Good to Great, by Jim Collins

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Good to Great is a book on business and business leadership. What business (pun intended) do I have with it?

I’m not a company owner or a CEO and have nothing to do with the corporate world. Yet even someone like me drew out a few useful and encouraging ideas and tips on leadership and well, life.  I’ve been wanting to read Good to Great ever since the Global Leadership Summit, and it fits the “reading out of my comfort zone ” bill.

The ideas I liked best in this book is the concept of Level 5 Leadership and the Hedgehog Concept. Let me explain more about the latter, because it is very applicable in life, whether you’re in business or not.

The Hedgehog Concept got its name from the parable with the fox and the hedgehog. While the fox had many tricks up her furry sleeve, that she used to attack the hedgehog, this guy only had one way to defend himself: rolling up into a little ball. Isaiah Berlin sums it up this way:

The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

In other words, companies as well as individual, need to find that ONE BIG THING that best incorporates what they’re passionate about, what they can become the best in the world at and what brings them profit.

What are you deeply passionate about?

What is something you’d do whether or not you get anything out of it? If you’re willing to paint even though no one recognises your talent quite yet, or you write code for fun – that could be it. Whether ever since you were a kid you got a kick from tae-kwon-do (second pun!) or thought chemistry lab is explosive fun (I’m on a roll with these puns!) – that’s another clue.

Most of us have a bunch of these,  so we need to filter them. In fact, the other questions will help you with that.  To begin with, I recommend you put down absolutely everything you are passionate about (yes, even if that includes eating hot dogs!)

What can you be the best in the world at?

Tough one. Don’t let modesty or vanity get in the way: think hard about what you can realistically be the best at. The best in the world might be over-ambitious, but it makes for a great goal – and filter.

A good way to figure this out is to cross out the areas you won’t be the best in the world at. I might like to make cards, but there’s people I know who are way more gifted at that and I’m not nearly enough passionate about it to spend years to compensate  for the difference and outdo them. That’s a clear no.

What drives your economic engine?

Forgive the corporate-speak, I quote directly from Good to Great. Plainly put: what do you get paid for? You might have a fantastic gift for making jam out of potato peels but if no one wants to buy a jar, then I doubt it’ll “drive your economic engine”. Although it is quite possible you’ll find other who are quite happy to spread it on their toast – stuff that’s more gross than this has been bought.

My question to Jim Collins – are you there? – is whether being payed little counts. He does mention that the Hedgehog Concept can be translated into areas like start-ups, non-profits, churches, community organisations, etc. Some of these might not pay at all, so what then?

I’d say that if you do something you’re passionate about and have the potential to become the best in the world at, even if it’s in your spare time (but very focused), then sooner or later you will start getting profit out of it. This is just a theory I’m throwing out there, so don’t judge it too harshly.

How does that make any difference?

That’s my own question and I’m assuming yours, too.

Jim Collins and his team came to the conclusion that defining The Hedgehog Concept played a crucial role in the process of a company becoming great. The process can take from one to 10 years, but if they set about acting based on the answers they came up with, with discipline and consistency, they set on the road to greatness.

Individuals, like companies, need to know what they stand for and what to focus on. Knowing that with clarity is already a huge accomplishment.

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While this is not rocket science, I found the reminder to re-focus on what’s most important very helpful. Especially now that I’m trying to figure out what it is that I want to do for a living (I know I was already supposed to have that figured out!)

Have you read the book? What’s your take on the Hedgehog Concept? 

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6 thoughts on “Good to Great, by Jim Collins

      1. Looking forward to reading that. And totally unrelated (and slightly obnoxious), but you should also get back to posting inspiring pics on Instagram – I liked those!

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  1. I have been wanting to read this book for a while now, and it’s on my to-read list!!! I am looking forward to reading it:))) Thank you for your visual aids to help us understand the concepts better. I love them!!!:)

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