“Good to Great” book review

I am going to start my new year resolution challenge of writing series of bookreview. My first pick is Jim Collins’s Good to Great because I believe Good is the enemy of Great. What make this book distinct is the author as a teaching professor, he use a team and a total of 15,000 hours in 5 years on research then he wrote it based on facts found. It is scientific with charts and figures from business, it is also art that explain the success of a business to human’s behavior. I start read the book in 2002, where waiting a flight back to Yangon after bought at a bookstore in Kuala Lumpur airport. Can’t believe I come up to read it again in 2021.

From the author profession the book sometimes sound like a text book, but most of the time the nariation attract your curiousity. “How on earth did a company with such a long history of being nothing special tranform itself into an enterprise that outperformed some the of the best-led organization in the world?” then you will see the effort they put to research to find out the reasons, the efforts, the spirit, the human touch, that make those good company great.

Most of the company are busy with setting vision, strategy and plan, but they don’t become great company, the book said. The author present the years long whole process of creating good-to-great company in a flywheel that have two parts, buildup and breakthoght.

Along the book the author introduce Level 5 Hierarchy of leadership. Where level 1 is the Highly Capable Individuals, where they are individual contributors with their talents, knowledge, skill and good work habits. Level 2 is Contributing Team Member, where level 1 individual are upgraded to aware of group, able to work to achieve group objectives, and work effectively with other people in the group. Above it come the Competent Manager, as level 3 in hierarchy. Competent Manager are cabable of organizing and managing people and resource to their defined objectives. Next, level 4 are the Effective Leader, where this is the killing zone for most good company and the biggest reason that won’t become great one. They are good at catalyzes commitment to vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision, simulating higher performance standards.

The top in hierarchy is Level 5 Executive, where the author describe as they build enduring greatness through aparadoxical blend of personal humanity and professional will. they channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. Their ambition is for the institution, not themselves.

What I like about level 5 Executive is it can avoid ‘credit the leader’ or ‘blame the leader’ behavior that we do day to day on every movement of corporate life. They are so down to the earth real human that won’t work even for their charisma, they avoid taking credit ceremonially celebration, nor want other people to worship them. The author credit Level 5 leaders are modest and willful, humble and fearless.

Second in Buildup phase is First WHO… then WHAT. The good-to-great leaders start with getting the right people on the bus, who should remove from the bus, and then figure out where to drive it. Who question come prior to What question, before whatever corporate used to set, before vision, strategy, orgaization strategy or tatics. It illustrate “genius with a thousand helper” model that most good corporation do failed to become great. There is also suggestion on HR: when in doubt, don’t hire, keep lookig. When you know you need to make your people change, act. My pick — put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problem.

Next in Buildup is Confront the Brutal Facts. Leaders face difficulty to know the real situation, so thus they need how to create a climate where the truth is heard. Lead with questions — not answers, engage in dialogue and debate — no coercion, conduct autopsies — without blame, build “red flag” mechanisms, are the points from this chapter. It’s not about how to motivate people, but not de-motivate them. One of the primary ways to de-motivate people is to ignore the brutal facts of reality.

Now can say in the middle of Good to Great, as the author is a professional teacher, and this book is an output of years of research worked together with graduate students, it’s informative but lengthy. The presentation is divided to by the steps for good-to-great companies compare to average good companies at that particular time, and loose the competition in long run.

The essential strategic advantage that good-to-great have are, they found their key dimensions, and they set and follow a simple Hedgehog Concept. The Hedgehog Concept is not a strategy, goal or even intentions, it is an understanding. First understand what you can be the best in the world at, same to understand what you cannot be the best at. Each of good-to-great company build a fabulous economic engine regardless of the industry or political situation of a nation. To get insight into your Economic Engine, search for great impact in profit or cashflow. The good-to-great companies are like hedgehogs, know “one big thing” and stick to it.

After understanding Hedgehog concept, time for building culture of discipline in breakthrough phase. All good results and ever lasting business is a output of a culture full of self-disciplined people taking disciplined action. A culture of discipline involved in duality. Budgeting is a discipline to device which are should be fully funded and which should not be funded at all. Do you have the discipline to do the right thing and to stop doing the wrong things?

Using Technology as an accelerator, not a Creator, of Momenttum. For laymen the catchphrase is ‘new technology will change everthing’, but it will never happen. You cannot make good use of technology until you know which technologies are relevant. Now a day, technology almost become commodity, so technology alone without culture, right person, and aline with hedgehog concept, won’t bring a company to Great. Good-to-great companies think differently about technology, preferably carefully selected technologies, and use it as an accelerator. The key question to ask is: Does the technology fit directly with your Hedgehog Concept?

The effort on buildup and breakthrough process will eventually start to turn flywheel spinning, at the beginning it might rigid and need much forces, but as it gain momentum the flywheel will spin on itself. Each piece of the system will reinforce the other parts of the system to form a integrated whole momentum that is much more powerful than the sum of individual parts working alone.

When it all come together, not only your professional or business move towards greatness, but so does your personal life. In the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless a meaningful one.

Entrepreneur, Technologist. Love reading, traveling. working on strategy, driving the digital transformation forward, business process & startup