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Good to Great by Jim Collins: A Review

In the last 8 months, after I joined this new job, there have been many changes in my life. One of them is exposure to a completely different genre of writing which mainly includes books on corporate culture. I would not say that this shift was easy, but I have started to enjoy and also learn from them. I am sure I would have never chosen to read these books have I not entered this new world. I am glad I did.

Good to Great is the product of a research conducted by Jim Collins and his team to identify the reasons behind the success of some companies over the others. The book begins with the statement—‘Good is the enemy of great’—which is one of the most important take-home messages. The author comes to this conclusion by monitoring the overall growth of 11 good-to-great companies, which were selected from a bigger set of 1,435 companies, and by comparing them with 11 other companies that were in the same industry, had same opportunities, and similar resources but failed to transform into great companies.

The author compares a good-to-great company with a bus whose driver (the leader) first gets the right people on the bus, assigns them the right seats, and then decides the target destination, thus emphasizing on the importance of ‘who’ over ‘what’. The book further introduces an interesting concept called the Hedgehog Concept, by giving an example of a fox, which despite being a cunning creature that is capable of devising strategies, often fails against its attacks on a hedgehog, which has its own its vulnerabilities, but also possesses the most crucial knowledge of defending itself by sticking out its spines at the right moment. It is because of this goal-directed knowledge that a hedgehog is able to survive amid foxes. In the context of a good-to-great company, the Hedgehog Concept comes handy while deciding the target destination of the bus that is loaded with the right people and is driven by a skilled leader. This decision, according to the Hedgehog Concept, should be driven by the following 3 questions: 1) What you are deeply passionate about? 2) What you can be the best in the world at? 3) What drives your economic engine? The research conducted by Collin's team showed that all the good-to-great companies had set their goals and objectives taking into consideration the single common answer to these 3 questions, which in the long run contributed towards their success. Apart from this, the book also discusses the Stockdale Paradox (which differentiates optimism and self-delusion), the importance of confronting brutal facts, and the role of technology in the success of these companies. 

At different junctures of life all of us have to make important decisions based on the available choices, some limitations, and compromises. Often, these decisions play a major role in the way our life or career progresses.  After I read this book, I tried to extrapolate whatever I had learnt to a range of  varied situations and I think most of the lessons can be applied to our day to day life. For example, Good to Great emphasizes a lot on humility, which is a very rare quality.  At one point in the book, the author talks about when to look into the mirror and when to look outside a glass window. In simpler words, it is very important to recognize the moment when you should be taking the responsibility of a failure and when you should be rightfully acknowledging the contribution of others in your success. Most people do the opposite; they look into the mirror when they succeed and they look through the window when they want to blame others for their failure. 

Whether you are an entrepreneur or not, I truly feel that Good to Great has a lesson or two for each of us. 


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