Jim Collins – Great by Choice

 In Blog, Influence

This talk is a summary of Jim’s newest book, Great by Choice.

One of Jim’s foundational principles is that Good is the enemy of GREAT. But how do organizations stay great even in chaotic, frightening times? The answer cannot be circumstance. Similar companies face similar circumstances and some thrive while others die. Why?

Jim’s research indicates that Greatness is not a matter of circumstance. It is a matter of choice + discipline.

Some thrive in the midst of chaos and others don’t because of the choices, decisions, actions and disciplines they create.

  1. Everything begins with people. “Life is people.” Change every WHAT question you ask into a WHO question. This is about getting the right people in the right seats on the bus. Think about it like climbing a mountain. The conditions will be totally unpredictable. The smartest decision you can make is the right climbing partner.
  2. Force of personality is not the same as leadership. The core leadership value is humility. An excellent leader is a mixture of humility and a burning ambition that’s oriented outward toward a goal, vision or passion.

Case Study: The Race to the South Pole. The difference between Amundsen (who made it) and Scott (who died) was the way the two men lead their teams. Successful leaders exhibit 3 important behaviors.

timeline-amundsen1. Fanatical Discipline

The more chaotic the environment, the more you need discipline to survive and thrive. Resist the temptation to go too far when times are good. Make no excuses when times are bad. Jim calls this the 20-mile march. When you have great weather and flat roads, go 20 miles. When you have hills, mountains and awful weather, go 20 miles. Don’t let circumstances dictate your response.

2. Empirical Creativity

Don’t flounder around and grab at what someone else is doing to copy them (that’s the temptation when things get bad). Instead, spend some time learning what actually works. Look at the research. Amundsen lived with Inuit.

Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know. Please teach me.”

Conserve your gunpowder by firing bullets before you fire canonballs. How can you launch your idea on a small scale to see if it works, and use the results to calibrate your idea before you launch it big?

Use your gunpowder wisely. Become a student of what culture.

3. Productive Paranoia

You must be prepared for what you can’t predict. Channel uncertainty into productive results. Scott placed one flag on top of his supply depots. Amundsen placed markers stretching 5 miles to either side of his. He gave himself a 10-mile margin of error.

Be able to say to yourself, “I’m not that good.”

Remember: the only mistakes you learn from are those you survive.

The signature of mediocrity is…

…not an unwillingness to change.

…not an unwillingness to innovate.

…not an unwillingness to grow.

…a chronic inconsistency.

You (and your organization) need to ask yourself: What are our consistencies? What are our core values and what are our big, hairy, audacious goals (BHAGS)? This is the tension between who we are/where we’ve been and where we want to go. We must always change our practices without ever changing our values.

My To-Do List from Jim

AKA How to choose to be great:

  1. Run the Good to Great diagnostic on me and my team.
  2. Answer the questions: How many key seats do I have? What is my plan to fill them within a year? Moving people can be tough, but remember this: There’s a difference between rigorous and ruthless in choosing your people and moving them around. If someone is failing in a seat, they are not where they should be. They’re not in their hedgehog. Moving them is better for both of you!
  3. Who will I allow to mentor me? Develop your own personal Board of Directors.
  4. Jim-Collins-Hedgehog-Concept-300x280Get your personal hedgehog right before it’s too late. What are you passionate about? What were you genetically designed to do (not necessarily what are you good at)? Where do you make an undeniable contribution? Your hedgehog is where those three spheres intersect.
  5. Set your 20-mile march. Stick to it.
  6. Fire bullets. Fire at least 6 before the year ends.
  7. Observe a technology Sabbath every week.
  8. Create a STOP DOING list.
  9. Double your reach to people 1/2 your age by changing your practices without abandoning your valves.
  10. Set a BHAG that makes you useful. Make it your goal to matter. Do something audacious with your life. Don’t waste it worrying.

Creativity is human. The challenge is to marry it to discipline without dampening it. Your discipline should amplify your creativity.

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