Saturday, August 30, 2008

Good to Great by Jim Collins

After seeing many Facebook users list in their ‘profile’ the book Good to Great in answer to the question, “Which books have influenced and enriched your life?” I was intrigued to read this book and discover the secrets of its inspiration.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t is a compelling read because the author, Jim Collins exemplifies the type of leader that characterizes great companies. This book is not the work of one man but the product of a diverse team whose contributed is generously applauded and acknowledged by the inspiring author.

The book is as much about leadership as it is about the culture of an organization but the depth of the material is typified by the refusal to state leadership as the answer to all organizational ills but to define the particular style of leadership that results in corporate effectiveness.

Good to Great represents a five-year project in which the researchers explored the question, “Can a good company become a great company [these terms are defined], and, if so, how?” The work involved identifying companies that made the leap from good results to great results that were sustained over a fifteen year period. Importantly, this project did not begin with a theory to prove but the concepts were developed by making empirical deductions directly from the data.

The book would be enhanced if the research teams had examined and told stories of companies that were not based in the USA, even though the book contends that the principles can be applied to any organization in any country. To examine companies in other countries (might have posed difficult research challenges) but it would have provided a richer international dimension and perspective. A wider cultural range would have added to the appeal of the book and broadened the readership.

The result is the synthesis of a huge body of material that is boiled down into several findings such as this one: “Greatness…is largely a matter of conscious choice.” Each chapter is devoted to examining a different common denominator of great companies. The sections are well-organized, with themes supported by ample footnotes, several appendices and a comprehensive index. The chapters contain useful diagrams and graphs, key statements are highlighted in boxes and they all conclude with a succinct summary.

Each chapter interestingly includes a segment of surprises resulting from the unexpected findings of the research team. For example they discovered that “technology and technology-driven change has virtually nothing to do with igniting a transformation from good to great.”

The way the researchers presented and honed their findings is significant and an example to commend. They did not work only in solitude for they engaged in weekly meetings in which they discussed the stories and debated the salient principles. Their style has important ramifications for the reading as well as the research of this book. Good to Great would be strengthened by including questions that would help and encourage readers to engage in the corporate study of this book including the discussion of how the principles might inform their own organizational practice. [Further exploration has led to finding a discussion guide at this link]

This is a book to be studied and discussed by leaders, workers and board members of organizations that desire to move from being ‘OK’ or ‘good’ to companies of significance and high influence.

Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t (New York: HarperCollins Books, 2001)

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 110.00.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of Good to Great.

More information about Jim Collins and his work of research, writing and teaching is available from this web site: