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Their contributions might be as worthy if not worthier than the contributions of a stalwart organization that has survived decades of market vicissitudes but which has no concrete contributions or merit.
Not all is lost in the mire of Collins' masturbatory research, though. One of the most compelling sections of the book is the Hedgehog Concept, which can be applied to both personal and professional greatness. The Hedgehog Concept suggests that good to great organizations know what they are good at and cultivate a single unifying idea. Simplicity is the key. It is better to make the best widgets on the planet than to diversify for the sake of diversification. Simplifying a complex world means focusing, and focusing depends on the ability to be honest and self-aware. On an organizational level, this means evaluating core strengths and weaknesses, performing self-analysis and SWOT analyses regularly to understand what passions are driving leadership, what the core talents of the organization are at a juncture in time, and finally, knowing what makes the most money. The bottom line is the measure of organizational success in the Collins model, so the latter aspect of the hedgehog concept comes across as being the most important.
In this sense, Collins seems to suggest that risk-taking can be detrimental to growth and greatness. Staying the course, keeping things steady, and avoiding charismatic leaders are all anti-risk or risk-averse concepts. Collins' advice for readers must be taken with a grain of salt, because there will be examples of great companies that thrive on risk but who might not fit Collins' rigid parameters. Weisul (2012) notes, though, that Collins does suggest that leaders and their organizations set a 15 to 25-year "big, hairy, audacious goal."
There is nothing big, hairy, or audacious about Good to Great. The book has reached nearly the status of required reading, even if the methodologies and messages are questionable. Collins has encouraged audiences to think critically about what constitutes a great organization, and how greatness differs from goodness. The author also challenges readers to debunk their own biases about what makes good organizations great. Common myths include the need for a charismatic leader, or a strong diversified portfolio. Some of the good to great parameters are more straightforward and easier to digest, such as the need for the right people. Whether the right people can be developed, or if they need to be identified in the hiring process, is another matter. Good to Great gives the reader much food for thought. Human resources managers and strategic planners alike will benefit from reading the book. Good to Great has a stronger internal validity than external validity, but its weaknesses should not detract from its core strengths.
Furthermore, the principles in Good to Great can easily apply to a nonprofit organization or even to an individual. The seven principles of goodness to greatness are not infallible or immutable but they are adaptable. If one of the weaknesses of Collins' research is that it is ambiguous and vague, that may well be because the principles truly are universal in scope. Too much specificity is impossible when analyzing organizations. There will never be specific indicators, especially insofar as Collins evaluates companies from a diverse group of industries. Good to Great is a popular nonfiction classic, and will remain so, even if it has little academic credibility.
Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great. New York: Harper Collins.
Kilmann, R.H. (2004). Beyond the Quick. Washington DC: Beard.
Maltz, a.C., Shenar, a.J. & Reilly, R.R. (2003). Beyond the Balanced Scorecard:: Refining the Search for Organizational Success Measures. Long-Range Planning 36(2): 187-204.
May, R. (2006). Why 'Good to Great' isn't very good. Business Pundit. Jan 31, 2006. Retrieved online: http://www.businesspundit.com/why-good-to-great-isnt-very-good/
Myatt, M. (n.d.). Rethinking good to great. N2Growth. Retrieved online: http://www.n2growth.com/blog/rethinking-good-to-great/
Pfeffer, J. & Veiga, J.F. (1999). Putting people first for organizational success. Academy of Management Perspectives 13(2): 37-48
Weisul, K. (2012). Jim Collins: Good to great in seven steps.…[continue]
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