wisdom to win

 Wisdom to Win
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James (Jim) Collins (1958- )James Collins


American management expert on how organizations succeed and fail (pictured right) .


Key books


Built to Last, written with Jerry Porras (pictured right below) (1995)

(see Built to Last in the Business Books section for more detail)James Collins


The best companies have:


1. Change with values

A constant commitment to change, innovation and improvement is built upon a “core ideology”

This ideology is shared purpose and everlasting values like:

  • respect for the individual.
  • quality, customer service and innovation.


2. Vision

 A visionary purpose that goes beyond just making a profit.


3. “Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG’s)”

Challenging objectives that make the vision a reality

A good example is Walt Disney’s aim to ‘bring happiness to millions’.


4. Talented employees

Able and inspired people driven by:

  • continuous improvement.
  • experimentation.
  • learning.


5. “The genius of the and”

A combination of apparent opposites like:

  • unchanging values (continuity) and change.
  • low cost and quality.
  • freedom and responsibility.

Choosing between alternatives (the “tyranny of the or”) must be avoided.


6. “Clock building”

Building the organization for long-term success (with different products and leaders) as opposed to going for the temporary quick fix (“time telling”).


Key quotes on corporate culture and business success

Preserve the core and stimulate progress.

The drive for progress is never satisfied with the status quo, even when the status quo is working well.

The critical question is ‘how can we do better tomorrow than we did today?’

Visionary companies display remarkable resiliency, an ability to bounce back from adversity. 


Good to Great (2001)

( for more detail see Good to Great  in the Business Books section)


Research of 11 great companies (including Gillette and Kleenex makers, Kimberley-Clark ) showed that their success came from:


1. Self-motivated and talented employees


2. Constant evolutionary change 

This results from disciplined teamwork (the “Flywheel Effect”).

Miracle moments don’t just happen but result from:

  • hard work.
  • a succession of improvements.


3. “Level 5” leaders 

  • modest and humble with a tough resolution to succeed.
  • blame only themselves for failure but give only credit to others for success (the “window and the mirror” concept).
  • lead with questions (not answers) to encourage debate and learning.


4. A “Hedgehog Concept” 

This is a simple, but profound, business idea that comes from three questions:

  • what do we do better than anybody else?
  • what is the best financial indicator of success eg profit or sales per employee?
  • what are our employees passionate about?


Key quotes on business success

When you combine a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship, you get the magical alchemy of great results.

People are not your most important asset. The right people are.


Key quote on leadership

Leadership is equally about creating a climate where the truth is heard and the brutal facts confronted



How the Mighty Fall (2009)


Any organization, however great, can fail.

This decline is usually self-inflicted and has five stages:


1. Hubris born of success 

Arrogantly thinking that success is deserved, so avoiding:

  • renewal and improvement of the organization's core business (the “primary fly-wheel”).
  • learning (including a refusal to analyse the reasons for success).


2. Undisciplined pursuit of more

Going for growth in businesses that:

  • don't exploit the creative strengths that made the organization successful.
  • don't inspire passion from employees.
  • contradict the company's core values.


3. Denial of risk and peril


a) avoidance of responsibility for problems and negative information

Leading to:

  • transference of blame to others and external events.
  • poor cost control.

  • failure to develop great leaders. 


b) emphasis on internal politics and bureaucracy

(rather than customer satisfaction).


 4. Grasping for salvation 


a) seeking quick fix (“silver bullet”) solutions

Examples are;

  • charismatic leaders.
  • acquisitions.
  • radical change programmes.
  • bold, untried strategies.


b) not practising core values

(so creating employee cynicism and demotivation)


5. Capitulation to irrelevance or death

The organization becomes small or non-existent.


Great companies (driven by persistent people) come back from setbacks stronger than before.


Key quotes on change and success

The signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change. The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.

Failure is...a state of mind; success is falling down, and getting up one more time, without end.



Great By Choice (2011), written with Morten Hansen (pictured right)James Collins

Some companies (“10Xers”), like Apple and Microsoft, thrive on uncertainty and change.

They do this through:


1. Fanatic discipline (the “20 Mile March”)

Consistent, obsessive and long-term achievement of organizational aims like customer satisfaction, innovation amd profit.

This is based on a “SMaC”, a formula for success that:

  • unites the whole organization in trying to achieve it

  • isn't based on the organization's old formula for success. 

  • achieves continual change with continuity (from constant organizational values).

  • gets the right people in the right jobs.


2. Empirical creativity (“firing bullets, then cannon balls”)

Launching big new profitable products (“cannon balls”), having learned from “bullets” (product tests or experiments with low levels of cost, risk and time involved).


3. Productive paranoia

Fanatical attention to what can go wrong, even when successful.


4. Level 5 ambition

Organizational purpose that inspires people. 


Key quotes on business success and change

We are not imprisoned by our circumstances...we are free to choose, free to become great by choice.

We cannot predict the future. But we can create it.


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