Good to Great

I reread a classic recently, and (only partly) because I haven’t posted enough recently, I want to share some of the book’s most important lessons.

Good to Great by Jim Collins paints a picture of what it takes to move a company from being a good company to being a great company.  Collins describes a “Great” company as one that far exceeds the overall stock market for an extended period, specifically by about 7 times over a period of 15 years.  Though this definition is a bit narrow, it’s difficult to argue with that measure of success.

Since this book is a must-read, I’ll summarize some of the key topics of the most impactful chapters (to me) here.  For more, pick up a copy!


  • Starting with the right people turns out to be even more important than the line of business itself.  The lesson here is that hiring is probably the most important thing you do.  One can’t teach work ethic or values, but one can teach skills.  This idea resonates with me because I’ve worked in both large, failing companies with corrosive cultures, and smaller enterprises with uplifting ones.  The culture makes all the difference.
  • Don’t ignore inconvenient facts.  Facing up to the truth–even if it means drastic changes–is one of the things the best companies do.  Ignoring problems only delays the pain, and usually makes it worse.  Investment in repairing issues keeps people reassured that things will be taken care of, which by itself is of great value in culture support.  Further, a culture that welcomes and takes issues head-on is one in which people continue to try do their best; to support this, it’s important that leaders react appropriately to issues.  Making it uncomfortable for managers to raise issues leads to ignoring them, which creates a downward spiral.
  • Stay in your hedgehog.  Companies did best when their activities stayed in the intersection of (1) passion (2) ability to excel and (3) profit.  Yes, it’s a Venn diagram.  Staying “home” avoided costly waste of resources on less fruitful activities.  The hedgehog concept, as this intersection is labeled, is not only the secret to growth, but it’s also the secret to self-actualization and–as I cover elsewhere–to personal branding.
  • Invest in technology accelerators targeted to helping the business advance, rather than technology for technology’s sake.  Technologists like to learn and implement new technologies, but great businesses shepherded this enthusiasm into tech that supported business goals.

There are a few other topics, and of course the book covers these in great detail with surprisingly deep research.  There is no acceptable reason why Good to Great should not be on your bookshelf!




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