Book Review: Good to Great

Book Review:
Good to Great:
Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't

    Jim Collins
    Harper Business, 2001
    ISBN: 0-06-662099-6

This is not a good book. It's a great book. I am seldom inspired by business publications, but I found this one not only useful, but somewhat uplifting as well.

First and foremost, the book is useful because it employs solid research methodology and thoughtful analysis to examine a pertinent question: "How do you take an average (or "good") company and turn it into a "great" company?" The book's findings on this question are both fascinating and incontrovertible.

Collins and his team analyze eleven public, Fortune 500, US companies, many of which will be unfamiliar to the reader, but all of which share a common statistical pattern. From humble origins as average earners, each of these companies went on to outperform the market and their competitors by a factor of at least three over an extended period of time (at least fifteen years).

Why only eleven companies? Because only eleven companies met the stringent criteria for inclusion in the study. To emphasize the achievements of each of these companies, Collins includes data from companies in the same markets with the same expertise and opportunities, but which did not come close to matching the performance of the "great" companies.

"Good is the enemy of great," Collins tells us. If you are happy just to run a good company that pays modest dividends and grows more or less in unison with the market, then this book might not interest you. However, if you aren't satisfied with good, this book's findings on leadership, team building, technology, and corporate culture can help you focus your passion to become the best at what you do.

One of the virtues of this book is that it not only gives you the results of the research team's analytical processes, but also gives some intimation of the twists in the plot along the way. Collins frequently tells us how the data completely undermined his and his group's assumptions and expectations, and forced them to re-evaluate their views. As with most great ones, this book takes you on a voyage of discovery. It's a very good read.

I think the inspirational nature of this book is due in part to its universal applicability. While it specifically analyzes public business organizations, because information concerning such organizations is readily available, its findings really apply to all kinds of human organizations. As Collins says:

    This might come as a surprise, but I don't primarily think of my work as about the study of business, nor do I see this as fundamentally a business book. Rather, I see my work as being about discovering what creates enduring great organizations of any type. I'm curious to understand the fundamental differences between great and good, between excellent and mediocre... That good is the enemy of great is not just a business problem. It is a human problem. (pp. 15-16)

In the final analysis, the Big Hairy Audacious Goal of this book is to unify individual, business, and human values, so that the individual's participation in the creation of a great organization also becomes an act of self-realization. Even if you find this conclusion a bit metaphysical for your tastes, you'll still find plenty of practical insights in this book.

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