What exactly is the difference between between good and great? Good pizza, versus great pizza? A good game of football versus a great game?
Instead let’s talk business, specifically why some companies make the leap to great business success and others…well…just don’t? Jim Collins sets out to answer that question. If you are an entrepreneur, small business owner, or someone with a pulse who would like to one day achieve some level of success, then this book is simply one of the classics. I would even hazard that this is one of those books that will shift how you think. It grew out of a research project, and it is certainly shows by the details.
Expected vs Unexpected?
It seems as though all of the rage and all of the talking heads of business (What else do heads do? Think? Consume food?) are always showy, clever people who we must imitate because they have such charming presence and charisma. Sometimes they’re witty and quick on their feet. They’re on TV, running for President, starting remarkably successful internet companies, and generally doing impressive things the rest of saps can only hope to imitate or maybe half-arse our way through. Sometimes they have great hair or disarming smiles as well.
- Collins coins what he calls Level 5 Leadership to get to the next level. My English major heart is captured when you mention that great leaders tend to be more like “Lincoln and Socrates rather than Patton or Ceasar” (13). For those of you who don’t geek out on history and writing as much as me, this means truly great leaders are humble and strong-willed rather than loud and bombastic. Tellingly, the companies tend to outlast these great leaders as the ultimate sign of their enduring nature.
- Vision matters much less when compared to getting the right team. Get the right people on bus and then figure out the best path to where you want to go. So many books and other leadership resources advocate strong vision as the first objective. In the case of great companies, consistently the opposite is true and cannot be willed into place with the wrong tools.
- Confront reality. This one seems obvious, but so many times our culture of self-help is built around positive vibes. We must confront challenges and overcome them with the faith of getting through to obtain the great level. Companies that went from good to great consistently overcame daunting challenges. What doesn’t kill us, in the business sense, makes us stronger.
- Simplicity is key in the form of the hedgehog concept. Great companies found something to be the best in the world at, even if it wasn’t where quite where they started. I’ll keep this numbered item short to reiterate my point.
- Going from good to great takes discipline, time and focus. I summed up a few much larger and more verbose sub points here, but suprisingly, great companies weren’t just great overnight. They built greatness over time, resembling a large wheel turning and turning. It wasn’t luck, a swift move, or some crazy pivot that launched these companies into the success stratosphere. From technology to management, these companies were disciplined juggernauts daily chugging away.
Conventional Business Wisdom Denied
I think it’s safe to say that Good to Great upended most conventional wisdom on building a business. Validation of the wisdom in the book came in the sheer amount of time the concepts or fans of the book came up in my experience. Classics stand the test of time and Good to Great will be there in the decades to come when the dust has settled, just like the companies it profiles.
How can you go from good to great, starting tomorrow?