Book Review: Good to Great

Published On April 17, 2009 | By mbalogh | Blog, Uncategorized

Jim Collins. (2001). Good to Great . HarperBusiness

Jim Collins and his team did a great job of breaking down both business and leaders into factors that helped make them successful.  Though Collins markets it as a business book I believe, like those of Covey, the theories in this book will serve you well in both business and personal aspects of your life.  This book was used as a text in my MBA studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Silberman College of Buisness, a nationally top ranking entrepreneurship school.  As such I’ve engaged in many hours of discussion with both students and seasoned professionals about the merits and short-comings of this book.

First, I’ll start with where it comes up short since everyone loves that and I’d prefer to finish on a positive note anyway.  Some people feel that Collins’s findings just aren’t possible to implement in real world work environments.  Others argue that most of this material just doesn’t apply to anyone that’s not a senior executive in the organization.  Last, and my favorite, is the rational that success, especially in these companies, is random and luck based.  I contend they’re all wrong, and I’ll tell you why.  The only criticism of this book I do accept is Collins’s criteria for a successful company is purely financial, which I don’t agree with, but he does address his reasoning right at the beginning.  I understand why he had to do it, but I still don’t agree with it.

To those who argue Collins’ methods are not implementable in the real world I say quit arguing the metaphors and learn from the principles.  Try not to get stuck duplicating the examples Collins uses in the book, they are just examples.  Read between the lines and just pull out what he’s trying to say… “first who…”, “The Hedgehog Concept”, “The Flywheel”, and, if you have the audiobook, pay close attention to the student question in the epilogue.  These are simple concepts that can have a great impact on you, your organization, and your career.  I contend that each and every one of the theories in this book can be implemented in business at all levels, not just at the top, as well as everyday life.  I believe you can be a level five leader in life, not just in business.  The book Leadership and Self-Deception , by The Arbinger Institute, is a great book to emphasize this point.

And, finally, for anyone that feels success is random and/or we can’t break it down into a set of rules or principles I’d recommend reading Taleb’s The Black Swan , (a great book btw) which might make you feel better about yourself.  I’d also recommend Outliers by Gladwell, another book which does in-depth research into success.  Look specifically at the 10,000 hour rule and see how well it fits with Collins’s Flywheel concept.

Now for the pros of this book.  There are too many to list.  Collins’s principles of level five leadership, the fly wheel, the doom loop, build-up to break-through, etc., etc., and so on, and so on are all very good points.  Again, these principles don’t just apply to business, they apply to life.  I’m currently a technology marketing professional, but not a sr. executive.  Build-up to break-through and the flywheel concept are just two great ways I’ve made a difference in my organization from the bottom up.  I’m also an entrepreneur and own my own business and one of the best things I found about Good To Great was The Hedgehog concept and how it applies to Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule.

Overall a good read with great theories.  As always the metaphors and examples can be argued until you’re blue in the face, but if you attempt to do that then you’ve already missed what’s important about this book.

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