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Book review: Great by Choice

Book review: Great by Choice
Think crazy ideas are the ticket? Not always. Turns out pioneering innovation is great for society but statistically lethal for the individual trailblazer.

Great by Choice
By Jim Collins & Morten T. Hansen (Random House, $60) 2011

Great By ChoiceMany years ago, explorers Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott both set out in hopes of becoming the first person to reach the South Pole. Scott was said to have let the weather dictate when his team would move forward; Amundsen, in contrast, had a plan and stuck to it, soldiering on for 20 miles every single day. His group survived.

That tireless focus, according to the authors of Great by Choice, is the key to winning at anything. They take a data-driven view of management, backed up by numerous empirical case studies, and argue for a careful and considered approach in order to engineer a formula for business success.

The same concept plays out in the businesses studied here. Those with discipline and consistency – the ‘20-mile marchers’ – are those that prevail. The authors demonstrate that even in an unpredictable world, greatness happens by choice, not by chance.

Studying companies that rose to greatness in environments of rapid change – beating their industry indexes by a minimum of 10 times over 15 years – and comparing them to companies that failed in similarly extreme conditions, throws up some interesting and even counterintuitive conclusions.

Think crazy ideas are the ticket? Not always. Turns out pioneering innovation is good for society but statistically lethal for the individual trailblazer. What you want to do is hit that sweet spot. Be just innovative enough (the threshold varies by industry) but not an outlier.

While it’s the result of nearly a decade of research, this isn’t in the least bit pointy-headed; the insights are served up in an extremely digestible package for the time-pressed C-suite. Each chapter opens with a pithy quote from a household name (anyone from Emerson to Eminem) and goes on to elaborate on a key concept, tables, graphs, bullet points and all.