November 2008 • Journal 01 • Issue 02

“Built to Last” – Jim Collins

Jim Collin’s description of “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” brings the notion of vision down to managable reality. Many leaders will find that BHAGs serve a visionary function.

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Built to Last became an instant business classic. This audio abridgement is read by the authors, who alternate chapters. Collins is a bit breathlessly enthusiastic, but clear and interesting; Porras, unfortunately, is poorly inflected and wooden. They set out to determine what’s special about “visionary” companies–the Disneys, Wal-Marts, and Mercks, companies at the very top of their game that have demonstrated longevity and great brand image. The authors compare 18 “visionary” picks to a control group of “successful-but-second-rank” companies. Thus Disney is compared to Columbia Pictures, Ford to GM, and so on.

A central myth, according to the authors, is that visionary companies start with a great product and are pushed into the future by charismatic leaders. Usually false, Collins and Porras find. Much more important, and a much more telling line of demarcation between a wild success like 3M and an also-ran like Norton, is flexibility. 3M had no master plan, little structure, and no prima donnas. Instead it had an atmosphere in which bright people were not afraid to “try a lot of stuff and keep what works.”

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