Jim Collins has developed an impressive series of books that detail how great companies distinguish themselves from the good or merely ordinary ones. In his latest book, Great by Choice (1), he sets out to answer this question: “Why do some companies thrive in uncertainly, even chaos, and others do not?” In answering the question, he explodes several myths and lays out a set of answers. For example he found that the most successful leaders were not really able to predict the future and could not really be considered bold or sik taking. He further found that the innovation was not the most distinguishable feature of a truly successful company, and that radical change in a company was not necessary for success.
The book lays out 3 main features of highly successful companies:
- Fanatic Discipline
- Empirical Creativity
- Productive Paranoia
Fanatic discipline: here, Collins defines this as a consistency of action, which remain in synch with values and long-term goals. This is the inner will to do what it takes to achieve a desired outcome. He notes that companies that are highly successful are monomaniacal in remaining on focus. They do not deviate from sticking to their goals. The do so even when under great pressure and outside threat.
Empirical creativity: This means relying on direct observation and examining evidence rather than relying on opinion and conventional wisdom. I know that many of us are tired of hearing about the need to use evidence, but consider that evidence is useful for informing decision making. Knowing information can help bring confidence to the decisions we are required to make.
Productive paranoia: we need to be hypervigilant even in good times. We need to plan for those times when things will turn against us, for they will, even if we cannot predict when or how that might happen. Doing so allows us to take effective action; we need to consider the things that could happen and plan for how we would respond when they do.
1. Collins J, Hansen MT. Great by choice. New York, NY; Harper Collins, 2011