Author and teacher on organizations, Jim Collins begins his book Good to Great with this story:
I was having dinner with a group of thought leaders gathered for a discussion about organizational performance. Bill Meehan, the managing director of the San Francisco office of McKinsey & Company, leaned over and casually confided, "You know, Jim, we love Built to Last [Jim’s earlier book] around here. You and your coauthor did a very fine job on the research and writing. Unfortunately, it's useless."
Curious, I asked him to explain.
"'The companies you wrote about were, for the most part, always great," he said. "They never had to turn themselves from good companies into great companies. They had parents like David Packard and George Merck, who shaped the character of greatness from early oil. But what about the vast majority of companies that wake up partway through life and realize that they are good, but not great?"
I now realize that Meehan was exaggerating for effect with his "useless" comment, but his essential observation was correct-that truly great companies, for the most part, have always been great. And the vast majority of good companies remain just that-good, but not great. Indeed, Meehan's comment proved to be an invaluable gift, as it planted the seed of a question that became the basis of this entire book-namely, ‘Can a good company become a great company and, if so, how?’ Or is the disease of "just being good" incurable?
Five years after that fateful dinner we can now say, without question, that good to great does happen, and we've learned much about the underlying variables that make it happen. Inspired by Bill Meehan's challenge, my research team and I embarked on a five-year research effort, a journey to explore the inner workings of good to great.
Source: Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t (New York: HarperCollins Books, 2001), 1, 3.
A review of this book can be found at Reviewing Books and Movies.
Dr Geoff Pound
Image: Jim Collins