May 3, 2009

Good to Great

I finally got around to reading the book Good to Great. I first heard about it in early 2002 in the introductory speech of the incoming president at an organization I was in the process of leaving. I was quite impressed with what he had to say about leadership and organizational greatness and made a note to read the book as soon as it came out in paperback. (Hardcovers use up too much shelf space, which is at a premium in my home, so I tend to avoid buying them.) Since it is still in hardcover all these years later, I gave up and borrowed a copy from my brother.

There is a lot of criticism of the book online (here, here and here), but I think most of it misses the point. It doesn’t matter if you are happy with the experimental model the book was based on, or if the companies profiled didn’t stay good stock picks forever after the book came out, or if the advice Collins gives boils down to “obvious” suggestions.

The best business books tell you in an organized and compelling way what you already know to be true from your own experience. No business book can predict the future or give you a sure fire recipe for success, and Good to Great doesn’t pretend to anyway, so why do the critics expect it to?

What I did find in this book was a well-written and thoughtful explanation of the only reliable strategy I know of to accomplish any undertaking: for a disciplined group of people to pursue a focused goal in a determined manner, while being willing to see failure.

Now one can say “Hey, that’s obvious!”. But unfortunately, the obvious is more often observed in the breech than in the practice. The path of least resistance in many organizations is to let ineffective or obstructive people stick around way too long, to let the day-to-day crises and tempests-in-a-teapot derail their long-term goals, and to rationalize or ignore failures.

If Good to Great manages to inspire people by reminding them to struggle against these tendencies and to set a higher standard toward greatness, I think it deserves its place on the best-seller list.


  1. Good stuff. Link in this and later post(s) are broken.

  2. Thanks, Tim.

    I fixed the links in this and the next post.