Thursday, March 06, 2008

Book Review: Good to Great

Jim Collins has done everyone a favor by writing this book. That's right. Everyone. This is not just a book about business, although it is of course true that the research done for this book was conducted in the corporate world. Nevertheless, Collins points out very early in the book (p. 15) that the book is not strictly about business but rather timeless principles of good to great.

One cannot help but be impressed with the thoroughness of the research itself. There are about 40 pages in the appendices explaining the research project (I'm still wondering where appendices 3-4 and 6-7 went, however). The goal was to find out what differentiated companies that became “great” from companies that were merely “good.” In other words, this is not a book about how to succeed in business; this is a book about how to excel in business (and in anything else for that matter).

The principles of greatness begin with “Level 5 Leadership.” Collins' identification of great leaders is very helpful. It's not that good or mediocre companies do not have very good and talented leaders. But the jump from level 4 to level 5 leadership is truly a great from good to great. The second principle is “First Who . . . Then What” where Collins shows that the great companies concerned themselves first with getting the right people “on the bus” before deciding on the direction the company should go. Third, great companies must be able to “Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith).” Such companies always believe that they will become the best, but they do not hold this faith in spite of the evidence. They do not ignore reality; they engage it with tenacity and optimism, even when the news around them is not all that encouraging. Fourth is what Collins calls “The Hedgehog Concept.” Great companies learn to identify what they are passionate about, what they can be the best in, and what drives your resource engine. The ability to maintain simplicity within these “three circles” and to resist the temptation to chase every possible opportunity around them is a key factor in helping companies go from good to great. Fifth, great companies maintain “A Culture of Discipline” and sixth they make use of “Technology Accelerators” (leveraging technology to accelerate momentum and not to initiate momentum. All of these principles work together to create the seventh principle, “The Flywheel Effect,” in which the business gains momentum on their way to greatness.

Collins points out that there is a moment of breakthrough that every good-to-great company achieves. “Ultimately, to reach breakthrough means having the discipline to make a series of good decisions consistent with your Hedgehog Concept—disciplined action, following from disciplined people who exercise disciplined thought. That's it. That's the essence of the breakthrough process” (p. 184). And he argues that this moment of breakthrough is attainable for all companies.

As an aside, I must say a few words that anyone wishing to read Good to Great needs to also avail themselves of Collins' work Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great (NP: 2005). Collins states that at least one third of the readers of Good to Great did not come from the business world. Many of them were involved with the social sector, and Collins is eager to show in this short work the many similarities (and a few differences) that exist in seeking greatness both inside and outside of business.

For anyone eager to explore some objective ways that they can become better in their work, I would highly recommend these two works by Jim Collins. They are enjoyable to read even for those of us who are not involved in business. I'm confident that anyone who picks up these works will find some very useful information. Perhaps that's one factor that makes a book go from good to great. I give this book 4 ½ stars.

No comments: