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Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't

Jim Collins · 12 HN comments
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The Challenge: Built to Last, the defining management study of the nineties, showed how great companies triumph over time and how long-term sustained performance can be engineered into the DNA of an enterprise from the verybeginning. But what about the company that is not born with great DNA? How can good companies, mediocre companies, even bad companies achieve enduring greatness? The Study: For years, this question preyed on the mind of Jim Collins. Are there companies that defy gravity and convert long-term mediocrity or worse into long-term superiority? And if so, what are the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great? The Standards: Using tough benchmarks, Collins and his research team identified a set of elite companies that made the leap to great results and sustained those results for at least fifteen years. How great? After the leap, the good-to-great companies generated cumulative stock returns that beat the general stock market by an average of seven times in fifteen years, better than twice the results delivered by a composite index of the world's greatest companies, including Coca-Cola, Intel, General Electric, and Merck. The Comparisons: The research team contrasted the good-to-great companies with a carefully selected set of comparison companies that failed to make the leap from good to great. What was different? Why did one set of companies become truly great performers while the other set remained only good? Over five years, the team analyzed the histories of all twenty-eight companies in the study. After sifting through mountains of data and thousands of pages of interviews, Collins and his crew discovered the key determinants of greatness -- why some companies make the leap and others don't. The Findings: The findings of the Good to Great study will surprise many readers and shed light on virtually every area of management strategy and practice. The findings include: Level 5 Leaders: The research team was shocked to discover the type of leadership required to achieve greatness. The Hedgehog Concept: (Simplicity within the Three Circles): To go from good to great requires transcending the curse of competence. A Culture of Discipline: When you combine a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship, you get the magical alchemy of great results. Technology Accelerators: Good-to-great companies think differently about the role of technology. The Flywheel and the Doom Loop: Those who launch radical change programs and wrenching restructurings will almost certainly fail to make the leap. “Some of the key concepts discerned in the study,” comments Jim Collins, "fly in the face of our modern business culture and will, quite frankly, upset some people.” Perhaps, but who can afford to ignore these findings?
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Hacker News Stories and Comments

All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this book.
Good To Great - https://www.amazon.com/Good-Great-Some-Companies-Others/dp/0...

DOM Enlightenment - https://www.amazon.com/DOM-Scripting-Design-JavaScript-Docum...

Definitive XML Schema - https://www.amazon.com/Definitive-XML-Schema-Charles-Goldfar...

I am a better developer because of building my thinking about software around a deeper appreciation of data structures setting goals by focusing on personal considerations of ethics.

Books that have improved me but not my career:

Principles - https://www.amazon.com/Principles-Ray-Dalio-audiobook/dp/B07...

Lots and lots of fiction.

Your opinion on the product does matter.

Even if you get a lot of pleasure out of puzzle solving and other technical aspects of your work, you will experience moral injury if you are working on a product that you think is harmful.

I defer to subject matter experts where I work, I am very much a specialist in the details of the system, but I know the product I work on makes some people happy and it gets mentioned on the news (in a positive way) almost every day.

That adds to the satisfaction of my work.

This book

https://www.amazon.com/Good-Great-Some-Companies-Others/dp/0...

says that a good corporate culture has a mission that is obvious to everyone who works there and that everybody can understand how what they do relates to that mission.

It might not be "I am pumped to work on this product" but it is "having a story that makes sense", which is absent in many workplaces.

Sep 26, 2020 · unoti on Ask HN: How to learn sales?
A great resource to get you thinking along the right lines: the book Spin Selling[1]. This book is about doing selling involving long sales cycles, where it could take you a good amount of time to close the deal. This is often the case with enterprise software.

An example of a great concept from this book that has shaped the way I approach things: You've heard of the concept of closing, where you ask the customer to buy the product. Spin selling extends that concept in the realm of a longer sales cycle that involves many steps such as demos, consulting sessions and so on. Every interaction you have with the customer has some desired outcome that eventually leads to the final sale. For example, your initial contacts with the prospect, the goal of those initial interactions is to get the demo scheduled. Or perhaps it's to introduce you to someone closer to the decision maker. In each interaction, you keep a goal in mind and close towards that goal.

Three other books that were amazing and formative for me are below. These aren't about sales in particular but about making your own business in general, which includes sales in various degrees: 2. Good to Great 3. Crossing the Chasm 4. The E Myth

Also an honorable mention goes to this book, which is more about marketing than sales: Winning Through Intimidation. The book isn't actually about intimidating people, but it's about branding, image, and approach. Despite the evil sounding title, it's an amazing resource.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Spin-Selling-Neil-Rackham/dp/05660768... [2] https://www.amazon.com/Good-Great-Some-Companies-Others/dp/0... [3] https://www.amazon.com/Crossing-Chasm-3rd-Disruptive-Mainstr... [4] https://www.amazon.com/Myth-Revisited-Small-Businesses-About... [5] https://www.amazon.com/Winning-through-Intimidation-Victor-B...

I learned so much about structure and organization from https://www.amazon.com/Definitive-XML-Schema-Charles-Goldfar...

I learned the value of utility from Nicomachean Ethics in that it establishes a value hierarchy starting from the fragment: that which exists for its own sake.

I liked this book for establishing ethics as the basis for rapid growth in business: https://www.amazon.com/Good-Great-Some-Companies-Others/dp/0...

A lot of people struggle with CSS. It’s not hard but it take some solid practice to master. This is the best book: https://www.amazon.com/CSS-Pocket-Reference-Visual-Presentat...

Honesty is important. Brutal honesty forces changes to culture and everybody wins. It forces you to act with ethics for the welfare of the group: https://www.amazon.com/Principles-Life-Work-Ray-Dalio/dp/150...

Fear of innovation is a form of hecklers veto, more so when popularity or a majority is threatened. Originality, even when wrong, is always more important: On Liberty.

Jim Collins throws down the gauntlet to Steven Covey in this book

https://www.amazon.com/Good-Great-Some-Companies-Others/dp/0...

when it comes to "mission statements", "alignment" and similar things. Briefly, Collins says if you are for real and walking the walk, you will be aligned. If you are bogus, you won't be aligned and you can't paint alignment on.

kristianp
Read "The Halo Effect" instead of a Jim Collins book. https://www.amazon.com/Halo-Effect-Business-Delusions-Manage...
This is an interesting question, because it signals that you are most likely very new to hiring, and maybe ill-equipped to handle managing people in general. Although, at least you're asking questions.

First, very rarely does a manager regret a hire even though it's very common for a hire not to work out. Hiring and interviewing are in terrible shape right now, and more often then not lead to terrible hiring/job acceptance choices.

Second, you regret hiring PEOPLE, not developers because regrettable hires aren't specific to developers. When they are, it's because an engineer was given too much access to something they should not have been and a theft/breach occurs.

Examples of these concepts in play: The NSA probably regrets hiring Edward Snowden. I don't regret hiring the last JS dev I hired even though it didn't work out and he moved to a different company.

Lack of technical expertise is a problem sometimes, but it can be nurtured. Lack of personal skills is a huge problem in an office environment, and is much, much harder to nurture. But neither of these are regrettable in-and-of themselves.

The thing to remember is that you have to weigh the urgency of hiring against the long term impacts of hiring the wrong person. In other words, be careful and set up controls, but don't allow decision paralysis.

Good luck with your project, keep your head up, and expect failure. Great employees are rare, so just keep at it.

post mobile edit:

Go read:

Good To Great: https://www.amazon.com/Good-Great-Some-Companies-Others/dp/0...

How to Win Friends and Influence People: https://www.amazon.com/How-win-friends-influence-people-eboo...

Emotional Intelligence: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000JMKVCG/

omidfi
Thank you for your insightful comment.

You're right,this is new for me. But fortunately I'm not making decisions, or managing people at the moment. I'm just learning.

I'll check out the books.

wheelerwj
wanting to be good/get better is half the battle. I'm sure if tou keep trying to learn you'll do great.
blablabla123
>Lack of technical expertise is a problem sometimes, but it

>can be nurtured. Lack of personal skills is a huge problem

>in an office environment, and is much, much harder to

>nurture. But neither of these are regrettable in-and-of

>themselves.

That's actually a cool attitude. When looking the first time for a full time job 7 years ago I was astonished how static employers seemed to perceive skill - at least in Germany. I had various conversations with headhunters/recruiters and oftentimes it went like this: "Do you know [insert simple technology X]?" - "No, but I can learn it quickly as I have experience with [similar technology Y]" - "Ok, but I asked for X". I found that really frustrating.

Also in most jobs I worked in between I had to learn everything on my own initiative - no matter if that was tech or people skills. There were countless occasions when people, especially ones in manager(-like) positions would discourage me from spending time learning certain skills. I'm happy that I didn't follow so much on that.

Anyways, on my recent job hunt I was very surprised to find companies that actually have programs to develop their tech employees on a wide range of skills. Luckily I'm now working at a place that at least has interest in developing their people.

late2part
Have you ever gone and quickly learned it and called the recruiter/company back?
blablabla123
Didn't try that yet. But that would only work for microscopic node js libraries. I mean when someone asks you: "are you proficient with SuperAwesome ORM XYZ?" Apart from the fact that the person on the phone probably won't even know what an ORM is, it's not possible to learn an API by heart in 5 minutes. ;) (I doubt it's desirable but that's another thing.)

I understand the desire of people wanting to have competent hires who get up to speed quickly. But that is just going in the completely wrong direction and likely costing such companies tons of money because they need to search longer/spend more on a dev.

late2part
Maybe. Or you could invest the short time you said it takes to come up to speed, do that, and call them back. You'd be much more valuable to them and should be able to get a job more quickly with higher value to you.
blablabla123
I'm sure you're right but on the other hand I'd then declare myself as having not enough value. I find it already ridiculous which amount of preparation some companies ask, just for a simple interview. Doing even hours (or days - in case of a lib) for making a good impression on the phone is just insane. Interviewing with 20 companies would then be a half year full-time job.

On the other hand taking a few days to get to know something is still waaayy better than taking months for the exact same thing. But yeah, that's just over the top for recruiters who just want to go through a checklist.

I'm a huge believer in going back to primary texts, and understanding where ideas came from. If you've liked a book, read the books it references (repeat). I also feel like book recommendations often oversample recent writings, which are probably great, but it's easy to forget about the generations of books that have come before that may be just as relevant today (The Mythical Man Month is a ready example). I approach the reading I do for fun the same way, Google a list of "classics" and check for things I haven't read.

My go to recommendations:

http://www.amazon.com/Structure-Scientific-Revolutions-50th-... - The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn, (1996)

http://www.amazon.com/Pragmatic-Programmer-Journeyman-Master... - The Pragmatic Programmer, Andrew Hunt and David Thomas (1999)

Things I've liked in the last 6 months:

http://www.amazon.com/How-Measure-Anything-Intangibles-Busin... - How to Measure Anything, Douglas Hubbard (2007)

http://www.amazon.com/Mythical-Man-Month-Software-Engineerin... - Mythical Man Month: Essays in Software Engineering, Frederick Brooks Jr. (1975, but get the 1995 version)

http://www.amazon.com/Good-Great-Some-Companies-Others/dp/00... - Good To Great, Jim Collins (2001)

Next on my reading list (and I'm really excited about it):

http://www.amazon.com/Best-Interface-No-brilliant-technology... - The Best Interface is No Interface, Golden Krishna (2015)

walterbell
Your list of primary sources ends at 2001 :)

No classics beyond that date?

lostphilosopher
The top was, "choose your own adventure" advice, the bottom was, "here's some clickable immediate gratification" advice. But point well taken, haha.
jon-wood
That reminds me, I'm due a re-read of The Pragmatic Programmer. I re-read it about once a year, and every time seem to get something new from it.
Here is what I did when I moved from development to product & Marketing

1. Follow people in the same field 2. Ready up on blogs and posts : I use Zite, Flipboard and medium 3. A book that helped me to a large extent is Good to great by Jim Collins (http://www.amazon.com/Good-Great-Companies-Leap-Others/dp/00...)

Also The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman http://www.amazon.com/Personal-MBA-World-Class-Business-Educ...

4. Video from people in the same field. 5. This article https://medium.com/@noah_weiss/50-articles-and-books-that-wi...

Some great tools:

1. Trello - Project/product and pretty much manage any thing 2. Qlikview - Data Analysis : Excel on Steroids

It's a very short list, but I am learning on the job :)

davidw
Josh's book is great - he sums up a lot of thinking from other books. He also has an account here, IIRC. Jim Collins, on the other hand, seems to write kind of empty books without much actionable advice. In my opinion, at least.
In my experience the bottom line is that you need good people around you in order to succeed. It doesn't matter if that's a co-founder, a CEO, developers, etc.. If you don't have good people around you helping you in your journey of success you won't have any.

For example, in my first startup I had a very good co-founder but we were both very young and inexperienced. We didn't hire the right people to surround us and help us in our journey. As a consequence we had a great run but were out maneuvered by other companies. In the startup I'm doing now, I started with great co-founders and we then proceeded to hire more great people to surround us. We haven't completed our journey yet but the driving force in the company now is not only me (the other co-founder left to pursue other interests) but many others that share my passion and goals.

Take your time and look for people that share your vision and passion. These people are out there it just takes time. And remember, no one can do it by themselves.

If you never read it, by a copy of Good To Great (http://www.amazon.com/Good-Great-Companies-Leap-Others/dp/00...). There's a whole chapter devoted to how great companies need great entourages.

bobbles
This makes me wonder if two solo-founders working together (on their own projects) but bouncing ideas off each other would be more successful than going it alone.
Aug 30, 2010 · amalcon on The Right Kind of Ambition
This is essentially the main idea described in Jim Collins' Good to Great[1]. It's pretty boring (to my taste, anyway), but it's also short.

The idea makes sense if you think about it. You're liable to get less accomplished if you spend most of your time covering yourself and positioning for your own advancement. The same applies to everyone else. The hard part, then, is identifying and removing people who waste a lot of time covering themselves and positioning to the detriment of what they're nominally being compensated to do.

[1]http://www.amazon.com/Good-Great-Companies-Leap-Others/dp/00...

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