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Vision = Core Ideology + Envisioned Future
on 30 November 2002
James Collins is a management researcher from Boulder (Colorado, USA) and Jerry Porras is a professor of organizational behavior and change at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. This book is really split up into three parts: (1) An introduction into the research.; (2) The core ideology of visionary companies.; (3) The habits of visionary companies; (4) Methods for implementation.
The authors explain their research methods of this six-year research project into visionary companies. "Visionary companies are premier institutions - the crown jewels - in their industries, widely admired by their peers and having a long track record of making a significant impact on the world around them." The authors used the term 'visionary', rather than just 'successful' or 'enduring', to reflect the fact they have distinguished themselves as a very special and elite breed of institutions. In order to compose these visionary companies the authors started with a set of criteria which those companies had to meet: (1) Premier institution in its industry; (2) widely admired by knowledgeable businesspeople; (3) made an indelible imprint on the world in which we live; (4) had multiple generations of chief executives; (5) been through multiple product (or service) life cycles; (6) founded before 1950. With these criteria in mind the authors select 18 visionary companies from a wide range of industries, plus 18 comparison companies (which are not weak or bad companies either).
So what do these visionary companies have in common? They have core ideologies consisting of more than a bunch of nice-sounding platitudes. A visionary company's core ideology consists of core values ("The organization's essential and enduring tenets") and purpose ("The organization's fundamental reasons for existence beyond just making money"). But the authors comment that ocre ideology alone cannot make a visionary company. Ultimately, a visionary company is build up from a core ideology complemented with a drive for progress and a preservation of the core complemented with a stimulation for progress.
The authors then turn their attention to the specific methods of preserving the core and stimulating progress that distinguishes visionary companies from the comparison companies. They split these methods up into: (1) Big hairy audaciou goals (BHAGs) ("Commitment to challenging, audicious goals and projects toward which a visionary company channels its efforts."); (2) Cult-like cultures ("Great places to work only for those who buy in to the core ideology; those who don't fit the ideology are ejected like a virus (preserves the core)."); (3)Try a lot of stuff and keep what works ("High levels of action and experimentation that produce new and unexpected paths of progress and enables visionary companies to mimic the biological evolution of specias (stimulates progress)."); (4) Home-grown management ("Promotion from within, bringing to senior levels only those who've spent significant time steeped in the coe ideology of the company (preserves the core)."); and (5) Good enough never is ("A continual process of relentless self-improvement with the aim of doing better and better, forever into the future (stimulate progress).")
In the final chapters the authors provide a summary of the book, which they refer to as the vision framework: Articulating a vision = core ideology (core values and core purpose) + envisioned future (10 to 30 year BHAG and vivid descriptions). There are also some tools to create all these items in this framework. In this 3rd edition there is also 'a message for the new economy' in which the authors conclude that the dot-com craze is based on 'Built to Flip' and not 'Built to Last' ideas. They provide some questions for to check whether your organization is built to last or built to flip. This chapter is a waste paper.
I honestly cannot believe that I read this book just a month after I read Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman's 'In Search of Excellence' (1982). They have so much in common, it is uncanny - habits, example companies, research methods, etc. I must admit that I prefer Peters and Waterman's book better, but I can understand if readers do not feel that way. Nevertheless, this is a good book into the habits of successful companies, although the habits are somewhat 'soft', and difficult to implement in existing companies. The biggest criticism McKinsey & Co had on this book: "We really love 'Built to Last' here, but unfortunately it's useless. ... all the companies in 'Built to Last' were always great. They were never average. But that's most of the world." As an reply to this criticism Collins has recently written 'Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't' (2001). My greatest criticism on this book is the amount of repetition and therefore I recommend others to go for the e-articles 'Build Your Company's Vision' and 'Turning Goals into Results', both by the authors of this book. I also recommend Jim Collins' latest article 'Level 5 Leadership' (2001) which is based on his latest book 'Good to Great'. This book is written in simple US-English.