Book:  How the Mighty Fall

Author:  Jim Collins

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Collins, J. (2009). How the mighty fall : and why some companies never give in. New York: Jim Collins Distributed in the U.S. and Canada exclusively by HarperCollins Publishers.

Key Ideas & Big Takeaways:

  • Like inquisitive scientists, the best corporate leaders we've researched remain students of their work, relentlessly asking questions - why, why, why? - and have an incurable compulsion to vacuum the brains of the people they meet. To be a knowing person ("I already know everything about why this works, and let me tell you") differs fundamentally from being a learning person. (pg. 39)

  • Remember to engage in the disciplined practice of "underpromising and overdelivering." When you've elevated expectations too far, you'll fall. (pg. 53)

  • Any exceptional enterprise depends first and foremost upon having self-managed and self-motivated people - the #1 ingredient for a culture of discipline. While you might think that such a culture could be characterized by rules, rigidity, and bureaucracy, I'm suggesting quite the opposite. If you have the right people, who accept responsibility, you don't need to have a lot of senseless rules and mindless bureaucracy in the first place. (pg. 56)

  • If you start to fill key seats with the wrong people you will start to institute bureaucratic procedures to compensate for the wrong people's inadequacies. This, in turn, drives away the right people. This then invites more bureaucracy to compensate for having more of the wrong people, which then drives away more of the right people; and a culture of mediocrity gradually replaces a culture of disciplined excellence. When bureaucratic rules erode an ethic of freedom and responsibility within a framework of core values and demanding standards, you've become infected with the disease of mediocrity. (pg. 56)

  • The one warning sign of above all others when it comes to the decline of an organization would be a declining proportion of key seats filled with the right people. You should always be able to answer the following questions: What are the key seats in your organization? What percentage of those seats can you say with confidence are filled with the right people? What are your plans for increasing that percentage? What are your backup plans in the event that a right person leaves a key seat? (pg. 57)

  • The best leaders we've studied had a peculiar genius for seeing themselves as not all that important, recognizing the need to build an executive team and to craft a culture based on those core values that do not depend upon a single heroic leader. While no leader can single-handedly build an enduring great company, the wrong leader vested with power can almost single-handedly bring a company down. (pg. 62)

  • What makes for the "right people" in key seats? 1) They fit with the company's core values - You must hire people who already have a predisposition to your core values and you hang on to them. 2) They don't need to be tightly managed - The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you might have made a hiring mistake. If you have the right people, you don't need spend a lot of time "motivating" or "managing" them. 3) They understand that they do not have "Jobs" the have responsibilities - they grasp the difference between their task list and their true responsibilities. 4) They fulfill their commitments - in a culture of discipline, people view their commitments as sacred - they do what they way, without complaint. 5) They are passionate about the company and its work, and 6) They display "window and mirror" maturity - when things go well they credit others and when things go badly they point in the mirror and say "I'm responsible." (pg. 159)

  • "I would rather we lost lawsuits from time to time than keep employees who are not up to our standards. Because a weak employee will make the others around him weak, and drag them down." (pg. 175)

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