Bookcase: Great by Choice

• By Jim Collins & Morten T Hansen
• Random House
• RRP $60.00

The value of Jim Collins, and his co-authors too, is that he asks such damned good questions and then researches the life out of them. And so it is with his latest management must-read – Great by Choice.
Gone before, for those who heavens know how may have missed them, are Built to Last, Good to Great and How the Mighty Fall – all of which feed steady stream of invaluable findings into his prodigious store of fascinating, factual and illuminating business reading.
Great by Choice is up with the best of Collins’ earlier works. The man obviously drives mean, mind-bending and highly-tuned analytical research machine. This time he proves to his own demanding satisfaction that leadership and management discipline, more than any other organisational commitment, deliver success.
Collins asked why some companies thrive in uncertainty and even chaos while others don’t. After nine years of researching, he and Hansen found the answer in small cluster of enterprises that they call their 10X companies – so named because they outperform their industry average by at least 10 times.
Having identified the carefully culled study group the authors asked the next most critical question: what made them different? The answers are in every case surprising and often counter-intuitive. Their findings exploded firmly entrenched myths including the idea that great enterprises with 10X success rates have lot more good luck. Like every other business they had both good and bad luck. The difference occurred in what they did with the luck they had.
Greatness, it seems, comes from consistency rather than innovation. Control and discipline in the face of inevitable and constant change are what matter. As is always the case with Collins’ books, the case studies bring the text to life and deliver the lessons from which readers can draw their own management advice.
The book effectively builds on Collins’ earlier work, taking it further and deeper. The findings, he says, increased his understanding of what it takes to “survive, navigate and prevail” in what he expects to become an increasingly unpredictable and complex world. “We are much better prepared for what we cannot possibly predict,” he writes.
Collins’ writing isn’t really about business. It is about the principles that distinguish great organisations from good ones. Some leaders and managers might convince themselves that they don’t indeed need to be great. Being good at what they do will be good enough. The phrase rings familiar with long-held Kiwi belief. In globalised world, however, it might not be sufficient to underpin survival strategy.
This is great, and not just good, read. – Reg Birchfield

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