Jim Collins – GREAT BY CHOICE. Catalyst 2011

Anyone who’s a student of Leadership will be familiar with Collins. In this talk he gave us a synopsis of his new book – GREAT BY CHOICE. Buying it was a no brainer.

Good is the enemy of Great.
Systematically, what separates the two?
He takes an empirical approach to that.
Compare those that became great, with those that didn’t – in the same field and circumstance.
Greatness is not about circumstance but discipline and choice.

Rate the world you’re in, 1 to 10.

1= Nothing can hurt you, it’s moving slow. Stable.

10 – There are consequences to messing up, things can hurt you, turbulent.

Question – why do some organisations and leaders THRIVE in the face of change and still perform very well?

You get Great by Choice.

The answer is not what happens to you, but the choices and actions that separate some from others. What have they found?

LIFE IS PEOPLE. It all begins with people. As he said in Good to Great – you need to ask Who should be on the bus, then get them in the right seats, THEN figure out where the bus should be going. The question is not WHAT but WHO. If we get the right WHO on the bus we’ll get the right what. Change every WHAT question into a WHO question. This becomes more and more important in a turbulent world. How do you prepare for what you can’t predict? What’s most important is who you’re with.

There is still leadership in this equation. What distinguishes prevailing leaders? Not charisma. Force of personality isn’t the key attribute. You could have a leader who’s weird or who hasn’t got much personality at all. It’s not about personality. The key attribute? HUMILITY. Humility of a special type – a burning ambition channelled outward into a cause bigger than yourself, combined with the WILL to do whatever it takes. (Level 5 Leadership)

They next looked then at How the mighty fall. Found a series of stages, it starts with success being connected to HUBRIS – ‘outrageous arrogance to neglect of people’ and we start to believe all our decisions are good. Bad decisions with good intentions are still bad decisions. After that comes ‘the undisciplined pursuit of more.’ Then comes denial, grasping wrong solutions… and it’s downhill from there.

Is humility and will enough? No, we need more.

Exactly 100 years ago, Oct 1911, two men set off to go to the South Pole. Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Captain Roald Amundsen set off from their respective base camps on the Antarctic coast, each trying to reach the South Pole first. Amundsen reached it on 15 December 1911 and returned to civilisation within three months. Scott and his four men arrived at the Pole 33 days later, on 17 January 1912, and faced an agonising struggle to get back to base camp. They all perished.

So Amundsen got there and back, on time – according to his journals planned in advance. Scott and his men died 11 miles from supplies. Why in such unpredictable conditions did one succeed and the others die? What they did maps perfectly the results Collins team found.

Level 5 Ambition. It begins there. They share that. But there were many differences that then become apparent.

A Fanatical Discipline.
Imagine you’d decided that you were going to walk a massive distance. And you decided that whether it was good weather or bad, up a hill or down, you’d do 20 miles a day.

Another man waits in his tent because the weathers’ bad. And they don’t do 20 miles that day. But they do 40 on a good day, and 2 on a bad day, and so on.

Principle? You need to do a 20 mile march every day – and know what your 20 mile march is. No matter what, recession or boom time. If you want to get killed in an uncertain environment, you do occasional 6 or 17, or 30.

Amundsen was a fanatic about this. He would do 15- 20 miles a day.That’s what he planned, it’s what he did.
Scott, however, would say, ‘It’s terrible today, let’s stay in, boys.’

On a good day, Amundsen would not over reach. When the pole was close, and they didn’t know where Scott was, they didn’t ever do one giant burst – even in perfect conditions. Despite the pressure. They could have got there if they’d done 45 miles. They did 17.

Empirical Creativity.
There’s a certain humility you need to say, “I’m going to figure out what works and use that.’ Scott’s engine blocks cracked on his motor sledges. So much for the high tech solution of the day. Then his ponies froze! They had to man-haul their sleds.

Amundsen knew he couldn’t figure it out for himself, so – he went and lived with Eskimos, to learn. Eskimos said, ‘Dogs are better.’ Amundsen did everything based on empirical sense, he read all the data from other explorer’s journals as to where to set up base.

Fire bullets, then cannon balls.
That’s what you do in an uncertain environment to TEST. Imagine you fire all your cannon balls and miss a moving target. Instead, fire the bullets – look where you hit. Then, get the cannon balls out.

Productive Paranoia.
Be prepared for what you can’t predict. Always ask, what if? But don’t just get sacred by it – channel the anxiety into action.

Amundsen calculated how much supplies were needed and put three times more than he needed. Scott had just enough. (He thought).

Scott put one flag on his supply depots, Amundsen put black marks 10 miles around it.

cf. Herb Kelleher – ‘We predicted 11 of the last 3 recessions.’ And they’re still going great at South West.

The only mistakes you learn from are the ones you survive!

We are here to do something great – aren’t we?

The signature of mediocracy is not an unwillingness to change or innovate, or the unwillingness to grow. The signature of mediocracy is CHRONIC INCONSISTENCY.

So, what can we hang on to – no matter what?
Only values endure, no matter what.

So, preserve the core, but innovate, and have BHAGS.

We must understand the differences between practices and values. Change the practices but keep the values. We do things different, but honour that which endures.


Run your Good to Great diagnostic on your enterprise and on you and your team.

Answer the Question – How many seats do you have and what will you do to get 100% of the right people in the right seats in the next year? What you’re doing is too important to have the wrong people, in the wrong seats.

Who will you allow to Mentor you? Build a personal board of Directors.

Get your personal Hedgehog righ
t; Intersection of your passion, your genetic encoding (what you were made to do) and the place where you are making an udeniable contribution of value to others – never let go of that hedgehog.

Set a 20 mile March and stick to it. (I will spend x amount of time for this, and x amount for that, on these things that matter). What’s your march? Your churches?

Fire bullets. Test things. Fire 6 bullets by the end of the year. Then when eh bullets hit, fire a cannon ball.

Turn off your electronic gadgets for two days every two weeks. You can’t be present, disciplined and calm in the face of chaos and the gadgets rob us of that. One day a wek – no gadgets.

Have a Stop Doing List. What do you NOT do? Some people have to put that on our to do list. (By the way I wrote a book on this! Go to the book page and find out how to order it, thanks for the plug, Jim!)

Double your reach to people half your age – by changing practices without changing the core. (Preserve the core, stimulate progress).

Set a BHAG that makes you really useful
. (At 65, Peter Drucker had only written a third of his books). Drucker said to him once, ‘You will probably be alive, and be successful. Why not go out and make yourself useful?’