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Book:  Built To Last

Author:  Jim Collins & Jerry Porras

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Collins, J. & Porras, J. (1997). Built to last : successful habits of visionary companies. New York: HarperBusiness.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. Only those who “fit” extremely well with the core ideology and demanding standards of a visionary company will find it a great place to work.  Visionary companies are so clear about what they stand for and what they’re trying to achieve that they simply don’t have room for those unwilling or unable to fit their standards. (pg. 9)

  2. Visionary companies develop, promote, and carefully select managerial talent grown from inside the company to a greater degree than the comparison companies. (pg. 173)

  3. It is extraordinarily difficult to become and remain a highly visionary company by hiring top management from outside the organization; Your company should have management development processes and long-range succession planning in place to ensure a smooth transition from one generation to the next.  (pg. 183)


Other Key Ideas:

Visionary companies are equally guided by a core ideology - core values and sense of purpose.  Core Values - how deeply the company believes its ideology and how consistently it lives, breathes, and expresses it in all that it does. (pg. 8)


A high-profile, charismatic style is absolutely not required to successfully shape a visionary company.  Indeed, we found that some of the most significant chief executives in the history of the visionary companies did not have the personality traits of the of the archetypal high-profile, charismatic visionary leader. (pg. 32)

A fundamental element in the ticking clock of a visionary company is a core ideology - core values and sense of purpose beyond just making money - that guides and inspires people throughout the organization and remains relatively fixed for long periods of time. (pg. 48)

All documents should describe the company’s philosophy, values, visions, and ideals. (pg. 51)​​​​

“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.” (pg. 74)​

Visionary companies tend to have only a few core values, usually between three and six.  In fact, none of the visionary companies have more than six values.  And more have less. Pg. 74

A highly visionary company displays a powerful mix of self-confidence combined with self-criticism. (pg. 84)

Walt Disney didn’t leave its core ideology up to chance; it created Disney University and required every single employee to attend “Disney Traditions” seminars.  Hewlett-Packard didn’t just talk about the HP Way; it instituted a religious promote-from-within policy and translated its philosophy into the categories used for employee reviews and promotions, making it nearly impossible for anyone to become a senior executive without fitting tightly into the HP Way (pg. 86)

Companies that struggle often tolerate organization characteristics, strategies, and tactics that are misaligned with their admirable intentions, which creates confusion and cynicism.  The builders of visionary companies seek alignment in everything that they do.  (pg. 87)

If you are involved in building and managing an organization, the single most important point to take away fro this book is the critical importance of creating tangible mechanisms aligned to preserve the core and stimulate progress. (pg. 89)​

Because visionary companies have such clarity about who they are, what they’re all about, and what they’re trying to achieve, they tend to not have much room for people unwilling or unsuited to their demanding standards (pg. 121)

Build an organization that preserves its core ideology in specific, concrete ways.  The visionary companies translate their ideologies into tangible mechanisms aligned to send a consistent set of reinforcing signals.  Awards, contests, and public recognition that reward those who display great effort consistent with the ideology, and tangible and visible penalties for those who break ideological boundaries. (pg. 136)

A visionary company creates a total environment that envelops employees, bombarding them with a set of signals so consistent and mutually reinforcing that it’s virtually impossible to misunderstand the company’s ideology and ambitions.  (pg. 202)

HP - like Ford and Merck - has gone to great lengths to continually immerse employees in the tenets of what is known at the “HP Way”.  No less than 100 separate documented incidents of HP managers talking about HP’s values and purpose - in internal talks, in written materials, in individual conversations.  They simply talked and acted on them constantly for decades.  (pg. 211​​​)

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