Byline Book Reviews 31 Oct 2007 04:58 pm

Byline Book Review: Good to Great by Jim Collins

Welcome to the first Byline Book Review. Unfortunately the book is not hot-off-the-presses, but if you like concentrated doses of truth and relevance, Jim Collins’ Good to Great is a crucial read and one that may change your perspective on business for good.

I finally committed to reading it during my flights to and from NYC this weekend, and I could feel the strangers next to me peering over my shoulder to read along.

The premise: Good is the enemy of great (do you love it?). Collins and his research team set out to determine how a select few companies were able to turn themselves around from just being “good,” or even bad, and achieve greatness. In order to define “great,” the research team examined Fortune 500 lists from 1965-1995 and narrowed down a list of companies that sustained great results (profits) for at least 15 years. It also compared these “great” companies to their “good” competitors, who were never able to sustain the same level of success.

It took five years, but Collins and his team were able to cull their findings down to a few key characteristics that define a great company, as well as the key characteristics that mark certain doom. Instead of me summarizing the empirical findings, I will just quote a few words of wisdom from within, which were backed by extensive and convincing research. Hopefully they will convince you to read the whole thing:

  • Focusing solely on what you can potentially do better than any other organizaton is the only path to greatness.
  • Not one of the good-to-great companies focused obsessively on growth.
  • …culture of discipline. When you have disciplined people, you don’t need hierarchy. When you have disciplined thought, you don’t need bureaucracy.
  • Everyone would like to be the best, but most organizations lack the discipline to figure out with egoless clarity what they can be the best at and the will to do whatever it takes to turn the potential into reality.
  • The good-to-great leaders began the transformation by first getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus), and then figured out where to drive it. . . the key point is that “who” questions come before “what” decisions – before vision, before strategy, before organization structure, before tactics.
  • “Level 5″ refers to a five-level hierarchy of executive capabilities. . . Level 5 leaders embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will. They are ambitious, to be sure, but ambitious first and foremost for the company, not themselves.

* Collins believes that potential Level 5 leaders exist all around us, if we just know what to look for, and that many people have the potential to evolve into Level 5.

I will stop at seven, since Nicole and I believe that all lists should contain an odd number of items, unless of course there are 10 :)

I encourage you to read the book and let me know what you think.

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