Is “Good to Great” by Jim Collins any Good?

In 2001 Jim Collins wrote a book titled “Good to Great”, which became a sensation in the business management world. According to Wikipedia, the book has sold 2.5 million copies and has been translated into 32 languages. Wow! Everyone was reading it, commenting on it, giving it to their business associates, and claiming to be intending to read it very soon.

I read the book, read it again, and wrote columns for my newsletter that extolled the book as a great piece of work that should be read by any business or organizational leader that was seeking to be excellent.

…Another Fad?

History has shown us that short-term enthusiasm is not a good predictor of the ultimate worth of any product, service, movement or idea. The evidence is everywhere. In life it’s disco music, leisure suits and platform shoes. In politics, think of communism, fascism and various forms of totalitarianism. In business it’s TQM, charismatic leadership and the boom. Now we are in a huge mess that is arguably caused by leadership, or the lack thereof.

Collins’ book seemed to provide answers for business management and leadership that had real substance. Good to Great was a meticulously researched work that appeared to bring a number of digestible concepts for organizational success into sharp focus.

Wait a second! Collins touts “Good to Great” organizations that include Fannie Mae and Circuit City as examples of breakthrough performers!

Was I sucked in!? After all, I’m a skeptic. I am not a fan of many the books on business leadership that my cohorts find fascinating. Was my objectivity flawed… Am I guilty of following the herd? Did I recommend a stinker? Is this book another trendy but flawed work on business management and leadership? A FAD?

Nope. “Good to Great” is the Real Deal.

I can’t believe I’m saying this but Collins’ work explains – in common sense language – immutable concepts of organizational health and success. That’s translated: long-term, single-minded, hard won, dogged, deserved, honest and humble organizational success.

Forget Fannie Mae and Circuit City. Their problems are not Collins’ fault. That statement is obvious from a commons sense perspective and likely elegant in that had these organizations really understood the concepts that Collins espouses, their demise may have looked different.

The evidence that Collins gathers holds even today. Two of the 12 companies that Collins writes on are doing quite well today. Arguably Fannie Mae probably doesn’t belong here due to its political complexities. That makes 1 of 11. In fact, I would argue that Fannie Mae would be successful had their mandate not been diffused due to its quasi-political nature. By contrast, all 12 of the comparison (“Not So Great”) companies are extinct.

Read “Good to Great”, then Read It Again…

Collins is under some heat lately. It’s not hard to see why. Buzzards love to fly around what appears to be a dying body. We see it every day. Finger-pointing is being singled out as the most common cause of repetitive stress injury being diagnosed in Washington, DC, among national media bullies and our financial centers.

Collins is not wrong.

On the contrary, he is as clear as he has ever been. Take a look at this site for an excellent interview by Peter Hossli –

At times Hossli is kind of “snarky” with Collins. That’s what good reporters do. However, Jim handles Peter’s line of questioning very well. In fact, if I am any good at reading between the lines it seems to me that Hossli has read “Good to Great”. Like me, perhaps Hossli needs to be tough on Collins in order to assure himself that he is doing his readers a real service.

Collins is the real deal. I don’t agree with him in everything but his book operationalizes a lot of what we need in leadership literature. Keep up the good work Jim. I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Good Old Fashioned Leadership

One last thing. While reading this interview with Jim I began thinking of my grandfather who was the president of a bank in Red Lodge, Montana. He would walk to work, walk home for lunch, walk back to work, eat dinner before walking – sometimes driving – to his office in the evening. When he died he left my grandmother quite comfortable financially and the entire town came to his funeral. Collins’ writes of leaders like Grandpa. They are out there. Perhaps they are finding themselves in trouble today but they will be there at the end of the journey. Their last days will be filled with joy and friends, many of whom will have followed their lead.

Grandpa always had time to take me fishing… I miss him. I drank Orange Crush, he drank coffee with a little sugar.

photo credit: September 13, 2013 at 09:58PM via photopin (license)

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