Collins uses the idea of an enormous, heavy metal wheel—the flywheel—to explain how good-to-great companies bring together all the different concepts discussed in the book and eventually make their transitions into greatness. The essence of the flywheel metaphor is that greatness comes from consistent, small pushes over time, all of which move the company in the same direction. The flywheel turns slowly at first, but its momentum builds steadily until it reaches the point when it is powered forward through the force of its own weight in motion. There is no one big push that makes the flywheel go fast; similarly, there is no one moment or dramatic transition during which companies go from good to great. Rather, Collins argues, the flywheel shows that consistent, repeated effort in which everyone is working toward the same simple goal is the key to becoming great.
The Flywheel Quotes in Good to Great
But the good-to-great executives simply could not pinpoint a single key event or moment in time that exemplified the transition. Frequently, they chafed against the whole idea of allocating points and prioritizing factors. In every good-to-great company, at least one of the interviewees gave an unprompted admonishment, saying something along the lines of, “Look, you can’t dissect this thing into a series of nice little boxes and factors, or identify the moment of ‘Aha!’ or the ‘one big thing.’ It was a whole bunch of interlocking pieces that built one upon another.”
Although it may have looked like a single-stroke breakthrough to those peering in from the outside, it was anything but that to the people experiencing the transformation from within. Rather, it was a quiet, deliberate process of figuring out what needed to be done to create the best future results and then simply taking those steps, one after the other, turn by turn of the flywheel. After pushing on that flywheel in a consistent direction over an extended period of time, they’d inevitably hit a point of breakthrough.
Consider Kroger. How do you get a company of over 50,000 people—cashiers, baggers, shelf stockers, produce washers, and so forth—to embrace a radical new strategy that will eventually change virtually every aspect of how the company builds and runs grocery stores? The answer is that you don’t. Not in one big event or program, anyway.