Good to Great

by

Jim Collins

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Good to Great: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Collins turns his attention to bringing the good-to-great concepts together with the ideas outlined in his previous book, Built to Last, which examined companies’ long-term greatness. He notes that he and the research team decided to conduct the good-to-great research as if the previous book did not exist, in order to avoid biasing the results.
By deciding not to consider his previous book in this research, Collins provides one more example of the need for a precisely focused idea as a precondition for success.
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However, looking back after completing the two studies, Collins points out several significant relationships between them. He states that Good to Great turned out to be a kind of prequel to Built to Last, in that it shows how to first achieve the greatness that the companies in the earlier book sustain. One key connection is that the early leaders of the companies studied in Built to Last seemed to follow good-to-great principles when building the companies. For example, Collins describes how Walk-Mart (one of the Built to Last companies) clearly developed a Hedgehog Concept in order to create momentum through a flywheel process. Similarly, Hewlett Packard and other Built to Last companies often had consummate Level 5 Leaders at the times of their success.
By showing how the good-to-great concepts ultimately do connect to a separate body of research, Collins furthers his claim that the concepts are applicable in a wide range of circumstances and are accessible to everyone. The notion that consistency over time can lead to sustained greatness also backs up the idea that focused planning is crucial in all phases of company growth.
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Collins also points to the idea of “core ideology” as a notable link between the two studies. Most of the Built to Last companies had a sense of purpose and mission outside the goal of making money. These values varied widely from company to company, but simply the fact of having them seems to be crucial nonetheless. Collins relates these deep ideologies to the good-to-great concept of passion as one of the three circles that create effective Hedgehog Concepts.
Again, Collins shows that the Built to Last companies also had consistent Hedgehog Concepts, even though that term was not used in that study. Furthermore, because the idea of passion and deep meaning is a key theme of both books, this section furthers the idea that human investment and commitment are the most important factors in greatness, above external factors like luck, resources, and talent.
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Collins goes on to recap the core concepts of Built to Last and lists how they line up with each of the good-to-great concepts. He also focuses in more detail on the connection between Hedgehog Concepts and the Built to Last concept of the BHAG: Big Hairy Audacious Goal. The previous book was not able to explain why some BHAGs are better than others. However, Collins draws on the good-to-great concepts to conclude that understanding based on the three circles are the key foundation of good BHAGs, while bad BHAGs are based on bravado rather than insight. He gives the example of Boeing’s entry into commercial aircraft production as an example of creating a good BHAG based on deep understanding. While the manifestation of the three circles of understanding might change over time, the company’s reliance on them does not.
Here, Collins finds further evidence of the importance of Hedgehog Concepts across contexts. The idea of focus and consistency within the three circles fills in a gap in the previous research, suggesting that this powerful idea might have broad applicability in solving a range of problems in different fields.
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Collins concludes with the statement that creating “an enduring great company requires all the key concepts from both studies.” In other words, building and sustaining greatness requires consistent application of every principle, without any lapses. Collins notes that ultimately, achieving greatness is easier than maintaining it.
Consistency over time is the final aspect of focus that Collins brings into his discussion. The need to continue using the concepts continuously provides further evidence that they are not magic; rather, they are tools that have to be put into use in order to be helpful.
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Finally, Collins uses an anecdote about a school track team to illustrate the overall purpose of greatness as it might apply to any organization. He notes that “it is no harder to build something great than to build something good,” and that much of what simply good organizations do is a waste of time and energy. Even the track team manages to improve performance through the simple use of a clear Hedgehog Concept that helps everyone be more focused and engaged. In this case and others, Collins argues, a commitment to greatness relieves burdens rather than adding to them. Additionally, Collins points out that focusing on greatness will lead individuals to pursue work that motivates them to be great, whereas focusing on just being “good enough” keeps people engaged in work they don’t really care about. “When all these pieces come together,” Collins notes, “not only does your work move toward greatness, but so does your life.”
By ending with a story about much different setting than the corporations discussed throughout the book, Collins emphasizes again that anyone and any organization can use good-to-great concepts, and that greatness can show up anywhere as long as the concepts are applied consistently. The team’s simultaneous systemic rigor and self-motivation gives a final example of powerful duality, while the enthusiasm of everyone involves shows, once again, that being the right person depends mostly having values and passions that match those of the organization.
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