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James C. Collins

“One of the most important steps you can take in building a visionary company is not an action, but a shift in perspective.” “Hewlett Packard Chairman Built Company by Design, Calculator by Chance.”

“Entrenched myth: Successful leaders in a turbulent world are bold, risk-seeking visionaries. Contrary finding: The best leaders we studied did not have a visionary ability to predict the future. They observed what worked, figured out why it worked, and built upon proven foundations. They were not more risk taking, bolder, more visionary, and more creative than the comparisons. They were more disciplined, more empirical, and more paranoid.” ― James C. Collins, Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All

Jim Collins is a student and teacher of enduring great companies — how they grow, how they attain superior performance, and how good companies can become great companies. Having invested a quarter of a century researching the topic, he has authored or co-authored six books. They include Good to Great (2001), the #1 bestseller, which examines why some companies and leaders make the leap to superior results, along with its companion work Good to Great and the Social Sectors; the enduring classic Built to Last (2004), which explores how some leaders build companies that remain visionary for generations; How the Mighty Fall (2009), which delves into how once-great companies can self-destruct; and most recently, Great by Choice (2011), which is about thriving in times of chaos—why some do, and others don't—and the leadership behaviors needed in a world beset by turbulence, uncertainty, and dramatic change.

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 key point is that a visionary company is an organization - an institution. All individual leaders, no matter how charismatic or visionary, eventually die; and all visionary products and services - all "great ideas" - eventually become obsolete. Indeed, entire markets can become obsolete and disappear. Yet visionary companies prosper over long periods of time, through multiple product life cycles and multiple generations of active leaders.

Drawing upon a six-year research project at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, Collins and co-author Jerry I. Porras took eighteen truly exceptional and long-lasting companies -- they have an average age of nearly one hundred years and have outperformed the general stock market by a factor of fifteen since 1926 -- and studied each company in direct comparison to one of its top competitors. They examined the companies from their very beginnings to the present day -- as start-ups, as midsize companies, and as large corporations. Throughout, the authors asked: "What makes the truly exceptional companies different from other companies?"

Through a study of 18 visionary companies, Collins and Porras shattered 12 myths of great, lasting companies:

Myth 1: It takes a great idea to start a great company. Myth 2: Visionary companies require great and charismatic visionary leaders. Myth 3: The most successful companies exist first and foremost to maximize profits. Myth 4: Visionary companies share a common subset of "correct" core values. Myth 5: The only constant is change. Myth 6: Blue-chip companies play it safe. Myth 7: Visionary companies are great places to work in, for everyone. Myth 8: Highly successful companies make their best moves by brilliant and complex strategic planning. Myth 9: Companies should hire outside CEOs to stimulate fundamental change. Myth 10: The most successful companies focus primarily on beating the competition Myth 11: You can't have your cake and eat it too. Myth 12: Companies become visionary, primarily through "vision statements”.

The single most important point to take away from this book is the critical importance of creating tangible mechanisms aligned to preserve the core, and to stimulate progress. This is the essence of clock building. The authors introduce 5 specific methods to preserve the core, and to stimulate progress: *BHAGs: Commitment to challenging, audacious - and often risky - goals and projects toward which a visionary company channels its efforts (stimulates progress) *Cult-like Cultures: Great places to work only for those who buy into the core ideology; those that don't fit with the ideology are ejected like a virus (preserves the core) *Try a Lot of Stuff and Keep What Works: High levels of action and experimentation - often unplanned and undirected - that produce new and unexpected paths of progress and enables visionary companies to mimic the biological evolution of a species (stimulates progress) *Home-grown Management: Promotion from within, bringing to senior levels only those who've spent significant time steeped in the core ideology of the company (preserves the core) *Good Enough Never Is: A continual process of relentless self-improvement with the aim of doing better and better, forever into the future (stimulates progress)

One of the most important steps you can take in building a visionary company is not a particular action, but a shift in perspective. The success of visionary companies - at least in part - comes from underlying processes and a fundamental dynamic embedded in the organization and not primarily the result of a single great idea or some great, all-knowing, godlike visionary who made great decisions, had great charisma, and led with great authority. Think more in terms of being an organizational visionary and building the characteristics of a visionary company. Profitability is a necessary condition for existence and a means to a more important ends, but it is not the end in itself for many of the visionary companies. Profit is like oxygen, food, water, and blood for the body; they are not the point of life, but without them, there is no life.

“Visionary companies make some of their best moves by experimentation, trial and error, opportunism, and—quite literally—accident. What looks in retrospect like brilliant foresight and preplanning was often the result of “Let’s just try a lot of stuff and keep what works.”

“The only truly reliable source of stability is a strong inner core and the willingness to change and adapt everything, except that core.”

“If you are a prospective entrepreneur with the desire to start and build a visionary company, but have not yet taken the plunge because you don’t have a “great idea,” we encourage you to lift the burden of the great-idea myth from your shoulders. Indeed, the evidence suggests that it might be better to not obsess on finding a great idea before launching a company. Why? Because the great-idea approach shifts your attention away from seeing the company as your ultimate creation.”

In a quote from the book jacket, Great by Choice is the result of a study of "companies that rose to greatness - beating their industry indexes by a minimum of ten times over fifteen years - in environments characterized by large forces and rapid shifts that leaders could not predict or control."

The new findings are these: The best leaders were more disciplined, more empirical, and more paranoid. 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.

In his classic fashion of an exhaustive research of reviewing 20,400 companies, Jim along with the co-author Morten Hansen – a faculty member at the Harvard Business School spare no effort in coming up with bold new theories and thought provoking concepts. The best leaders (called 10xers in the book) do not try to predict the future. They have substance; attributes like consistency and persistence are among their bedrock qualities. “The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency!” 10xers have strong ambition and drive for the cause, not themselves. They define themselves by their impact and contribution. They operate using core values and a defined purpose, setting long-range goals and severe performance standards and using fanatic discipline to stick to them. Their overall life approach is creating or building something great, something more enduring than themselves. The authors reveal through research three essential tools used by 10xers: the ability to scale innovation, empirical creativity, and productive paranoia. Productive paranoia is comprised of fanatic discipline (consistency of action), hyper-vigilance in good times and bad, and preparedness. 10xers demonstrate that pacing activities and goals is the key. It is not always good to go fast for the sake of being fast. 10xers are aware that dramatic change in the environment does not necessarily call for a response to radical changes within. Empirical creativity relies upon direct observation and evidence, and uses it as the foundation for decisive action. 10xers reject that external factors determine whether they will succeed or fail. They also possess the ability to embrace paradox. The chapter “Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs” shows that pursuing innovation for its own sake is not an attribute of 10xer companies. The authors explain an innovation threshold that companies must meet in order to be successful; but going beyond that level doesn’t correlate to greater success. In fact, it doesn’t seem to matter; and carried to an extreme may even be a liability. Testing ideas by “firing bullets” to assess efficacy and following the bullets that hit the target with cannonballs proves to be the best approach to implementing change and innovation. Another ingredient in the recipe for success is establishing and adhering to a set of durable operating principles called “SMaC”---Specific, Methodical and Consistent. 10xers show fanatical discipline for sticking to their SMaC principles. In the face of decline or negative results, 10xers don’t question whether the SMaC principles are still valid, they consider whether the organization has strayed from the principles.

“If you want to achieve consistent performance, you need both parts of a 20 mile march: a lower bound and an upper bound, a hurdle that you jump over and a ceiling that you will not rise above, the ambition to achieve and the self-control to hold back. ”

“The idea that leading in a “fast world” always requires “fast decisions” and “fast action”—and that we should embrace an overall ethos of “Fast! Fast! Fast!”—is a good way to get killed. 10X leaders figure out when to go fast, and when not to.”

“As the influential management thinker Peter Drucker taught, the best—perhaps even the only—way to predict the future is to create it.”

James C. "Jim" Collins, III (born 1958) is an American business consultant, author, and lecturer on the subject of company sustainability and growth. Collins studied Mathematics at Stanford University, and afterwards obtained his MBA followed by 18 months as a consultant with McKinsey & Company. He then worked as a product manager for Hewlett-Packard.

Collins began his research and teaching career at the faculty of Stanford University's Graduate School of Business. In 1995, he founded a management laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, where he now conducts research and teaches executives from the corporate and social sectors. During that time, Collins has served as a senior executive at CNN International, and also worked with social sector organizations.


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