Sunday, May 3, 2009

Good To Great By Jim Collins

Good To Great Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't By Jim Collins

This book is about how companies go from being good companies to companies that create long term sustained great performance. The book identifies eleven publicly traded companies from the Fortune 500 that went from barely beating the market to having continuous returns of at least twice the market for stockholders. I am not sure how this applies to libraries, but the book attempts to define a set of principles on making a company great.

The message in this book was easy to identify with. There are no complex strategies, flashy leadership secrets, or special financial techniques. This book is about how to inspire discipline, find a consistent simple purpose, create continuous incremental change, choose the right technologies, and bring very focused leadership on board.

One of the first things that Jim Collins writes is that it is impossible to implement any sustainable strategy without first bringing the right people on board. He also writes that it is as important to choose what not to do as what to do.

The book has a number of metaphors sprinkled throughout. One of them is the Stockdale Paradox: be brutally honest and at the same time know you will prevail. For discipline, there is the metaphor of rinsing your cottage to remove all the extra fat. This was done by a champion triathlete.

Most of the examples in this book are very concrete. Philip Morris introduced flip top boxes for cigarettes, Nucor introduced continuous slab casting, and Kroger was the first to experiment with scanners in supermarkets. These are all examples of introducing the right products and technology to gain market advantage.

My favorite metaphor in the book is the flywheel metaphor. Change happens not because of big fantasy initiatives, but because of continuous pressure. A flywheel speeds up because of continous sustained momentum. I like to think of the same idea with pushing an iceberg where it is very slow to move, but becomes very hard to stop once it is in motion.

The book contains no photographs. There are a few black and white charts that are easy to understand. Also, there is an index, bibliographic notes, and a detailed set of appendices explaining how the research on the companies being written about was done.

I read the companion monograph, Good to Great and the Social Sectors Why Business Thinking Is Not the Answer as well. The monograph is very short, 35 pages and distills the essence of the larger book focusing on nonprofits and government agencies. A few of the organizations covered are the New York Police Department, the Girl Scouts, and the Cleveland Orchestra. There are a number of metrics on how to measure greatness in social sector companies. This is worth reading before you read the larger book.

1 comment:

Book pusher said...

I can see quite a few applications for this book in library managment, keeping key staff who can accept the need for change and progression seems to be vitally important. The phrase 'inspire discipline' is an interesting one, I have a friend trying to improve the library she works at facing constant opposition from junior staff, none of whom have any tertiary training in library science, they basically refuse to move with the times an accept anything that requires them to up skill. The right people and choosing what not to do, does seem to be vital. Libraries are facing major develoment at the moment, staff with a client focus are crucial. My friend is dealing with staff that seem to care about what is easy for them not what is best for their patrons.