25 October 2017

The Marketing Bookclub, October 2017

Written by Bernard Page

Why have you chosen ‘Good to Great’?

‘Level 5 Leadership’; ‘The Hedgehog Concept’; ‘Get on the bus’. So many business clichés can be traced back to Jim Collins’ ‘Good to Great’ – first published in 2001 and today an industry standard. Albeit a controversial one.

I wanted to understand what it takes to create great, enduring companies and what actions and behaviours are critical to success – then to incorporate the thinking and approach into my work with The Marketing Centre.

What will business owners gain from the book?

In his extensive research into great companies – those that significantly outperformed others in their sector – Collins identifies specific strategies which he builds into a simple model for consideration.

Here is a summary of his work:

  1. The key lesson: Good is the Enemy of the Great. Collins argues that mediocrity has to be stamped out in an organisation if it wants to achieve greatness. Teams must raise their gaze.
  2. The leader of the organisation isn’t the charismatic hero but a different character who is both humble and ferocious in seeking fortune for the business, above and beyond any personal gain.
  3. Collins suggests that success is not about setting direction and then getting the right people on the bus. Instead, get the right people on the bus first, in the right seat; then get the wrong people off the bus to create the right foundation for greatness.
  4. Being honest and confronting the brutal facts of a situation without losing faith in a better future is critical for success.
  5. Collins, rather oddly, calls the notion of a big idea that the company must follow the “Hedgehog Concept”. What is the big idea that the company can get passionate about, can be the best in the world at and is capable of driving economic value from?
  6. The creation of a culture of discipline where the constituent members are all responsible and accountable for disciplined action is key. Great companies will have lots of opportunities presented to them. Their success lies in their ability to say “No” and stay focused on their goals.
  7. Technology should be used to accelerate the business, but is not a reason to start a business in the first place. Technology can be a trap if not used correctly.
  8. No company Collins studied could point to one breakthrough intervention. Instead, steadily pushing on the flywheel in the right direction created their momentum for breakthrough.

For business leaders, ‘Good to great’ is definitely worth a read over a weekend.

One note of caution, however. Post-rationalising any set of events after they happen can mean observers come to the wrong conclusion about those events. When it comes to business case studies, this means authors can be misled into making claims that a business’ success was due to a deliberate strategy – something covered at length in Henry Mintzberg’s book ‘Strategy Safari’. Collin’s approach is reductionist in this way, but the findings he presents are not as inaccurate or unworkable as in other similar business books.


If readers enjoy this book, which other book would you recommend?

A good follow on from this would be ‘Built to Last’, also by Jim Collins. For an alternate view of strategy, read “Strategy Safari” by Henry Mintzberg.


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