Book Review: Good to Great by Jim Collins

  • August 10, 2022

Jim Collins is one of the authors I will think twice before disagreeing with. He wrote the book Built to Last, which I haven’t read but have heard about its success. However, the problem with ‘Built to Last’ was that it didn’t give actionable steps on how to be great. I remember a story where Jim Collins was sitting with some executives who praised ‘Built to Last’ but complained about the book not explaining how to become great. And if I am not wrong, this conversation inspired Mr. Collins to write ‘Good to Great’.

In this article, I won’t summarize ‘Good to Great’. Instead, I will make my case as to why you should read it. I personally found no cons of the book and I strongly recommend buying a copy because I refer to it a lot.

Mr. Collins is an academician. His original intent was to study how good companies became great. To do so, he first defined what he meant by a good to great transformation. The definition was that a good to great transformation was where a company produced significantly more return compared to the industry average over a 15-year period (averaged to 6.9 times). Then he said that the goal was to find what differentiated these companies from their peers. In other words, what led the transformation to greatness.

The moment Mr. Collins defined this problem statement, I knew the book was worth my time. From my experience with management books, only the good ones define the problem statements, explain the approach, and present results in the first few pages. Then they dive deep into the ideas. This is exactly how Mr. Collins’ book is written. Try reading the first chapter, it will get you hooked.

In the remainder of the article, I will explain how I personally use ideas from ‘Good to Great’. There are many ideas presented in the book, but I will share three that I find useful.

I made it a rule that to achieve a goal, I must first find the right people, then decide how to achieve the goal. At times, if I want to do something new, be it for fun or as a student, step 1 is to find the right people. The inspiration for this idea is from Chapter 3 of the book – ‘First Who … Then What’. The argument of the chapter is that great company’s primary focus was not deciding the goal, but instead to get the right people on board, after which everyone decided what to do.

Another idea I liked was the Hedgehog Concept. Jim Collins starts the chapter with a story of the fox and the hedgehog. The fox is cunning, and always tries new ways to get to the hedgehog. But the hedgehog does the same thing all the time and gets away. Great companies simplify their goals so that everyone knows what must be done. This simplification leads to the employees proactively working towards a single metric. My hedgehog concept is of growth – to learn, commit to projects, get things done, and have fun.

The third idea is of technology accelerators. As a computer science major, I hear people talk about processors, fancy tech, et cetera all for the sake of technology. Most people I know are driven by tech focused ideas. And it makes sense – playing with tech is fun. However, we tend to forget that our goals are humans. Our goal is not to serve a computer, but to use computers to solve human problems. The ‘Technology Accelerator’ chapter says that great companies use technology to achieve their hedgehog concept goals. They do not use tech for the sake of being a tech company. If self-service lanes make CVS more efficient, it is worth it. But a thousand speakers to play country music, or iPads that catalog all products in a college town store may not improve efficiency.

I strongly recommend reading Good to Great. The ideas in this book are groundbreaking and comprehensive. The book is also an easy and engaging read.