Lloyd Shefsky

The Mortgaged Future of the U.S.

In the article, “Don’t Blame Age for Declining U.S. Entrepreneurship,” Ben Casselman makes important observations: Overall U.S. entrepreneurship is declining and the average age of existing companies is getting older. He seems to believe that with the millennials turning 40 fairly soon, the recent trend will reverse itself. I beg to differ. I think the rate of entrepreneurship may continue to decline for a variety of reasons, including governments’ direct (e.g., red tape) and indirect (e.g., restrictions on lending) intrusion into "free" enterprise. However, one of the biggest factors will be the overhang of debt. Today, 70% of college graduates leave school with debt from tuition loans. In addition, the relationship between debt and first job income has become intolerable. I borrowed my entire tuition for law school. When I graduated, my total debt was about 30% of my compensation during the first year after graduation. Today, a graduating student’s debt, assuming all tuition was borrowed, would exceed his or her first year’s pay. Those students who opt not to be entrepreneurs right away have a variety of excuses, but debt is their number one and growing excuse. Talk about stifling entrepreneurship!

Why I Wrote Invent Reinvent Thrive

Everywhere in our immediate gratification/instantaneous communication world, people want the silver bullet. They demand the single pill that will cure all that ails. Like so many others in my fields—entrepreneurship and family enterprises—we too seem to be seeking the prescription, not for a single pill (we’re too smart to think that exists) but for the cocktail of curatives. We try to understand the recipe, i.e., what combination of traits, properly stirred, will create a successful entrepreneur. We bow to Tolstoy’s: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” so we segment situations, e.g., by generation, to treat actual and prevent potential conflicts among relatives with related business or economic interests. Over decades of practicing law and later consulting in these areas, it struck me that there is no prescription, no recipe, at least not beyond the very short term. That’s because everything changes constantly, not only the entrepreneur or family member in control but also a myriad of both related and external factors. Entrepreneurship is not a cataclysmic event but a series of continual challenges and opportunities. Likewise family businesses are not best seen in a still photograph but in a video over time, indeed over generations.

I began to wonder what enabled some to make changes, as needed, while others became fixed and immobile. Some others were like deer in headlights, still others were anything but terrified. Those staring and immobile like deer were focused—focused on their entrepreneurial dream or focused on continuity, keeping the family business in the family.

Focus is a mantra endorsed by many business teachers, advisors, directors and coaches. So what could be wrong with focusing? Plenty. Focus often creates blinders. If one is so focused as to be unaware of hazards that require detours, how can he make necessary or advisable change, how can he reinvent even though the situation requires reinvention or “reinventrepreneurship” without which he faces disaster?

So began my journey, first of research in all the customary places. That failed to reveal any consensus and rarely even a suggestion that reinvention might be a continual prerequisite to success, let alone why some did reinvent while others didn’t and how those who did were able to do so. Next, I started interviewing successful entrepreneurs and family businesspeople. Even there I was drawn to inappropriate paths that dead-ended, a lesson that predisposition is confining. Fortunately my inquisitiveness was sufficiently broad-based as to encourage the interviewees to answer more expansively. Soon it became clear that those who reinvented knew what they were doing but not always why or how. Often, such clarifications occurred after-the-fact. As the interviews progressed it became apparent that the puzzle pieces were always present. Some lacked the picture on the puzzle box cover, others had worked on the puzzle for so long that the cover was lost.

Invent Reinvent Thrive explores real situations, related by those involved. It extracts from those stories the lessons that can help others thrive as a result of their inventing and reinventing, over and over and again.