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Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All Hardcover – 13 Oct 2011
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"Jim Collins ... is the most influential management thinker alive" (Fortune)
"For this guru, no question is too big" (New York Times)
"A sensible, well-timed and precisely targeted message for companies shaken by macroeconomic crises" (Financial Times)
"Jim Collins has built a reputation as something of a myth buster ... This book is recommended" (Financial World)
"“Luck is not a strategy” the authors conclude. What determines any organization’s success is how it prepares for both good and bad luck. They call this getting a “positive return” on luck and, if Good to Great’s four million-plus sales are anything to go by, this idea will be embedded in corporate speak before you know it" (Philip Delves Broughton, author of What They Teach you At Harvard Business School Management Today)
From the Inside Flap
THE NEW QUESTION
Ten years after the worldwide bestseller Good to Great, Jim Collins returns with another groundbreaking work, this time to ask: Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not? Based on nine years of research, buttressed by rigorous analysis and infused with engaging stories, Collins and his colleague, Morten Hansen, enumerate the principles for building a truly great enterprise in unpredictable, tumultuous, and fast-moving times.
THE NEW STUDY
Great by Choice distinguishes itself from Collins's prior work by its focus not just on performance, but also on the type of unstable environments faced by leaders today. With a team of more than twenty researchers, Collins and Hansen studied companies that rose to greatness - beating their industry indexes by a minimum of ten times over fifteen years - in environments characterized by big forces and rapid shifts that leaders could not predict or control. The research team then contrasted these "10X companies" to a carefully selected set of comparison companies that failed to achieve greatness in similarly extreme environments.
THE NEW FINDINGS
The study results were full of provocative surprises. Such as:
* The best leaders were not more risk taking, more visionary, and more creative than the comparisons; they were more disciplined, more empirical, and more paranoid.
* Innovation by itself turns out not to be the trump card in a chaotic and uncertain world; more important is the ability to scale innovation, to blend creativity with discipline.
* Following the belief that leading in a "fast world" always requires "fast decisions" and "fast action" is a good way to get killed.
* The great companies changed less in reaction to a radically changing world than the comparison companies.
The authors challenge conventional wisdom with thought-provoking, sticky, and supremely practical concepts. They include 10Xers; the 20 Mile March; Fire Bullets then Cannonballs; Leading above the Death Line; Zoom Out, Then Zoom In; and the SMaC Recipe. Finally, in the last chapter, Collins and Hansen present their most provocative and original analysis: defining, quantifying, and studying the role of luck. The great companies and the leaders who built them were not luckier than the comparisons, but they did get a higher Return on Luck. This book is classic Collins: contrarian, data driven, and uplifting. He and Hansen show convincingly that, even in a chaotic and uncertain world, greatness happens by choice, not by chance
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Backed up by rigorous analysis the book identifies a handful of successful companies and then sets out to explain, with empirical evidence, why these companies performed so well in these uncertain times.
The book is structured around 6 main concepts (see below)
I find the writing of Jim Collins very succinct with a perfect blend of anecdote, theory and empirical evidence to make his points.
Please see below for the points I took away from this book:
• Great companies (10xers) accept uncertainty but refuse to accept that forces beyond their control will determine their destiny. Instead they work very hard at a clearly defined goal to build up a reservoir of strength (e.g. through cash on balance sheet or reputation in the market)
• 10xers consistently exhibit three core behaviours to build a reservoir of strength:
1. Fanatic discipline: Consistency of action around clearly defined strategy
2. Empirical creativity: decisions are made from a sound empirical base
3. Productive paranoia: constantly operating with a heightened state of awareness against potential threats
20 Mile March
• 10xers' growth trajectories often exhibit a steady trajectory much like the arctic explorer Anderson’s concept of marching 20 miles every day to the South Pole to be Cpt Scott , regardless of whether the weather was good or bad
• Adopting such a ‘20 Mile March’ will require pushing hard in adversity and reign it in during good times
• Such a philosophy will increase confidence because the organisation will be able to achieve results regardless of conditions
• Conversely, it is not about growing as quickly as possible all the time. Indeed, the study found that there is an inverse relationship between pursuit of maximum growth and 10x success. Growing too quickly can often lead to companies over extending themselves.
Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs
• 10xers use low-risk empirical tests (‘firing bullets’) to validate what ideas work.
• Only once a company has successfully tested an idea with bullets should they fire the ‘cannonball’
• 10xers are therefore not visionary geniuses but empiricists.
• Acquisitions can qualify as bullets if they’re low-cost, low-risk and low-distraction
Leading above the Death Line
• 10xers effectively identify and manage risk
• When risks are identified these companies spend significant time and energy on understanding the likely impact through empirical analysis and then working very hard to execute their risk mitigation plan
• 10xers have a Specific, Methodical and Consistent (“SMaC”) recipe that they adhered to
• SmaC recipes endured for the long term and were changed by an average of 15% over the era of analysis
• See South Western airline’s SMaC in the book as a good example
Return on Luck
• All companies have good and bad luck. 10xers had their fair share of both
• The rest of the concepts above must be enthusiastically executed well to get a good return on luck
However, this recipe suffers the same problem as many others: the narrative fallacy (D. Kahnemann). It is quite easy to reconstruct the cases as to support the theory one wishes to promote. The points claimed by the author are surely important for success, but are not the only ones. This leads to the other two problems: the over-simplification and the role of randomness.
The parameters that may affect success (or failure) are just too many and inter-correlated in a complex cause-and-effect structure, as to support a simple 4-points theory. Indeed the author dedicates a chapter to the study of luck, but the role of randomness is not deeply analyzed and, to my opinion, generally underestimated.
As usual Jim condenses years of his teams research into something that our mortal minds can understand, using his unique mix of framework thinking and empirical research to build a case thats easy to follow and apply in your business (or see in other businesses).
Perhaps not as great as Built to Last or Good to Great (and perhaps a lot shorter - but in some ways that makes it a lot easier to get through!)