A book that promises the “keys to success for any startup, entrepreneur, or family business,” sounds too good to be true. But the high praise that some leading entrepreneurs are lavishing on Invent Reinvent Thrive, by consultant and entrepreneurship professor Lloyd Shefsky, indicates the subtitle is no exaggeration—and that the key lies in the title's middle word.
Shefsky’s specialty is family businesses, which, he notes, account for more than half of the U.S. GDP. He founded and co-directs the Center for Family Enterprises at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. And he has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs and family businesses to establish corporate governance, plan for next-generation leadership succession, institute philanthropic efforts, and develop relationships among family members.
In a blog about why he wrote the book, Shefsky says that, after decades of working with family businesses, he wondered, “what enabled some to make changes, as needed, while others became fixed and immobile.”
The immobile companies, he realized, “were focused on their entrepreneurial dream or focused on continuity, keeping the family business in the family.” Contrary to the advice of many a coach, business teacher, and consultant, Shefsky says being focused can be a problem. “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…?” he asks.
To find out what made some entrepreneurs and family businesspeople more capable of reinvention than others, Shefsky set out to interview the best of the best. Invent Reinvent Thrive tells the stories of the founders of giants including Starbucks, Costco, Staples, CDW, and Charles Schwab, and of the families that own businesses including Hyatt, Seagram’s, General Dynamics, Jet & Ebony Magazines, Radisson, and TGIF.
The result is a narrative that explains how these leaders reinvented concepts and ideas as well as themselves and their businesses to meet changing market conditions. Their stories illustrate where business owners fall short or miss incredible opportunities, where they fail to take risks or innovate, and how they can positively rework, revitalize, and reinvent. Shefsky says: “It tells the stories of companies and of people that have reinvented and those that have not reinvented. The latter usually do not survive.”
Nine out of 10 businesses fail, Shefsky points out. But businesses that are built to last, he says, "are (1) built to be susceptible and amenable to, and capable of, being reinvented as often as necessary, and (2) built by people who remain ready, willing, able, and confident enough to reinvent the business, as well as themselves, or to allow others to do so if they can’t or won’t do it themselves."
By way of persuading you to read his book, the author argues that having the confidence to reinvent “can make the difference between incremental and exponential results; … between having a decent living and extraordinary wealth; … between being an industry leader or being an also-ran; between being trapped in a dead end job … and a job you can’t wait to get back to; … between remaining unemployed and being gainfully employed; or … between enabling a founder’s child or grandchild to take over the leadership… of the family’s business and causing a child to seek greener pastures.”
If any of those choices sound appealing, you have another book to add to your summer reading list, and perhaps a reinvention to get started on. Just keep in mind, as Shefsky says: “Reinvention is a journey, not a destination. When you reinvent yourself to start a business, it will be the first of a string of reinventions. Entrepreneurship is not a cataclysmic event; it is a constant process, if you are to be a success and not a failure.”