"Good to Great" by Jim Collins 

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Additional thought of Graham White in highlights.

 Good Is The Enemy of Great 

Good is the enemy of great and that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great.  Greatness is not a function of circumstance.  Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice.  Few people attain great lives because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.

Good to great companies do not focus principally on what to do to become great; they focus equally on what not to do and what to stop doing.

Most of us lead busy, but undisciplined lives.  We have ever-expanding "to do" lists, trying to build momentum by doing doing doing - and doing more.  and it rarely works.  Those who built the good to great companies, however, make as much use of "stop doing" lists as "to do" lists.  They display a remarkable discipline to get rid of extraneous junk.

They pay little attention to managing change, motivating people, or creating alignment.  Under the right conditions, these challenges largely melt away.

First Who...Then What

You would expect that good-to-great leaders would begin by setting a new vision and strategy.  Instead, they first get the right people, get rid of the wrong people and then get those right people into the right places...then they figure out what the vision is.  The old adage "People are your most important asset" turns out to be wrong.  People are not your most important asset.  The right people are your most important asset.

At the top levels of your organization, you absolutely must have the discipline not to hire until you find the right people.  The single most harmful step you can take in a journey from good to great is to put the wrong people in key positions.  Second, widen your definition of "right people" to focus more on the character attributes of the person and less on specialized knowledge.  People can learn skills and acquire knowledge, but they cannot learn the essential character traits that make them right for your organization.

Take advantage of difficult economic times to hire great people, even if you don't have a specific job in mind.  A poor market become a great people opportunity rather than a financial opportunity.  Hire as many of the very best people you can afford and then figure out what you are going to do with them.  

Confront the Brutal Facts

You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.  Confront what scares you.

Adding Momentum to The Flywheel

The process of moving from good-to-great requires relentlessly pushing a giant flywheel in one direction, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond.



Level 5       Level 5 Executive

Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.  They are simple in both their business approach and their personal life.  Never stops trying to become qualified for the job.  

Level 4       Executive Leader

Catalyzes commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision, stimulating higher performance standards.  Often have a "biggest dog" syndrome - they don't mind other dogs in the kennel, as long as they remain the biggest one.  75% of these type of leaders set up their successors for failure - intentionally.

Level 3       Competent Manager

Organizes people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of pre-determined objectives.

Level 2       Contributing Team Member

Contributes individual capabilities to the achievement of group objectives and works effectively with others in a group setting.

Level 1       Highly Capable Individual

Makes productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills, and good work habits.


Level 5 Leaders

Level 5 leaders are fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce results.  They will sell the mill or fire their brother, if that's what it takes to make the company great.  They DO NOT believe in nepotism or seniority.  They are clearly focused on finding the best person for the job, period.

Interestingly, Level 5 leaders of great companies feel "lucky".  Coincidentally, Level 4 leaders of good or poor companies blame "bad luck".

Level 5 leaders look to factors other than themselves to give credit to, and if they can not find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck.  At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly.

The comparison leaders did just the opposite.  They'd look for something or someone outside themselves to blame for poor results, but would credit themselves when things went well.

Everyone looking at a business with a Level 5 leader from the outside point directly at the leader as the source of the success.  The Level 5 leader directs the praise at the people and good fortune that made it possible, "I'm a lucky guy."  They're both right, of course, but the Level 5 leader would never admit the fact.

Professional Will Personal Humility
Creates superb results, a clear catalyst in the transition from good to great. Demonstrates a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation; never boastful.
Demonstrates an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long- term results, no matter how difficult. Acts with quiet, calm determination; relies principally on inspired standards, no inspiring charisma, to motivate.
Sets the standard of building an enduring great company; will settle for nothing less. Channels ambition into the company, not the self; sets up successors for even greater success in the next generations. 
Takes responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck. Gives credit for the success of the company to other people, external factors, and good luck.


Level 5 leaders set up their successors for even greater success in the future, whereas egocentric Level 4 leaders often set up their successors for failure.

Level 5 leaders are resolved to do whatever it takes.  They are willing to work hard and long, more plow horse that show horse.


First Who - Then What

Good to great companies hired outstanding people whenever and wherever they found them, often without any specific job in mind.  If you have the right people, the problem of how to motivate and mange largely goes away.  The right people don't need to be tightly managed or fired up; they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great.  If you have the wrong people, it doesn't matter whether you discover the right direction; you still won't have a great company.  Great vision without great people is irrelevant.

There was not even any evidence that financial compensation was linked to the process of going from good to great.  People must be paid a fair wage, but things like bonuses and perks don't motivate people with Level 5 leadership.  They offer some motivation to organizations with Level 4 leadership, but this can't be sustained, eventually people will gravitate to places that fit with their purpose and passion in life, regardless of the financial benefits.

It's not how you compensate your executives, it's which executives to compensate in the first place.  The right people won't settle for anything less that their best.  Their moral code requires building excellence for its own sake, and you're no more likely to change that with a compensation package than you're likely to affect whether they breath.  The good-to-great companies understood a simple truth: The right people will do the right things and deliver the best results they're capable of, regardless of the incentive system.

There is no way to turn lazy people into hard workers, but you can create an environment that attracts hard workers and then train them.  Character is more important than skills.  Skills can always be taught, character can not.  The lazy workers either quit, are fired or are chased off by the hard working ones.  One leader described their environment as follows: "We hire five, work them like ten, and pay them like eight."  

Rigorous, not ruthless

The good to great companies are tough places to work.  If you don't have what it takes, you probably won't last long.  But they're rigorous, not ruthless and the distinction is critical.  To be ruthless means hacking and cutting without thoughtful consideration.  To be rigorous means consistently applying exacting standards at all times and at all levels, especially in upper management.  To be rigorous means that the best people need not worry about their positions and can concentrate fully on their work.

They are very frank about opportunities when in transition: "Sorry, we don't see a role for you", or "Yes, you have a role, so stop worrying about your job."  To let people languish in uncertainty for months or years, stealing time that they could use to move on when they aren't going to make it anyway - that would be ruthless.  To deal with people up front and let them get on with their lives - that is rigorous.

How to be rigorous:  When in doubt, don't hire - keep looking.

Every minute devoted to putting the proper person in the proper slot is worth weeks of time later.  If you have honest and able people who are not performing well, it is equally important to move them once or even two or three times to other positions where they might blossom.

Level 5 management is not threatened by someone who might be able to do some part of their job better than them.  They are focused simply on hiring the best people available, working themselves out of their position by training others to be great as well.  Level 4 management first creates a vision for the company and hires a crew of able helpers to make their vision come true.

In fact, Level 5 leaders take pride in their ability to assemble the right people around them, and putting the right people in the right slots so that they don't need to be there themselves all hours of the day and night.  They maintain balance in their life between work and the rest of their life.  They are people of deep character who attract many to whatever they are pursuing, both at work and outside of work.

Outside of the Box

Just because it's the way it has always been done or the fact that everyone else is doing it doesn't make it the right way!  You must find the ability that makes you number one or number two in what you are doing, or find something else to do.  This transition is difficult, but Level 5 leaders take a good hard look at the facts and then do whatever is necessary to succeed, even if it means reinventing everything.

You must be hostile against complacency.  No matter how well you feel things are going, you must believe that the status quo will never sustain you long term.  When you find things that worry you, you can either ignore them, or say, "My job is to find the things that aren't working, even if they scare me, and then address them."  

Good to great companies spend very little time focused on the past successes and a great deal of time focused on the potential obstacles ahead.  This was so much the case that the leaders encouraged forums where senior executives could talk most openly about their concerns.

You must be prepared to be diligent at every decision.  There are no shortcuts or quick fixes, only steady continuous work towards excellence (not perfection).  Many people are looking for the book or seminar or investment strategy that can propel them out of mediocrity.  The only way to become great is to take small diligent steps every day.  There is no singular great moment, no singular important action.  Each step is the most important step of the journey.

Lead with questions, not answers.

Leading from good to great does not mean coming up with the answers and then motivating everyone to follow you messianic vision.  It means having the humility to grasp the fact that you do not yet understand enough to have the answers and then to ask the questions that will lead to the best possible insights.  Level 5 leaders don't claim to have all the answers.  They learn to ask questions in a way that would stimulate brilliant answers.  Good companies never asked the right questions.

They also create a climate where problems are assessed without blame, only solutions.  In this way, the truth can be heard because the process is about understanding and learning, not finger pointing.  

The problem with Charisma

a strong personality, can be as much a liability as an asset.  When others learn to lean on your vision instead of asking their own questions the chances of making mistakes increase dramatically.  You can't manufacture passion or "motivate" people to feel passionate.  You can only discover what ignites you passion and the passions of those around you.  Even if most people consider what you're doing unimportant, boring or mundane, you must find others who have the same passion for what you are doing as you do.


 The Hedgehog Concept 

Good to great companies are more like hedgehogs - simple dowdy creatures that know "one big thing" and stick to it.  The comparison companies are more like foxes - crafty, cunning creatures that know many things yet lack consistency.

Great Ideas are:  1.  Simple.  2.  Insightful.  3.  Obvious.

We are so committed to the idea that great ideas must be radical and complex, that only the brightest can truly understand them.  Paradoxically, the opposite is true: truly great ideas are ones that anyone can understand and put into practice.

Most companies have a strategy, most companies plan, but good to great companies focus on simple, simple ideas that they use as a frame of reference for all their decisions, and this simplicity created results.  They stick with what they understand and let their abilities, not their egos determine what they attempt.  That simplicity was based around these three principles:

1.  What you can be the best in the world at (and facing up to what you can't be the best in the world at).  Just because you're good at something, doesn't mean you can be the best at it.  What you can be the best at might not even be something you're doing at all at the moment.

2.  Understanding what will create the best economic returns relative to what you are doing or pursuing.  Profit per x, etc.

3.  What you are passionate about.

To have a fully developed Hedgehog Concept, you need all three circles.  If you make a lot of money doing things at which you could never be the best at, you'll only build a successful company, not a great one.  If you become the best at something, you'll never remain on top if you don't have intrinsic passion for what you are doing. Finally, you can be passionate all you want, but if you can't be the best at it or it doesn't make economic sense, then you might have a lot of fun, but you won't produce great results.

A Hedgehog Concept is not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best.  It has nothing to do with ego, willpower or bravado.  It is an understanding of what you can be the best at, period.  The distinction is absolutely crucial.  

You can have competence at something but not necessarily have the potential to be the best in the world at it.  We all know of straight "a" students who enter university to find out that there are people much more gifted than them.  You may have had an experience yourself where you were considered the best at something, until you swam in a bigger pond.  

The Hedgehog Concept requires a sever standard of excellence.  It's not just about building on strength and competence, but about understanding what you truly have the potential to be the very best at and sticking to it.  If you successfully apply these ideas, but then stop doing them, you will slide backward, from great to good, or worse.  The only way to remain great is to keep applying the fundamental principles that made you great.

Just because you've been doing it for years or even decades does not necessarily mean that you can be the best in the world at it.  You may have even lost the opportunity a short while back to someone else in an area where you could have been the best.  Now you must find something new, even if that means radical change.

Have Patience

It took four years on average for the good to great companies to clarify their Hedgehog Concepts.  It took Einstein ten years of groping before he reached the theory of relativity, and he was a bright guy.

A Hedgehog Concept simplifies a complex world and makes decisions much easier.  While it has clarity and elegant simplicity once you have it, getting the concept can be devilishly difficult and takes time.  It is a process not an event.

The essence of the process is to get the right people engaged in vigorous dialogue and debate, infused with the brutal facts and guided by questions formed by the three circles.  Do we really understand what we can be the best in the world at, as distinct from what we can just be successful at?  Do we really understand what will drive the economic engine and how we need to see the profit returns (profit per customer, profit per unit, profit per store, profit per market etc.)?  Do we really understand what best ignites our passion?

What if you conclude that you're not the best at anything and never have been?  Therein lies one of the most exciting aspects of the entire study: Most of the good to great companies were not the best in the world at anything and showed no prospects of becoming so.  They took the attitude, "There must be something we can become the best at, and we will find it!"

The Quiet Ping Of Truth

When they did find it, it wasn't declared with the typical bravado of most companies.  "Yep, we could be the best at that" was stated as a recognition of fact, no more startling than observing the sky is blue or the grass is green.  When you get your Hedgehog Concept right, it has the quiet ping of truth.  There is no need to say much of anything; the quiet truth speaks for itself.


 A Culture of Discipline 

Inequality still runs rampant in most business corporations.  I'm referring to hierarchical inequality which legitimizes and institutionalizes the principle of "We" vs. "They."   The people at the top of the corporate hierarchy grant themselves privilege after privilege, flaunt those privileges before the men and women who do the real work, then wonder why employees are unmoved by management's invocations to cut costs and boost profitability.  when I think of the millions of dollars spent by people at the top of the management hierarchy on efforts to motivate people who are continually put down by that hierarchy, I can only shake my head in wonder.

Entrepreneurial success is fueled by creativity, imagination, bold moves into uncharted waters, and visionary zeal.  As a company grows and becomes more complex, it begins to trip over its own success - too many new people, too many new customers, too many new orders, too many new products.  What was once great fun becomes an unwieldy ball of disorganized stuff.  Lack of planning, lack of accounting, lack of systems, and lack of hiring constraints create friction.  Problems surface - with customers, with cash flow, with schedules.

The professional manager reins in the mess, creating order out of chaos, but also kill the entrepreneurial spirit.  Founding members feel it isn't as fun as it used to be, the creative magic begins to wane and some of the most innovative people leave rather than deal with bureaucracy and hierarchy.  The exciting transformation of the start-up begins to fade into the cancer of mediocrity.  

The purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline - a problem that largely goes away if you have the right people in the first place.  Most companies build their bureaucratic rules to manage the small percentage of the wrong people, which in turn drives away the right people, which then increases the percentage of the wrong people, which increases the need for more bureaucracy to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline, which then further drives the right people away, and so forth.

Avoid bureaucracy and hierarchy and instead create a culture of discipline.  When you put these two complementary forces together - a couture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship - you get a magical combination of superior performance with sustained results.

Good to great companies make little differentiation between executives and workers.  They don't wear different colored hard hats, have different sized offices or better parking spaces.  Status and authority come from leadership capabilities, not position.

When you set your plans for the year, record them in concrete.  You can change your plans through the year, but you never change what you measure yourself against.  You are rigorous at the end of the year, adhering exactly to what you said was going to happen.  You don't get a chance to editorialize.  You don't get a chance to adjust and finagle, and decide that you really didn't intend to do that anyway, and readjust your objectives to make yourself look better.  You never just focus on what you've accomplished for the year; you focus on what you've accomplished relative to exactly what you said you were going to accomplish - no matter how tough the measure.

Budgeting is a discipline to decide which arenas should be fully funded and which should not be funded at all.  In other words, the budget process is not about figuring out how much each activity gets, but about determining which activities best support the Hedgehog Concept and should be fully strengthened and which should be eliminated entirely.

On the one hand, you want to recruit entrepreneurial leaders and give them freedom to determine the best path to achieving their objectives.  On the other hand, individuals must commit fully to the system you use and be held rigorously accountable for their objectives.  You give them freedom, but freedom within a framework.

More precisely, this means the following:

  1. Build a culture around the idea of freedom and responsibility, within a framework.

  2. Fill that culture with self-disciplined people who are willing to go to extreme lengths to fulfill their responsibilities.  They will do anything and everything to squeeze out that last bit of efficiency or return.

  3. Don't confuse a culture of discipline with a tyrannical disciplinarian.

  4. Adhere with great consistency to the Hedgehog Concept, exercising an almost religious focus on the intersection of the three principles.  Equally important, create a "stop doing list" and systematically unplug anything you're not going to be the very best at.

Good to great companies build a consistent system with clear constraints, but they also give people freedom and responsibility within the framework of that system.  They hire self-disciplined people who don't need to be managed, and then manage the system, not the people.  

You can't develop a culture of disciplined action without first having disciplined people.  Other companies try to jump right to disciplined action, but this is impossible to sustain without disciplined people.  Discipline is essential for great results, but disciplined action without disciplined understanding of the three principles cannot produce sustained great results.

It is so much easier to think and maneuver when you're keeping ahead of your problems.  If you're simply treading water, maintaining the status quo, being content with where you're at and it only takes one small problem before you're in a hole and you can't see the opportunities, nor do you have the clarity or energy to take advantage of them if you do see them.

Much of the answer to the question of "good to great" lies in the discipline to do whatever it takes to become the best within carefully selected arenas and then to seek continual improvement from there.  It's really just that simple - and it's really just that difficult.

Good to great companies use words like disciplined, rigorous, dogged, determined, diligent, precise, fastidious, systematic, methodical, workmanlike, demanding, consistent, focused, accountable, and responsible.  These words do not come up in other companies.  People in good to great companies are somewhat extreme in the fulfillment of their responsibilities, bordering in some cases on fanaticism.

Everyone would like to be the best, but most organizations lack the discipline to figure out with egoless clarity what they can be the best at and the will to do whatever it takes to turn that potential into reality.

Key Points

  • Sustained great results depend upon building a culture full of self-disciplined people who take disciplined action, fanatically consistent with the three circles.

  • Bureaucratic cultures arise to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline, which arise from having the wrong people in the first place.  If you get the right people with you and the wrong people gone, you don't need stifling bureaucracy.

  • A culture of discipline involves a duality.  On the one hand, it requires people who adhere to a consistent system; yet, on the other hand, it gives people freedom and responsibility within the framework of that system.

  • A culture of discipline is not just about action.  It is about getting disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and who then take disciplined action.

  • The good to great companies appear boring and pedestrian looking in from the outside, but upon closer inspection, they're full of people who display extreme diligence and a stunning intensity, doing everything possible to make the company efficient and effective.

  • Do not confuse a culture of discipline with a tyrant who disciplines - they are very different concepts, one highly functional, the other highly dysfunctional.  Savior CEOs who personally discipline through sheer force of personality usually fail to produce sustained results.

  • The single most important form of discipline for sustained results is fanatical adherence to the Hedgehog Concept and the willingness to shun opportunities that fall outside the three circles.

Unexpected Findings

  • The more an organization has the discipline to stay within its three circles, with almost religious consistency, the more it will have opportunities for growth.

  • The fact that something is a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" is irrelevant, unless it fits within the three circles.  a great company will have many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

  • The purpose of budgeting in a good to great company is not to decide how much each activity gets, but to decide which arenas best fit with the Hedgehog Concept and should be fully funded and which should not be funded at all.

  • "Stop doing" lists are more important that "to do" lists.

Technology...is it the key?

People don't know what they don't know.  And they're always afraid that some new technology is going to sneak up on them from behind and knock them on the head.  they don't understand technology, and many fear it.  All they know for sure is that technology is an important force of change, and that they'd better pay attention to it.

Good to great organizations avoid fads and bandwagons, yet they become pioneers of carefully selected technologies.  They are motivated by a deep creative urge and an inner compulsion for sheer unadulterated excellence for its own sake.  In contrast, those who build and perpetuate mediocrity are motivated more by the fear of being left behind.

20% of success may be in the new technology a company embraces or creates, but 80% is the culture of the company.  Thoughtless reliance on technology is a liability.  You could give the exact same technology to the competitors and they would fail to deliver the same results of a good to great company.


 Getting The Flywheel Into Motion 

When looking at good to great companies from the outside the transition looks dramatic with almost revolutionary breakthroughs.  But from the inside, they feel completely different, more like an organic development process.  The key term is consistency.  The Level 5 leaders are  interested in quite, deliberate pushing on a flywheel that eventually gains speed and is eventually unstoppable.  In a word, they are focused on RESULTS!

Good to great companies have no name for their transformations.  There was no launch event, no tag line, no programmatic feel whatsoever.  Some executives said that they weren't even aware that a major transformation was underway until they were well into it.  It was often more obvious to them after the fact than at the time.  

There was no miracle moment.  It was a quiet, deliberate process of figuring out what needed to be done to create the best future results and then simply taking those steps, one after the other.  Good to great executives simply could not pinpoint a single key event or moment in time that exemplified their transition.  You can't dissect it into a series of nice little boxes and factors, or identify the moment of "Aha!" or the "One big thing."  It is a whole lot of interlocking pieces that build one upon another.

People who say, "Hey, but we've got constraints that prevent us from taking this longer-term approach," should keep in mind that the good to great followed this model no matter how dire the short-term circumstances.  Their stock rose after a few years, because of actual results.

The key is to harness the flywheel to manage short-term pressures.  They avoid attempts at hoopla and motivation, instead focusing on beginning to turn the flywheel, creating tangible evidence that their plans make sense.  They tend not to publicly proclaim big goals at the outset.  Rather, they begin to spin the wheel.  (Don't talk about it.  Do it and let the results speak for themselves.)

Stop and think about it for a minute.  What do the right people want more than almost anything else?  They want to be part of a winning team.  They want to contribute to producing visible, tangible results.  They want to feel the excitement of being involved in something that just flat-out works.  When the right people see a simple plan born of confronting the brutal facts -- a plan developed from understanding, not bravado -- they are likely to say, "That'll work.  Count me in."  When they see the monolithic unity of the executive team behind the simple plan and the selfless, dedicated qualities of Level 5 leadership, they'll drop their cynicism.  When people begin to feel the magic of momentum -- when they begin to see tangible results, when they can feel the flywheel beginning to build speed -- that's when the bulk of people line up to throw their shoulders against the wheel and push.

You must be astute enough to recognize this happening before everyone else if you're investing.

In other companies do just the opposite, they launch new programs with fanfare and hoopla aimed at "motivating the troops" - only to see the programs fail to produce sustained results.  They seek a single defining action, a grand program, one killer innovation, the miracle moment that would allow them to skip the arduous buildup stage and jump right to breakthrough.  They push the flywheel in one direction, then stop, change course, and throw it in a new direction, stop, change course again and never build momentum.  Instead of momentum from a flywheel, they fall into what came to be called the doom loop.

It's a matter of making the right small choices, time after time.  There are no shortcuts.  Greatness, success takes time and many small steps in the right direction.


Highly diversified firms and conglomerates will rarely produce sustained great results.  The most effective investment strategy is a highly undiversified portfolio...when you are right.  "Being right" means getting the Hedgehog Concept; "highly undiversified" means investing fully in those things that fit squarely within the three circles and getting rid of everything else.  It just isn't that hard of you have all the pieces in place.  If you work with the right people, confront the brutal facts of reality, leave your ego out of it and you act from understanding, not bravado - if you do all these things, then you are likely to be right on the big decisions.  The question is, once you know the right thing, do you have the discipline to do the right thing and stop doing the wrong things?

In investing, it's not enough to recognize a great company, you must recognize itbefore everyone else does.  Jump on the bandwagon once you see other people on it and you are guaranteed minimal returns on investment.  Take action in your area of knowledge and expertise early and see double and triple digit returns.

How do you know what your area of expertise is?  Develop your own Hedgehog Concept:  

1.  What you can be the best in the world at not just what you're good at (and facing up to what you can't be the best in the world at).  

2.  Understanding what will create the best economic returns relative to what you are doing or pursuing.  Profit per x, etc.

3.  What you are passionate about.


 From Good To Great to Built To Last 

It is much easier to become great than to remain great.

Why Greatness?

It's almost a nonsensical question.  If you're engaged in work that you love and care about, for whatever reason, then the question needs no answer.  The question is not why, but how.  Don't ask, "Why greatness?" but "What work makes you feel compelled to try to create greatness?"  If you have to ask the question, "Why should we try to make it great?  Isn't success enough?" then you're probably engaged in the wrong line of work.

Perhaps your quest to be part of building something great will not fall in your business life.  But find it somewhere.  If not in corporate life, then perhaps in making your church great.  If not there, then perhaps a nonprofit, or a community organization, or a class you teach.  Get involved in something that you care so much about that you want to make it the greatest it can possibly be, not because of what you will get, but just because it can be done.  Do something you really care about, for which you have great passion.

It must be stated that greatness does not depend on size.  Having said that, it is no harder to build something great than to build something good.  It might be statistically more rare to reach greatness, but it does not require more suffering than perpetuating mediocrity.  Indeed, it involves less suffering, and perhaps even less work - as long as you can delay gratification.

Those who strive to turn good to great find the process no more painful or exhausting than those who settle for just letting things wallow along in mind-numbing mediocrity.  It's like two students who have an essay due in two months.  One begins that night and does a little work every night until it's done.  The other waits until the week before and tries to cram in all the work necessary at the last minute.  Both do the same amount of work, but the effort involved for the crammer feels like more because they didn't implement the principle of delayed gratification.  Building momentum adds more energy than it takes out.  Conversely, perpetuating mediocrity is an inherently depressing process and drains much more energy than it puts back in.

To make the shift from a company with sustained great results to an enduring company of iconic stature, the company must discover its core values and purpose beyond just making money.  You'd better love what you're pursuing because success takes time, persistence and consistency.  Unless you love it, you won't make it!

Enduring great companies don't exist merely to deliver returns to shareholders.  Good to great companies do not view their ultimate reason for being as making money.  Indeed, in a truly great company, profits and cash flow is like water to a healthy body - essential for life, but not the point of life.  

What is interesting is that there are no specific "right" core values for becoming an enduring great company.  The point is not what core values you have, but that you have core values at all, that you know what they are, that you build them explicitly into the organization, and that you preserve them over time.  A company need not have passion for it's customers (Sony didn't), or respect for the individual (Disney didn't) or quality (Wal-Mart didn't), or social responsibility (Ford didn't).  This was our most paradoxical finding.

When all these pieces come together, not only does your work move toward greatness, but so does your life.  For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life.  And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.  Perhaps, then, you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you've had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution.  Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfaction: knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered.

It is not the content of a company's values that correlates with performance, but the strength of conviction with which it holds those values whatever they might be.  

Every company - no matter how great - faces difficult times.  There are no enduring great companies that have a perfect, unblemished record.  They all have ups and downs.  The critical factor is not the absence of difficulty but the ability to bounce back and emerge stronger.  But an even bigger danger than outright failure is to be successful without being clear about why you are successful in the first place.


By -- Jim Collins www.jimcollins.com 

"We all have a strength or two in life, and I suppose mine is the ability to take a lump of unorganized information, see patterns, and extract order from the mess -- to go from chaos to concept."

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