to look back at them.  All the information we need to realize our step one goal of Mom and Dad on the same page is right there.  We’re aligned (mostly…we are still human!) on expectations and reactions and able to laugh at more of the funny moments family life inevitably delivers.

This is what technology working for me looks like.  I like it.

Chime in with what’s working for you and stay tuned for what step two in the Family, Inc. journey will bring….

Why We Started LivingTree

My wife and I have two little girls, ages 8 and 6. We love watching their personalities develop, seeing them tackle new challenges and explore new interests. However, each new grade, class and activity is always accompanied by new people to coordinate with, schedules to track, emails to parse, and websites to visit.

We found ourselves growing frustrated by how chaotic and inefficient it was to manage our girls’ daily lives. We wanted to be more effective as parents and as spouses. We wanted to calm the chaos.

In talking to our friends and colleagues, we realized we were far from alone in feeling this way. The pains we experienced appeared to be universal:

Mastering the family schedule is tough. My wife and I tried hard to stay on the same page regarding our own schedules (work trips/dinners, dinner with friends, etc.) and each kid’s schedule. But without a central playbook, all the calendar invites, emails and text updates caused us to spend a lot of time coordinating (and “re-coordinating”). Did we have mix-ups? Way too many.

Add in external calendars, and things become chaotic. All the people helping to raise and teach our kids also have their own calendars. Teachers, schools, coaches, leagues, gymnastics, ballet, Sunday school, swim team…the list goes on and on. This adds more and more chaos, especially since calendars are dynamic – deadlines change, locations get moved.

Schools and groups send massive amounts of information, in so many ways. Most schools and organizations use mass emails and website updates to keep parents updated. So we must comb through (literally) hundreds of emails to parse out the dates, schedules and requests that apply to our kids; bookmark websites to visit in case there’s an update; chase volunteer signup request websites and emails (or the physical sheet of paper taped to the class door!); and then manage and delete a tsunami of reply-all messages from other parents.

It’s hard to get transparency into it all. As a working parent and a spouse, I wanted to be more engaged and knowledgeable about what’s going on in my kids’ daily lives, as well as my spouse’s. I wanted to know what happened today at school BEFORE I got home, and I wanted to be a better spouse by having the context to help more proactively. But I couldn’t — I had no transparency.

And life just moves too fast. I also wanted to slow the game down. Time was passing by WAY too quickly, and I felt anxious about being able to “remember” all of the beautiful moments that our children bring to us. All of the photos/videos we take just find their way into the abyss of the photo library on our computer, or sit in our SMS app on our phone. I wanted to chronicle EVERYTHING, because I don’t want to forget. Ever. And I know I will.

So we started LivingTree about a year ago, to solve these problems through technology.

We asked ourselves, “What would the ultimate tool be to allow us, as parents, to stay on the same page while also slowing things down to enjoy family life even more?”

Our technology development backgrounds, and our personal experiences as technology users, told us that the platform needed to be based on similar collaborative principles as popular social networks, but had to be applied uniquely in a private and safe way. We are talking about our children here. Yet we wanted to leverage the power of the “Web 2.0” connective fabric. After all, there’s a reason that more than 1 billion people connect in this way.

However, there’s also a reason that traditional social networks don’t work for coordinating and sharing children’s information. We knew our tool needed to be extremely private and built for the unique needs of parents, teachers and the other adult leaders who help us shape our children.

So we worked with thousands of parents to test and create LivingTree’s private sharing and scheduling platform, which enables spouses and caretakers to securely coordinate and chronicle children’s daily lives. We worked with hundreds of educational professionals to give teachers, coaches and other leaders tools for sharing schedules, assignments, photos, documents and post updates with parents — enabling collaboration with parents to discuss issues, fill volunteer spots and more.

Now, instead of checking in constantly with multiple people and sources, hoping the information they get is the latest, parents finally have one central playbook — LivingTree.

LivingTree’s real power is in how all of the information from all of the people in your child’s life is now funneled into one integrated and safe place.

Now mom and dad can go to one place to see what is on the activity schedule today or for the week, or the smile of the ages that Beth Anne made getting off the bus today after she made a 100 on the spelling test. Only certain people care about that moment, and want to chronicle and share those moments. We want to create that place for the people who care. Easy to chronicle, safe to share – for parents, and extended family.

When your child’s teacher creates a classroom event or the coach moves practice to a different field, this information automatically feeds into your calendar in the context of your child. Yes, you can hook it up to Outlook, Apple Cal, Google Calendar, etc if you wish. No more chasing emails, websites, etc.

LivingTree creates a single shared family playbook and a single point of connection into families for the organization, team, class, or group!

Finally, a word about the LivingTree and the Lion.

People often ask us: Why does LivingTree have a lion in the brand? Well, there is a tree in Africa, called the Baobab Tree. It is referred to as the “tree of life,” providing shelter, food, and water for the animal and human inhabitants of the desert regions. Prides of lions are known to establish themselves under or nearby these trees given the replenishments they provide.

The story of this tree struck us, as it is our goal to enable that one safe place that can help you raise your pride. We hope to slow the parenting game down, allow you to take a breath, and enjoy it just a little bit more — because being a parent is awesome, and if we can calm the chaos and make parenting even that much more meaningful, it’s worth it!

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