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Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and…

Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck--Why Some Thrive Despite…

by James C. Collins, Morten T. Hansen (Author)

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The new question
Ten years after the worldwide bestseller Good to Great, Jim Collins returns with another groundbreaking work, this time to ask: Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not? Based on nine years of research, buttressed by rigorous analysis and infused with engaging stories, Collins and his colleague, Morten Hansen, enumerate the principles for building a truly great enterprise in unpredictable, tumultuous, and fast-moving times.

The new study
Great by Choice distinguishes itself from Collins’s prior work by its focus not just on performance, but also on the type of unstable environments faced by leaders today.

With a team of more than twenty researchers, Collins and Hansen studied companies that rose to greatness—beating their industry indexes by a minimum of ten times over fifteen years—in environments characterized by big forces and rapid shifts that leaders could not predict or control. The research team then contrasted these “10X companies” to a carefully selected set of comparison companies that failed to achieve greatness in similarly extreme environments.

The new findings
The study results were full of provocative surprises. Such as:

The best leaders were not more risk taking, more visionary, and more creative than the comparisons; they were more disciplined, more empirical, and more paranoid.
Innovation by itself turns out not to be the trump card in a chaotic and uncertain world; more important is the ability to scale innovation, to blend creativity with discipline.
Following the belief that leading in a “fast world” always requires “fast decisions” and “fast action” is a good way to get killed.
The great companies changed less in reaction to a radically changing world than the comparison companies.
The authors challenge conventional wisdom with thought-provoking, sticky, and supremely practical concepts. They include: 10Xers; the 20 Mile March; Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs; Leading above the Death Line; Zoom Out, Then Zoom In; and the SMaC Recipe.

Finally, in the last chapter, Collins and Hansen present their most provocative and original analysis: defining, quantifying, and studying the role of luck. The great companies and the leaders who built them were not luckier than the comparisons, but they did get a higher Return on Luck.

This book is classic Collins: contrarian, data-driven, and uplifting. He and Hansen show convincingly that, even in a chaotic and uncertain world, greatness happens by choice, not chance.
  fedoriv.com | Sep 19, 2012 |
You should absolutely read this is you're the director of a division or even the manager of a team. It'll provide you with great real-life examples you can use to inspire. (It's particularly exciting if your company is one of the ones studied.)

The work behind the book is great. This is not fluffy. It's actually based on data and statistics, and I loved that. ( )
  Kara | Mar 1, 2012 |
Since bursting on the business book scene with Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim Collins has been a fixture at the top of the business best seller list. His research-based approach to explaining success has struck a chord in the management corridors. I first became aware of Collins after being assigned to read Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by my boss. We were attempting to turn a corner with our small company and he hoped this would give us the insight we needed to be successful.

I remember watching a presentation by Collins explain the methodology of sorting through the data to find the companies to study. He explained they first looked for a question that really interested him. I can understand the theory. Without a really good question to sustain him and his team of researchers, they wouldn't have the interest to spend several years seeking the answer. And he found a really good puzzle this time. I think this is perhaps his best work.
The latest research undertaking was centered around the question: Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty , even chaos, and others do not? He and his team began by looking for enterprises who outperformed their industry averages by at least 10 times. Dubbed the "10Xers", they looked into what caused them to be successful when other, very similar organizations in the same environment, did not. From there, they dug into the lessons they can learn and found similar stories to describe the behavior.

He begins be relating the story of the race to the South Pole by Amundsen and Scott. If you are unfamiliar with this story, the analogy alone is worth the read. Amundsen trained for the mission to the South Pole by living with eskimos, experimenting in eating sources of meat available in the Antarctic, learning to travel in snow with dog sleds and other similar preparations. Scott, on the other hand, decided to use ponies without checking see how they would hold up in the harsh conditions (they don't), investing in new, untested technology - motor sledges (the engines cracked within days) and packing lightly on the supplies (1 ton / 17 men compared to Amundsen's 3 tons / 5 men). Amundsen reach the pole first and returned safely with his men before winter set back in. Scott's team, reduced to pulling their sleds by hand, reached the pole over a month later. The entire team died, starving to death two miles from their supply cache.

Powerful stories like this are employed throughout the book, each graphically emphasizing the traits of the 10Xer companies. Those traits include:

The 20 Mile March
Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs
Leading above the Death Line
SMaC (Specific, Methodical, and Consistent), and
Return on Luck
Each lesson is something that a company leadership has control over. They can replicate the results of these hyper-successful companies, if they choose. That is the key point: Companies can choose to be great. Yes, there is some luck involved, but Collins proves it isn't a matter of getting a lucky break, but what one DOES with any luck, good or bad.

I can't possibly do this book justice in the few words of this review. I recommend reading this book more highly than any other book to date. The lessons he teaches are profound and simple. Every step is in reach. I believe this book to be one of the most useful of all the business books I have read. It is applicable to many cases beyond business as well. He discusses other applications to nonbusiness organizations as well. This book should be on a list to be reviewed annually by every leader of an organization. It should be discussed in staff meetings and the concepts implemented everywhere. If you only buy one book on changing an organization, make it this one. ( )
  DanStratton | Feb 26, 2012 |
Solid perspective on what makes for success. Good planning, experience, willing to try new things without throwing away the proven things. Specific Methodical and Consistent plan. Gunshots and then cannon balls. ( )
  mogie | Jan 21, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Collins, James C.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hansen, Morten T.Authormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0062120999, Hardcover)

Jim Collins on the Writing Process

When I first embarked on a career that required writing, I devoured dozens of books about the process of writing. I soon realized that each writer has weird tricks and idiosyncratic methods. Some wrote late at night, in the tranquil bubble of solitude created by a sleeping world, while others preferred first morning light. Some cranked out three pages a day, workmanlike, whereas others worked in extended bursts followed by catatonic exhaustion. Some preferred the monastic discipline of facing cinder-block walls, while others preferred soaring views.

I quickly learned that I had to discover my own methods. Most useful, I realized that I have different brains at different times of day. In the morning, I have a creative brain; in the evening, I have a critical brain. If I try to edit in the morning, I’m too creative, and if I try to create in the evening, I’m too critical. So, I go at writing like a two piston machine: create in the morning, edit in the evening, create in the morning, edit in the evening…

Yet all writers seem to agree on one point: writing well is desperately difficult, and it never gets easier. It’s like running: if you push your limits, you can become a faster runner, but you will always suffer. In nonfiction, writing is thinking; if I can’t make the words work, that means I don’t know yet what I think. Sometimes after toiling in a quagmire for dozens (or hundreds) of hours I throw the whole effort into the wastebasket and start with a blank page. When I sheepishly shared this wastebasket strategy with the great management writer Peter Drucker, he made me feel much better when he exclaimed, “Ah, that is immense progress!”

The final months of completing Great by Choice required seven days a week effort, with numerous all-nighters. I had naively hoped after writing Good to Great that perhaps I had learned enough about writing that this work might not require descending deep into the dark cave of despair. Alas, the cave of darkness is the only path to producing the best work; there is no easy path, no shorter path, no path of less suffering. Winston Churchill once said that writing a book goes through five phases. In phase one, it is a novelty or a toy; by phase five, it is a tyrant ruling your life, and just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public. And so, exiting the caving blinking in the sunlight, we’ve killed the monster and hereby fling. We love this book, and have great passion about sharing it with the world—making all the suffering worthwhile.

A Q&A with Morten T. Hansen

Q: How did you and Jim develop ideas together during the research?

Hansen: During our hundreds of research meetings—what we called “chimposiums” (as when two curious chimps get together), Jim and I probed the data, exchanged views, and debated vigorously. We didn't always agree, in which case we did some more analysis to get to the main findings we report in Great by Choice.

Q: Why did Great by Choice take nine years of effort?

Hansen: When Jim and I started out some nine years ago, we did not anticipate that it would take us this long, nor did we know what the results would be. We followed a simple principle—carry out the absolutely best research we could possibly do, no matter how long.

Q: Did you find what you expected, or surprises?

Hansen: The way we did the research was to explore why some companies attained great performance over the long-run while others did not. We did not start with any preconceived ideas and hypotheses about what made the difference. We let the data speak. What we found, and what we report in the book, surprised us a great deal. A few times we scratched our heads because we were so surprised, but that's what the data revealed.

Q: Did you have fun?

Hansen: Analyzing the data, debating, and arriving at some really interesting insights was a great deal of fun. It created joy in my life. It may not be everyone's idea of having a good time, but Jim and I always looked forward to our chimposiums. I hope you will enjoy Great by Choice as much as Jim and I enjoyed the research process!

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:52 -0400)

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Enumerates the principles for building a truly great enterprise in unpredictable, tumultuous and fast-moving times.

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