On Built To Last

I recently finished reading Built To Last by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras.

This book is about visionary companies – ones that are built to last. These companies are defined by the authors as “”Visionary companies are premier institutions – the crown jewels – in their industries, widely admired by their peers and having a long track record of making a significant impact on the world around them. The key point is that a visionary company is an organization – an institution.”

The objectives of this book are best summarized by the following excerpt: “In a nutshell, we had two primary objectives for the research project: 1) To identify the underlying characteristics and dynamics common to highly visionary companies (and that distinguish them from other companies) and to translate these findings into a useful conceptual framework. 2) To effectively communicate these findings and concepts so that they influence the practice of management and prove beneficial to people who want to help create, build, and maintain visionary companies.”

A great follow-up read to Collin’s Good to Great. Jim reveals what makes visionary companies tick, their culture, their core values and their audacious goals. The in-depth research and objective analysis are to be commended. Particularly the approach of comparing each of the companies discussed to their main respective competitor. This comparison helps anchor and exemplify the ideas presented. Furthermore, the call for continuous improvement and stimulating progress is stressed as a caution for visionary companies from falling behind (which some already have). A must read!

Below are excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1) “Built to Last, it turns out, is not fundamentally about building to last. It is about building something that is worthy of lasting – about building a company of such intrinsic excellence that the world would lose something important if that organization ceased to exist.”

2) “…Visionary companies distinguish their timeless core values and enduring purpose (which should never change) from their operating practices and business strategies (which should be changing constantly in response to a changing world). This distinction has proven to be profoundly useful to organizations amid drastic transformation.”

3) “In a nutshell, we had two primary objectives for the research project: 1) To identify the underlying characteristics and dynamics common to highly visionary companies (and that distinguish them from other companies) and to translate these findings into a useful conceptual framework. 2) To effectively communicate these findings and concepts so that they influence the practice of management and prove beneficial to people who want to help create, build, and maintain visionary companies.”

4) “…The continual stream of great products and services from highly visionary companies stems from them being outstanding organizations, not the other way around.”

5) “In short, a highly visionary company doesn’t want to blend yin and yang into a gray, indistinguishable circle that is neither highly yin nor highly yang; it aims to be distinctly yin and distinctly yang – both at the same time, all the time.”

6) “Profitability is a necessary condition for existence and a means to more important ends, but it is not the end in itself for many of the visionary companies. Profits is like oxygen, food, water, and blood for the body; they are not the point of life, but without them, there is no life.”

7) “…I firmly believe that any organization, in order to survive and achieve success, must have a sound set of beliefs on which it premises all its policies and actions. Next, I believe that the most important singly factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs…Beliefs must always come before policies, practices, and goals. The latter must always be altered if they are seen to violate fundamental beliefs.”

8) “If an organization is to meet the challenges of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except [its basic] beliefs as it moves through corporate life…The only sacred cow in an organization should be its basic philosophy of doing business.”

9) “Indeed, the drive for progress is never satisfied with the status quo, even when the status quo is working well. Like a persistent and incurable itch, the drive for progress in a highly visionary company can never be satisfied under any conditions, even if the company succeeds enormously.”

10) “Big Hairy Audacious Goals…A BHAG should be so clear and compelling that it requires little or no explanation…A BHAG should fall well outside the comfort zone…A BHAG should be so bold and exciting in its own right that it would continue to simulate progress even if the organization’s leader disappeared before it had been completed…A BHAG has the inherent danger that, once achieved, an organization can stall and drift in the “we’ve arrived” syndrome…A company should be prepared to prevent this by having follow-on BHAGs…Finally, and most important of all, a BHAG should be consistent with a company’s core ideology.”

11) “…here are five basic lessons for stimulating evolutionary progress in a visionary company…Give it a try – and quick…Accept that mistakes will be made…Take small steps…Give people the room they need…Mechanisms – build that ticking clock.”

12) “The essence of a visionary company comes in the translation of its core ideology and its own unique drive for progress into the very fabric of the organization – into goals, strategies, tactics, policies, processes, cultural practices, management behaviors, building layouts, pay systems, accounting systems, job design – into everything the company does.”

13) “Lessons of alignment for CEOs, Managers, And Entrepreneurs: Paint the Whole Picture…Sweat the Small Stuff…Cluster, Don’t Shotgun…Swim in You Own Current, Even if You Swim Against the Tide…Obliterate Misalignments…Keep the Universal Requirements While Inventing New Methods”

14) “…as you walk away from reading this book, we hope you will take away four key concepts to guide your thinking for the rest of your managerial career, and to pass on to others. The concepts are: 1) Be a clock builder – an architect – not a time teller. 2) Embrace the “Genius of the AND.” 3) Preserver the core/stimulate progress. 4) Seek consistent alignment.”

15) “Building a visionary company is a design problem, and great designers apply general principles, not mechanical lock-step dogma. Any specific how-to will almost certainly become obsolete. But the general concepts – adapted of course, to changing conditions – can last as guiding principles well into the next century.”

Regards,

Omar Halabieh

Built To Last

Built To Last

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