Good to GreatWalk into any (reputable) book store and you’re bound to find a stack of Jim Collins’ sequel to Built to Last entitled Good to Great (buy it at or One need only to look at the stock levels of any particular business book to see the demand that the book enjoys. Why this arbitrary lesson in supply versus demand? Well, I believe that it is pretty difficult to choose which book to purchase next unless you have been particularly discerning in reading reviews and keeping your ear close to the “what is good to readâ€? ground. And so this is how I came to reading Good to Great.
Before I go further, a little summary of what the book covers …

Collins and his team of researchers identified 11 US publicly listed companies that showed sustained “greatâ€? results over a 15 year period. These companies turned out to be ‘not the usual suspects’ such as Fannie Mae, Kimberly-Clark, Nucor, Philip Morris, Walgreens and Wells Fargo. Combining a methodology of both quantitative and qualitative analyses these companies displayed a framework of concepts that led to them becoming not just good companies, but great companies.
The Good-to-Great Framework (see it here) encapsulates the elements that contributed to the company’s sustained great results (measured in cumulative stock returns relative to the market):
Firstly, the Great companies had Level 5 leaders – leaders who seemed to come from Mars: they were self-effacing, humble, quiet and reserved, but who overall had the company’s best interest at heart (and not their own – unlike Level 4 leaders). Secondly, the companies were consistently concerned with putting the right people into positions first before embarking on any project – they committed themselves to asking first who … then what. Thirdly, the Great companies managed to confront the brutal facts (while never losing faith) of the situations they found themselves in – regardless of the difficulties, they maintained an unwavering faith that they would prevail. Fourthly, the Great companies successfully found out what they where the best at; what they were passionate about; and how these two insights fueled their economic motors (known as The Hedgehog Concept). The Great companies then displayed a culture of discipline that enabled a magical alchemy of great performance (the ultimate balance between managing people and enabling entrepreneurs). Finally, the Great companies utilized technology accelerators as a means to extend their greatness (technology was never used as a catalyst to transformation).
NOTE: Don’t judge the book on my attempt to reduce a 5 year project into 1 paragraph! I’d highly recommend that you read it (if that qualifies as ‘word of mouth’?). The following thoughts and rants are the issues that I have wrestled with while reading the book. If you would like definitive reviews on the book, I suggest you Google it. But for now, there are some issues the book raised that I would like to air for critique.
I do not believe that Collins and his team can be criticized regarding their methodological acuteness – the study is well structured and executed i.e. the validity of the results are not too debatable. But I want to suggest that the reliability of the results is i.e. to what extent can we apply the results of the study beyond the companies in the study? Why the methodology garble you may ask? Well, Collins reports so strongly on the development of the Good-to-Great Framework, that one begins to see the Framework as a solution to any aspiring company wanting to enter the threshold of Greatness.
If one reads between the lines, it seems as if Collins believes his study has stumbled on the Holy Grail of Business … the end to the means … the answer to why most business fail … that should a CEO read this book, implement the results faithfully and wait out the mandatory 15-year-greatness-period, your company will be Great! He says:
“Indeed, the point of this entire book is not that we should “addâ€? these findings to what we are already doing and make ourselves even more overworked. No, the point is to realize that much of what we’re doing is at best a waste of energy. If we organized the majority of our work time around applying these principles, and pretty much ignored or stopped doing everything else our lives would be simpler and our results vastly improved.”
Quite a bold recommendation! I wonder what makes a company Great? Is it only the results? Is it the tenure in an industry? Is it the quality of it’s leadership? Is it the quality of the service/products? I wonder the absoluteness of the Good-to-Great Framework. I hope I’m not putting you off reading the book 🙂
Back to the bookshelf in your local bookstore (including online stores) … a brief glance at the flashy covers and titles reveal that most (if not all) claim to have within its covers the essential/complete/total/everything-you-need-to-know about how to succeed at business. Is Good to Great any different? I’d suggest not. Why? My post-modern relativistic Gen Xer mindset halts me from accepting the One Truth that a book claims to have discovered. Instead I’m interested in having an amalgamation of approaches, theories, concepts, frameworks and wisdom walk with me in my commercial space. Anyone feel the same?
Collins and his team set the standard for Greatness at a 15 year period, and boy does this irk me. In my post-graduate studies I was told numerous times that if the literature I’m reading is older than 3 years it is irrelevant. So, how does a company become Great before the mandatory 15 year period peaks? Does a company have to have a long-lasting place in a market to be great? What about the millions of ideas that surface only to find fruition in a 6 month project – can they not be great?
I cannot argue with the importance of the Framework Collins sets out – it makes sense that these are the principles we should strive to achieve. BUT, to suggest that everything we do that falls outside of this framework is futile suggests that there is a
ONE TRUTH about how to run your business. Surely this cannot be? Surely adherence to the Framework could lead to a fanaticism that rejects all that does not fit within it? Where does the creativity go? Where does the relevance go?
I hope Collins will forgive me for these words, but

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