Monday, May 23, 2005

Good to Great

Before you read this, know that I’m biased. I’ve lived too long, read too many books and article and experienced too much in business. Any time I read that someone has the answer for all companies, I cringe. If there is anything I’ve learned in business is that every business is different. In business solutions, one size does not fit all. Whenever someone says that they have a simple answer for business, I recoil. Another thing I’ve learned is that business is a complex problem. And, complex problems deserve being respected for their complexity. Solutions to complex problems may be elegant, but they are rarely simple.

In addition to the above, my problem with this book is its premise and research methodology. The basis of all the work that went into this book is the “Ratio of Cumulative Stock Returns to General Market”. While this is certainly an important variable, it is not the complete measure of a company’s greatness. It may or may not even be an indicator.

First, stockholders are only one of the many stakeholders that a company has. As an extreme example, consider a fast growing, highly profitable company that’s raping the environment. A great company must have a positive economic impact on its customers and honor the trust that a customer places in the company by purchasing goods and services. A great company must respect the individuals its employees, its suppliers and its strategic partners. A great company must also balance its financial performance in stock market with the development of its people, technology, industry and country. And, among many other things, a great company must be ethical and honor the trust given to them by the people in allowing them to incorporate.

Lastly, I have a problem with any book about great companies that does not deal with innovation and creativity. Many of the examples described are innovations; it just doesn’t call them that. The book seems to studiously avoid the use of creativity, strategy and innovation as those words were forbidden.

The chapters in the book include:
  • Good is the Enemy of Great

  • Level 5 Leadership

  • First Who…Then What

  • Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith)

  • The Hedgehog Concept (Simplicity within Three Circles)

  • A Culture of Discipline

  • Technology Accelerators

  • The Flywheel and the Doom Loop

  • From Good to Great to Built to Last

The book is written well and easy to understand. It was designed that way. Millions of copies have been sold, so maybe I’m wrong. I have been a time or two in my life. But, I did have problems with The Search for Excellence. Remember that book…?

Jim Collins is co-author of Built to Last, a national bestseller for over five years with a million copies in print. A student of enduring great companies, he serves as a teacher to leaders throughout the corporate and social sectors. Formally a faculty member at Stanford University Graduate School of Business, where he received the Distinguished Teaching Award, Jim now works from his management research laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.

Good to Great
Jim Collins, Harper Business, 2001, Hard Cover, 300 pages

© 2004 The Innovation Road Map

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