Book Review: Great by Choice

I am a big fan of Jim Collins. When I read Built to Last 10 years ago, I came away committed to being a leader who builds clocks more then simply tells time. His concepts from that book of being a hedgehog, and especially to preserve the core (values) and stimulate progress have guided me as a leader.

His book Good to Great affirmed my desire to be what he calls a Level 5 leader.

Saw while waiting for a flight from Delhi to Chicago to San Diego, and seeing his newest book Great by Choice on sale. I picked it up. You know it’s a good book, when on a day that featured 21 hours of plane time out of 24 1/2 hours, and you can stay awake to read it, then it has to be good. Indeed, it was great.

Collins writing style is based on research he has done with comparison companies. Same industry, 2 companies. One thrives, the other does not. His research seeks to answer why? As the subtitle of the book says: “Uncertainty, chaos, and luck why some thrive despite them all.”

Leaders of the companies that thrive are nicknamed, “10xers” for they led consistent growth over 15+ years. Each company that fit this category outperformed its industry by 10x.

Such leaders demonstrate:

1. Fanatic Discipline: Consistent action based on core values, goals, and methods. They are consistent in their commitment to growth. They don’t look merely for one exceptional year, but consistent growth that fits who they are.

2. Empirical Creativity: They rely on direct observation. They fire bullets, then canon balls. Instead of making the initial big investment. They test and calibrate with small case studies, and then when they hit the target, they fire the “cannon ball”, the big initiative they have discovered that works.

3. Productive Paranoia: They prepare for the worst, and navigate their way through chaos. When tough times come (and they will come), they have prepared the work to do to lead their company/organization forward.

Such leadership is done with humility (a tie into Good to Great).

What I like about Collins writing in this book and his others is his ability to look at the data of his research and discover practical principles to apply to business, organizations, and yes churches as well as one’s life. He communicates this information not with simply stale data, but connecting it with lessons from life. He begins with the story of Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott’s attempts to reach the south pole. Amundsen accomplished his goal, Scott’s attempt ended in disaster.

For a long flight home, Collins book was a great read. For navigating these times of chaos, Collins book was an essential read.

What lessons are you learning to navigate chaotic times?

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34 Comments

Filed under Leadership Book Reviews

34 responses to “Book Review: Great by Choice

  1. Jox

    I have been meaning to read his books but never got past Seth Godin and the Heath brothers. Definitely on my book list. Thanks for the overview.

  2. So all I need is fanatic discipline, empirical creativity and productive paranoia? Sounds easy enough…

    I do enjoy his books — can’t wait to read this one. And in response to your question, “What lessons are you learning to navigate chaotic times?”…

    I visit Total Wine and More. They have lots of good wine.

    😉

  3. I was traveling last week, saw this book in the airport but didn’t pick it up. Thanks for the review, I’ll get it on my next trip.

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Great by Choice | Infos Press

  5. Leadership has always been a topic of interest to me. Though I am merely a mediocre leader, I’ve studied enough of the life of Christ to know that it takes great leadership to have positive impacts on the world around you.
    I’m also a big book lover. In the leadership category, my favorite is Stephen Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He quotes Good to Great in some of his works, and I always intend to pick it up, but never do…..
    Great post!

  6. Sounds like a great read! Thanks!

  7. I am going to get this book today! Thanks 🙂

  8. Strangely though; the Empirical Creativity summation here doesn’t do justice to their genuine reliance of facts as against speculation. The direct observation regime is a key factor in making reasonable choice. So they would fire bullets & canon balls before making the big investments. They would test and calibrate with small case studies to enable them hit the most viable options & only plunge into the big initiative they discovered would work. This is the main reason why The present Economic Down Turn is perceived to be as a result of Bad foresight!

  9. Australia could do with a few of these management Guru’s…. we don’t seem to produce world-class managers, which I attribute to “tall poppy-syndrome” among other reasons.

  10. Haven’t read it yet…perhaps it will be an audible book for me this year. Thanks for the review.

  11. This book was recommended to be before. Great review. I look forward to reading it myself!

  12. I’m learning that because I couldn’t process the chaos of my childhood, I have to diligently and intentionally process chaos as an adult. Otherwise I default to childish reactions, which don’t get me the desired outcome. I’m also very aware of children that are living in utter chaos today and what that does to a person. It has given me an empathy and a deep desire to help people sort through their issues.

  13. Thanks for sharing, I think i need this book too

  14. Commercemuse

    Reblogged this on Commercemuse.

  15. Thank you for the great post, it adds another good book into my reading list.

    Keep up your good work at posting inspirational stuffs. 🙂
    I also made a blog aiming to post inspirational stuffs, I hope that one day it can be as good as yours. Be sure to check mine when you have the time, too, I’d greatly appreciate it.

  16. In fact i am fan of jim collins……….. This book is really shown me the different dimension to think

  17. encorenow

    I have learned to keep my focus on the One who is able to navigate me through these interesting times. I find that since I have “retired” there are new challenges and forces at work. Commitment is key as I have become a cheerleader for my husband as he navigates through Parkinson’s Disease. He has proven to be a fighter that never gives up and we celebrate the small victories each day.

  18. lornephi

    Wow I have been hooked on Collins since Good to Great and would love to read this book. I had just posted about interesting reads on our blog and this can definitely make for a future reference.
    Just ordered based on this blog. Thanks

  19. “Collins writing style is based on research he has done with comparison companies. Same industry, 2 companies. One thrives, the other does not. His research seeks to answer why? As the subtitle of the book says: “Uncertainty, chaos, and luck why some thrive despite them all.””

    The problem I have with management books, particularly this sort is that it’s kinda easy to look back on two companies and decide what one did wrong, a little more difficult to decide what the other did right. Hardest of all is to look at two companies right now and predict which will thrive and which will fail – which is probably why management writers prefer to be in the business of acting like historians rather than seers.

    • Yes, Collins is based more on looking back then predicting forward. He even speaks of the concept of “dynasties” as in John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins. What I find valuable in his look back are principles he lifts up, that help me to navigate the path forward. His one prediction of the future in the book is that chaos and uncertainty look like they will be with us for awhile. Thanks for sharing.

  20. I like how you described Jim Collins’s skill of sifting through lots of data and coming up with practical lessons that can be applied. He’s a fantastic, helpful writer. Thanks for writing about the book — I had not heard of it yet. Certainly one to check into.

  21. I have heard Jim Collins speak a couple of times and he was fantastic. The concept of BHAG is forever etched in my mind and something I use in my role as a leader. I loved Build to Last and currently have Good To Great queued up on my iPad for a next read. I guess I will have to add Great By Choice too…so many books, so little time.

  22. I may have to check this out. I’m always a little suspicious about ‘self-help/philosophy/business’ books because they often seem filled with ‘quick-fix’ solutions. This, however, sounds intriguing.

    • I appreciate your concerns. Collins to me is not a quick fix approach. He typically looks at companies over a long range of time and makes comparison. He makes the plan simple, but not a quick fix. Core values are always key.

  23. Sleeick Inc.

    I have his book ‘Built to Last’ and his writing is very profund. ‘Great by Choice’ is definitely on my to-get list now. Thanks Richard

  24. I didn’t know it but I’m a great fan of empirical creativity. If you’re not moving you can’t learn though. So action and reflection (test and calibrate) is my current learning mode. Consistent action based on core values+goals+methods works really well if you can start with a very small piece of the pie and grow it by cycles. I think that’s what he means by commitment to growth, one should grow whether in crisis or victory. That’s the discipline. Preparing for the worst (productive paranoia) is the hardest one for me. Have to reflect on that.

  25. Reblogged this on Rhea Harmsen and commented:
    I didn’t know it but I’m a great fan of empirical creativity. If you’re not moving you can’t learn though. So action and reflection (test and calibrate) is my current learning mode. Consistent action based on core values+goals+methods works really well if you can start with a very small piece of the pie and grow it by cycles. I think that’s what he means by commitment to growth, one should grow whether in crisis or victory. That’s the discipline. Preparing for the worst (productive paranoia) is the hardest one for me. Have to reflect on that.

  26. Pingback: Leadership Summit 2012 Coming, Be There! | Richard Burkey

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