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July 12, 2010

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Review: Good To Great

by Dan

A few months ago, I joined a company called Imagine Learning that makes software to teach kids English. One thing I love about the company (it’s my second time working for them — yeah, long story :-) is that they choose a book each year, purchase a copy for every employee, and encourage them to read it. Last year’s book was Good To Great by Jim Collins which I was asked to read during my first few weeks on the job.

In short, the book is really good. The principles can be applied in non-work settings, to any group of people working toward a shared objective. The biggest downside is that, to be useful, those principles must be adopted by the leader of the group. The CEO of Imagine Learning is an advocate, which is one of things I like best about the company.

The principles, in the order in which they need to be applied, are:

  1. Leaders who are ambitious for the success of the company over themselves.
  2. Getting the right people into the company (and the wrong ones out) before making other decisions.
  3. Honest assessment of the present combined with optimism about the eventual future.
  4. Exclusive focus on a single idea at the intersection of passion, economics and being the best.
  5. Freedom and responsibility within a disciplined system.
  6. Selective use of technology to accelerate success.

Some excerpts should help illustrate why I like the book so much.

You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be. (p13)

The purpose of compensation is not to ‘motivate’ the right behaviors from the wrong people but to get and keep the right people in the first place. (p50)

Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems. (p58)

The entire management team would lay itself open to searing questions and challenges from [people] who dealt directly with customers. (p72)

Focusing solely on what you can potentially do better than any other organization is the only path to greatness. (p100)

The purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline. (p121)

Mediocrity results first and foremost from management failure, not technological failure. (p156)

If you want to build an enduring and financially successful company, I don’t know of a better place to start than Good To Great.

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