Good to Great

book: Good to Great
author: Jim Collins

general overview

no matter what line of work you are in, there’s a good chance you want to be good at it. is good enough? rarely. in fact, good employees or managers are often largely overlooked for keeping things too close to the status quo. it’s the great individuals that stand out, lead the way forward, and have their name next to the successes of their work and the company’s profits.

Good to Great – measuring success

in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, making that transition to the extraordinary is carefully laid out and organized using 28 different companies and their successes and failures over the course of a 30 year period. this book took Collins’ first book, Built to Last to another level. (Built to Last sought to determine how visionaries stayed on top of their game) Good to Great is all about finding what makes the true titans of the industry so dynamic and inventive, rather than simply understanding the concept of a vision.

vision in business is enough to get companies through their year to year battles, but something else drives the most successful companies to new levels of productivity and pronounced ownership over the market. Collins lays out a few important traits central to these types of businesses.

find and embrace a Hedgehog Concept

the name doesn’t do much to invoke feelings of success or dominance, but Collins identifies the most successful businesses as operating with a hedgehog concept. when animal kingdom allegories are used in business, many go with the lion. king of the jungle and all-powerful, lions are a symbol for pride and triumphant power. Collins takes things another way with the hedgehog, who he deems the king of the forest. why be a hedgehog instead of a lion for long-term business growth?

hedgehogs know that no matter what comes their way, they have the best and most simple form of defense imaginable. if an attack comes their way, they curl up into a ball and their spikes become an impenetrable exterior, a sort of fortress of safety and solitude. whether a big foe comes their way or a cunning, clever and quick competitor, hedgehogs have a plan every time, no matter what. they stick to that plan, and it gets them through tough times.

over time, Collins argues that the hedgehog strategy wins out – sticking to what you know in times of trouble and using it to your utmost advantage. finding your business’ hedgehog concept is tricky, but comes out of the answer to three key questions:

  • what can we be the best in the world at?
  • what can we be passionate about?
  • what is the key economic indicator we should concentrate on?

Collins comforts readers by noting that it often takes even the greatest businesses time to find their hedgehog concept. once you have it, you can use it for the duration of your business, and that’s a concept you can count on.

only adopt new technology if it helps you accelerate your momentum

new technology is rolling out every single day, and businesses in the beginning and early stages of their life-cycle often feel pressured to adopt every single change. social networks in particular are all tempting to utilize, thanks to the near-free marketing tools they bring, as well as the level of attention on them. whether someone is looking to make a new product or sell a popular one, technology is at our fingertips in nearly every way imaginable, but savvy creators will know the difference between an accessible technology and one that helps accelerate momentum.

take each new technology, whether big or small, with a grain of salt. it’s tough to tell in the early years if a new innovation is here to stay, let alone whether or not it helps you and your endeavours. be weary of new technology and ask yourself whether or not it improves your hedgehog concept. It’s great to expand and move forward, but if a new technology is not in step with your “bread and butter,” it is likely not for you. early adopters are wrong more often than they are right, and there’s nothing wrong with joining the crowd once it is clear that your hedgehog concept can be directly benefited by this technological advancement.

always confront uncomfortable truths head on, but never lose faith

there’s no such thing as a mistake, so long as you face it and learn something in its wake. great companies are led by individuals who face problems head on, look at the facts, and stay positive through the solution. it doesn’t matter if a decision dips profits, or even when a project completely falls flat after months of work. take the outcome with a grain of salt, and make sure to be honest about what went wrong. while you assess the situation moving forward, your hedgehog concept should steady the tides.

most of all, stay optimistic about the future. visionaries are not blinded by the present, whether it is positive or negative. the future is where great decisions are to be made, and you can look ahead while protected by your hedgehog concept.

general takeaway from Good to Great

rather than look at what makes a company “good,” Collins makes sure to signify what makes a company “great.” long-term success is what makes industry titans, and even when a month, year, or long period of time gets rocky, core values and ideas keep the best companies afloat. a few of the biggest flaws of companies stuck in the “good” stage of success are as follows:

  • too eager to use technology that does little to move the company forward
  • straying too far from the hedgehog concept central to their company
  • poorly defined company culture or ethics

everyone involved in a company loves to know what it is they are working for, and it cannot just be profits. there has to be a concept at the center of every successful business. for that reason, Collins’ Good to Great is a wonderful way for companies to assess their current situation and make a plan for a greater future.