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Archive for May, 2014

President Calvin Coolidge is famous for saying, “The chief b29_Calvin_Coolidge_3x4usiness of the American people is business.”  Could Coolidge still say that?  Or would he now say, “The chief business of the American people is government.”

I’ve been to a couple of entrepreneurial thought leadership conventions this year and am attending Inc.’s GrowCo next week in Nashville.  And I find disturbing the number of new companies I see that are staking their viability on selling into the government or getting around the problems created by government.

I can tell you anecdotally my executive sales outsourcing company, Corporate Rain, is increasingly being asked to serve companies selling into the corporations who offer technology, consulting, and products to ameliorate and take advantage of government dicta having little relation to needs created by the real world marketplace, but rather serving a skewing  and distorting agora of faux incentivization created by bureaucrats.

Don’t get me wrong.  These services and products are needed by corporations large and small.  Yet they increasingly, if necessarily, address a wasteful and growing set of conundrums created by government hegemony itself, rather than offering solutions for real people living real lives.  The new incentives of solving the problems of over-regulation are only penultimately about solving real world problems.  They are fundamentally, first and foremost, about feeding the maw of innately inefficient and smothering government.

unnamedObamacare is just the most prominent of these governmental morasses.  I am coming to suspect there’s a creeping conquest of traditional capitalist process that may eventually obviate the salubrious and cleansing efficiency of our natural business process of creative destruction.  I ask myself the question:  Is the entrepreneurial process itself being subtly and gradually being corrupted into being a richly rewarded enabler of inefficient oligarchy?  As Willie Sutton famously put it when asked why he robbed banks, “That’s where the money is.”

There are some alarming portents out there.  For example, back in 2012 Michael Porter and Jan Rivkin did an article for Harvard Business Review titled “Can America Compete” which discussed a poll that revealed graduates of Harvard Business School overwhelmingly favor foreign over US locations for new investment and growth.  Only 16% preferred the US.  (HBR, Sept.-Oct. 2012)  Or take the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report where the US doesn’t even make the top 20 on almost all measures of government and institutional quality.

Niall Ferguson has commented on the growing economic counter-productivity of American governing institutions in his book The Great Degeneration:  How Institutions Decay and Economies Die.  

 “Many development economists argue that poor countries can get richer if they improve their institutions, particularly the rule of law. The converse also applies: Rich countries can get poorer if their institutions deteriorate, particularly the rule of law. [For example] today only lawyers think the United States has the world’s best legal system. Everyone else knows it has become a nightmare of impossibly complicated statutes (example: Dodd-Frank), open-ended liability (tort costs are the highest in the industrialized world relative to GDP), and eye-watering billable hours….The political debate in America today is all about symptoms, from slow growth to large deficits, when it should be about the underlying malaise.”

Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale_1805_croppedAs Ron Paul puts it, less elegantly, “When one gets in bed with the government, one must expect the diseases it spreads.”

“Government entreprepreneur” seems like something of an oxymoron to me.  There is something corrupting and unsavory about magnificent entrepreneurial companies being incentivized to serve a governmental Gargantua, like lamprey eels feasting on a great blue whale.

President Thomas Jefferson said, “I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of caring for them.” Thanks, Thomas.

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St. Paul said the following:  “The love of money is the root of all evil.”

A couple of times a year I share an intriguing video post.  The following film is from my distant kinsman Nic Askew of London and Minneapolis.  (Both of us trace back to Normandy and William the Conqueror.  The name “Askew” originally meant “Ash Tree”.)  Nic is an artist who creates nuanced pieces about original people with authentic voices on issues of our time.

The following film, or Soul Biography as Nic calls it, is of Peter Koenig.  Peter is a philosopher, a consultant and an explorer of man’s relationship with money.  Enjoy.

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Tims PicWell, I’ve tried.  Tried being a passionate entrepreneur and a committed family man.  I have failed.  For me my now failed marriage was about living with two lovers:  my company Corporate Rain and my wife of 16 years.  Yesterday I signed my divorce agreement ending my marriage.

Thus ended my attempt to have it all—to be normal and yet still nutty enough to perform the entrepreneurial miracle:  the creation of something out of nothing.  For me, that juxtaposition has just not been possible.  For me my domestic life had become increasingly a disciplined duty rather than an ambient joy, while my life in my company remained a daily roundelay of aliveness and impassioned commitment—even in those weeks when we almost didn’t make payroll or unexpectedly lost a major client threatening a vertiginous descent into the abyss.   How can marriage compete with the piquancy and fulgent frisson that constitutes the full monty of entrepreneurial commitment?

I think it is really hard for a committed, focused entrepreneur to be anything but a shitty spouse.  Almost by necessity.  (Or is this an apologia and excuse for my own failure at domesticity, my own conjugal catastrophe, when I am really just a solipsistic dreamer only interested in his own addictive private fever dream?  Those are the sorts of thoughts and self-doubts that assault me as I restart and re-imagine myself as an unattached commercial striver, resuming my life journey and my business journey.)

meg hirshbergMeg Cadoux Hirshberg wrote a marvelous column for Inc. Magazine (recently ended) called Balancing Acts.  Here’s how she sums up the entrepreneurial marital conundrum.

“Common causes of divorce include financial strain, neglect, lack of communication, and divergent goals.  Postmortems on the remains of entrepreneurs’ marriages can turn up all four in abundance.  Other professions keep people away from home and preoccupy their thoughts, but they don’t produce the toxic cocktail of resentment and anxiety created by putting the family’s security constantly at risk….More fundamentally, people start companies to do their own things, while marriage is about doing things together.”   (Inc. Magazine online, Nov. 1, 2010)

That said, I know a number of successful business creators who seem to navigate the marital shoals, if not with ease, at least with longevity and balance.

Whatever the emotional conundrums of entrepreneurial marriage, the hardest practicality of ending my own marriage has been protecting my company.  The divorcing entrepreneur is most vulnerable here.  I didn’t want my company damaged by my divorce.  I had to solve this essentially by buying my way back to ownership and control of my own company.  Entrepreneurial divorce is certainly a wealth diminishing event.  I think it was Burt Reynolds who said, after his break-up with Loni Anderson, something like, “I think the next time I consider marrying, I’ll just find a woman I really hate and buy her a house.”  I don’t hate my ex-wife at all, but I understand the sentiment.

Burt_Reynolds_1991_portrait_cropGoing back to the wisdom of Meg Hirschberg again, she warns, “Prospective spouses of divorced entrepreneurs:  Tread carefully.  Entrepreneurs are teachable but not wholly reformable.  Underneath the grace note of good intentions, I hear a common bass lick:  The business will still come first.”  As Mae West put it, “Don’t marry a man to reform him.  That’s what reform schools are for.”

Let me end this somewhat melancholy, pensive post anectdotally.  My 12 year old daughter Truitte frequently said to me at dinner, “Take off your business face, Daddy!  I’m talking to you!”  I guess I was never fully able to do that.

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Donald-Sterling-595x396It’s not easy to escape the luridly disgraceful Donald Sterling saga of the last week.  It’s omnipresent.  Sterling’s sentiments on race have brought about a veritable landslide of contumely and reproach.

Deservedly so.

That  said, the mass phenomenon of condemnation and chest-thumping self-righteousness strikes me as more than a bit unseemly.  Looked at objectively it is almost rhapsodically fraught with the same base emotionality as the Hitler Youth or a lynch mob.  It offers an almost lemming-like escape for all of us from the quotidian challenges and worries of daily life, the ontological anxiety of summoning up the courage for facing the challenge of each aborning day, and the simple unspoken fears in each of us that we are not enough.

So, what does this have to do with the daily travails of us entrepreneurs who are busily analyzing our monthly P & Ls and worrying about making payroll?  Well, speaking only for myself, it is a tempting distraction.  This sort of mass emotional reaction to an event can be a pheromone-summoning mini-emotional vacation from the real existential journey that is the lot of every risk-taking business leader.  It is a mass feel-good event—(“Thank God, I am not as Donald Sterling.”)— that can distract us from our own flawed efforts, our own venality, our own imperfection, our own sin.

Lord_ByronI look on humility as one of the most salient of business skills.  In this case, the humility of “There but for the grace of God…”.  Criss Jami puts it this way, “Humility is honesty to one’s greatest flaws, the degree in which a man is fearless about truly appearing less righteous than another.”  Humility is not a skill taught in business schools any more than courage is a skill that is taught in business schools.  What the universal condemnation of Donald Sterling is is a nearly delirious ecstasy of schadenfreude that can lure us away from the difficult daily work of introspection and self-improvement that is part of the unrelenting task of all who strive for true entrepreneurial leadership.  Embracing schadenfreude allows us to climb self-righteously onto our high horse and away from looking at our own shit.

Schadenfreude is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as joy in the troubles of others.  Yeah.  I think that’s a lot of what we might have here:  an escapist descent from our own spiritual journey into a euphoric judgement of this crude, vulgar, and reprehensible man, Donald Sterling.

Lord Byron evokes the addictive escapism of schadenfreude when he says:

“The sight of blood to crowds begets the thirst of more,
As the first wine-cup leads to the long revel.”

Daily business life is teeming with danger and risk.  It is a bloody scary process.  A gleeful judgement of the public sins of another can offer a dangerous respite that can allow us to take our eye off the deepest fears of our own flawed imperfection, both as human beings and as entrepreneurs.

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingEarly American preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards put it this way:  “The deceitfulness of the heart of man appears in no one thing so much as this of spiritual pride and self-righteousness.  The subtlety of Satan appears in its height, in his managing persons with respect to this sin.  And perhaps one reason may be that here he has most experience; he knows the way of its coming in; he is acquainted with the secret springs of it:  it was his own sin.”

Thank you, Jonathan.

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