Michael David Cobb's Reviews > Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't

Good to Great by James C. Collins
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's review
Jan 15, 2009

Collins, in the tradition of the case study, names names and finds unique properties in the management of a number of Fortune 500 companies over a 30 year period. From a unique set of criteria he pursues, with no preconceived notions, what it takes to sustain profitability in a large public corporation which had previously been only mediocre. His findings are clear, well thought out and often surprising. In the realm of business books, this one is especially refreshing for a number of reasons.[return][return]This is a hardheaded skeptic's book. What makes it so special is that it does not assign magic to anyone, neither to himself as a writer or to any of the officers interviewed. Collins exposes his own learning process and allows the reader to understand the nuance in the emphasis of each of his concepts as he spells out the skeptical questions that his research team posed and the deliberation they went through. Collins doesn't come off as a `guru' who has found some magic that only he and a handful of CEOs can see so much as a disciplined and curious leader of a research team struggling with difficult questions. So not only do you understand what he means as he moves from `chaos to concept', you also see arguments against his initial reasoning. And since he is dedicated only those conclusions supported by facts rather than fitting random companies into some grand theory we see exactly what he sees and why. There is none of breathless exuberance that characterizes so much of business writing.[return][return]What is most refreshing and reassuring about this book's studies is that it puts us back in a sensible framework for understanding long term success without making a fetish of `leadership' or `innovation' or `excellence' or other buzzwords. This is the kind of book that demonstrates the sort of objectivity possible in business - it doesn't obfuscate or take the position that there is something mysterious out there. Rather he makes the complex comprehensible and when the answers are simple, they are presented simply. He constantly checks and compares the difference between unsustainable and sustainable profitability. All of Collins' concepts lend themselves to the sorts of metrics upon which rugged methodologies can be built. This is more than a book of management theory; it is a learning tool, which explains itself. I cannot remember the last book where the appendices were as interesting (and sometimes more interesting) than the main text.[return][return]It might be corny to say so, but I think his findings are self-rewarding. Working from the premises put forth, it makes sense for smaller companies and organizations some of which might not even be businesses at all. `Good to Great' offers solid lessons among which are that it doesn't take more energy to behave smartly but it does take nerve. Collins dared to work smartly and has created a great book.

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