Good to Great, Built to Last

What’s Next for Creating Great Companies
Dave Link

I attended the Inc. 500 conference on Friday and absorbed one of the best conference keynote presentations I have ever witnessed delivered by Jim Collins – Author of “Built to Last” and “Good to Great”.

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I have to admit that I was already a fan of Collins’ quantitative style blended with clever insight, but this was the first time that I had seen him in person, and he was just spectacular. He has a vivid, animated way of telling a story, and had a great sense of humor. This combination of presentation skill was put to immediate use with his first statement drawing a hearty laugh from the audience full of entrepreneurs.

blog-200809-inc500-medallion“How many of you in the room are constitutionally unemployable?”

Much of his remaining presentation provided interesting stories and insight from the research that he has done to understand the make-up of exceptional companies.

As Jim said, he has spent years studying the contrast between average companies and exceptional companies. They faced the same set of variables… similar economic conditions, similar competition for top human resources, and a similar set of huge unknowns.

What is the single biggest element of difference?

Not a function of the cards you are dealt, or circumstance… it is conscious choice and discipline.

Jim’s key principles & disciplines that have come from the studies we have worked on:

  1. Building greatness is a cumulative never ending process! The idea that no matter how exceptional, you are always only relatively as good as to what you can do next.
  2. Most overnight successes are 20 years in the making…. Wal-mart  took 13 years to get to 125 stores. Starbucks required 17 years to get to 38 stores.

“If you start to break Packard’s law, and there are very few laws of business, it is like breaking a law of physics for building great companies.” – David Packard (Co-founder of HP)

If you allow growth to exceed your ability to get enough of the right people to fill the key seats to execute on the growth brilliantly, you will fall as surely as a stone dropped from your hand. This is one of those timeless truths that extends beyond technology and economics.

The number one constraint on growth and sustained success…

An ability to get enough of the right people in the key seats to achieve that sustained growth.

The discipline that WHO comes before WHAT. Collins always kept coming back to the “who” thing over and over again. He said, “The more turbulent the world, (given the great current economic uncertainty of our financial system) the more important this issue is.”

A question from the audience came near the end of his session… How do you figure out who are the right people to put in key seats on the bus?

Collins responded with “Given that I stand here amidst a room full of unmotivated people… the right people are self motivated, self disciplined, self managed, The task is not to motivate unmotivated people, the task is not to have to manage people… self motivated, figured it out from there… self motivated people don’t need tons of management … when you have to start managing, you know that you have the wrong person at the task.”

Final thoughts:

Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness is a function of conscious choice and discipline. It is not a matter of circumstance, it is one of choices.

I believe that every one of the Inc. 500 companies that I met at this conference achieved the list because they did not embrace the status quo. Incredible passion, an unwillingness to accept failure and an excessive and compulsive willingness to solve customer’s problems were key ingredients in the business building formula for the entrepreneurs that were at the conference.

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