Educate February 2017

Book Review: ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins


Written By: Sharon Brown

“Good to Great” is one of those books I kept seeing everywhere – in articles, blogs, referenced in interviews and on top business book lists. When I finally picked it up I was surprised to find it was published 15 years ago. After reading it, I understand why it endures: Jim Collins has written a classic on business development. After a meticulously researched study, he and his team answered the question: What common characteristics are shared by companies that made the change from good to great?

Collins, the author of “Built to Last,” is incredibly curious. When the question came up he couldn’t resist beginning a multi-year research project to find the answer. At the end of the first chapter he invites the reader to join him in his “intellectual adventure.” His enthusiasm and curiosity is contagious and helps to make the research-heavy book easy to read.

To begin, he and his team came up with the list of companies that truly made the leap from good to great (GTG). They also focused on comparison companies that helped to define what did and didn’t make a difference. Next, they reviewed financial documents, interviews and articles, coding everything as they went along. Lastly began the data analysis, the debates and eureka moments. The data spoke volumes and they were able to specifically identify common concepts in GTG companies.

Collins’ book is incredibly well-researched and documented. It’s long – 300 pages – but the appendix and bibliography make up the last 100. All the criteria and research methods are laid out in detail.

The concepts they discovered are presented on a continuum. It all starts with leadership, but it turns out that the leader isn’t the most important thing. Humility and steel resolve are a GTG leader’s strongest traits. They have ambition for their company more than themselves, and want to set things up for success after they are gone.

Hiring the right people and getting them in the right positions is paramount. Before even thinking about a change or new direction, great people need to be in place. Collins sums it up simply: first who, then what.

Great companies face the awful or brutal truths of their business head-on. They constantly review and act on data, no matter how unpleasant, but at the same time they keep unwavering faith in their vision and goals.

Once the people are in place, the facts faced and the questions debated, breakthroughs can be achieved and good can turn into great. But the interesting thing is that these breakthroughs are never explicitly planned. None of the GTG companies had grand programs or initiatives in mind as they made their journey. Instead they focused on the questions, on asking why over and over. The framework for all business decisions comes down to this – what can your company be the best at, what drives your particular economic engine and what are you passionate about?

One takeaway idea I liked was a “Stop Doing List”. Keep your regular lists but also start thinking about what needs to stop, what’s holding you or your company back. What is your data telling you? Face the hard truths and make deliberate choices to stop activities that no longer make sense.

Examples abound in “Good to Great” and some will appeal to you more than others. It’s okay to flip or skim your way through, as Collins has thoughtfully highlighted essential ideas in every chapter so nothing is missed. If you’re in business it is simply too important a book to pass by. Escape the trap of competence and start the drive toward greatness with this guide at your side.

SHARON BROWN is a Prospect Strategy Analyst with the University of Florida Office of Advancement. A graduate of UF’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, she is happy to have found a career that marries reading, writing and being curious. She and her husband, also a CLAS alum, live in Gainesville.

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