Wednesday, June 16, 2010

good to great

On the recommendation of a friend, I started reading the book, Good to Great by Jim Collins. It contains the highly readable and interesting results of 5 years of research conducted to answer the question: Why do some companies make the leap from good to great and others don't? It is much more than a book on business. It is a book on how to do life with others and make something great of it. It talks about the unexpected but absolutely necessary factor of humility, putting the interests of the "whole" ahead of your own interests, focussing on "who" before "what," and the amazing potential of disciplined dedication. Here are some quotes that I found stimulating:

Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice. (p. 11)

When you have disciplined people, you don't need hierarchy. When you have disciplined thought, you don't need bureaucracy. When you have disciplined action, you don't need excessive controls. (p. 13)

No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformation never happened in one fell swoop...Rather, the process resembled relentlessly pushing a giant heavy flywheel in one direction, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond. (p. 14)

(regarding what he calls Level 5 executives who embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and unwavering resolve) They are ambitious, to be sure, but ambitious first and foremost for the company, not themselves. (p. 39.)

Level 5 leaders look out the window to attribute success to factors other than themselves. When things go poorly, however, they look in the mirror and blame themselves, taking full responsibility. The comparison CEOs often did just the opposite - they looked in the mirror to take credit for success, but out the window to assign blame for disappointing results. (p. 39)

On two companies facing the challenge of cheap imported steel which could affect their domestic sales: Bethlehem Steel's CEO summed up the company's problems in 1983 by blaming imports: "Our first, second, and third problems are imports." Ken Iverson and his crew at Nucor considered the same challenge from imports a blessing, a stroke of good fortune ("Aren't we lucky; steel is heavy, and they have to ship it all the way across the ocean, giving us a huge advantage!"). (p. 34.)

Nucor built its entire system on the idea that you can teach farmers how to make steel, but you can't teach a farmer work ethic to people who don't have it in the first place. So, instead of setting up mills in traditional steel towns like Pittsburgh and Gary, it located its plants in places like Crawfordsville, Indiana; Norfolk, Nebraska; and Plymouth, Utah - places full of real farmers who go to bed early, rise at dawn, and get right to work without fanfare. (p. 50.)

For no matter what we achieve, if we don't spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect, we cannot possibly have a great life. (p. 62.)

And I've only read the first 3 chapters! Most of all I have been struck by the solid evidence that desire for recognition (celebrity) and ego-driven agendas are death blows to greatness. Ordinary people can do extra-ordinary things if they don't care who gets the credit. As Alan Wurtzel, of the highly successful Circuit City, said when asked what the difference was between his competing CEO and himself: "The show horse and the plow horse - he was more of a show horse, whereas I was more of a plow horse." (p. 33.)

Let us plow on...
This is picture of some flowers I picked in the woods, plopped in a black drinking glass, and photographed in my bathtub. Elements I usually wouldn't think to put together.

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