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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great by Choice is the second/better half of How the Mighty Fall, October 16, 2011
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This review is from: Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck--Why Some Thrive Despite Them All (Hardcover)
Jim Collins extends and deepens the body of knowledge around the fundamentals of success. Great by Choice represents the second half of Collin's earlier book on company failure - How the Mighty Fall. While that earlier book concentrated on factors that drive failure, this describes the characteristics of sustained success.

This book is classic Collins. Well researched, clearly describes and expertly packaged for executives to incorporate these concepts into their lexicon and thoughts. This book is recommended as the capstone of the study of the fundamentals of great companies.

Great by Choice is a lot like How the Mighty Fall as it's a short, concise and focused book. About half of it is content and half is appendices, FAQs and methodology - just like HtMF. Put the two together and you get a comprehensive look at modern corporate success.

This is a book for understanding and admiring the factors Collin's points out as driving superior performance.

The book describes these factors, but description is not prescription.

This book is not a 'how to' book, nor one that provides much action oriented help. It relies on the reader understanding Collins points and then tailoring them to their situation. That places the burden of value on the reader, which is where it should be as greatness is less a recipe than a recommitment to hard work.

Great by Choice contains a set of core concepts that define the major chapters in the book. Here is a short description of each to provide an idea of what is in Great by Choice and how Collins describes the characteristics of companies that have exceptional performance, what Collins calls 10x.

20 Mile March describes the fanatic discipline that leads you to manage for the long term rather than chasing short-term results or the fade. Essentially this is the business version of the classical Greek axiom of balance and discipline.

Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs by being empirically creative by experimenting intelligently everywhere and exploit where you know you are having success. This is more than the idea of `failing fast'. It is a definition of innovation based on the combination of creativity, discipline and data.

Leading above the death line describes the productive paranoia that was captured by Andy Grove's management mantra. This is a business version of the Boy Scout's principle of `Be Prepared.' This chapter concentrates on the success and practices of preparation and having reserves that enable you to achieve more.

SMaC describes the company's principles that are Specific, Methodolical and Consistent. This chapter in essence describes the power of common vision, direction and culture. Collins points out that SMaC is one of the more powerful ways to exert control in a dynamic world.

Return on Luck discusses how leaders and laggards face unpredictable positive and negative events. This is perhaps one of the best chapters as it describes how Collins and his team investigated the phenomenon of luck. As expected the conclusion is that luck does not play a guiding factor, rather its how you take advantage of good luck and are prepared (death line) for bad luck.

These concepts are all interrelated and go beyond the book' s triangle graphic. You cannot do a 20 mile march well without SMAC and both are worth lest without the preparation associated with leading above the death line.

Overall, I recommend Great by Choice for both fan's of Collins' work and for people who are new to this discussion. Yes this book is a continuation the prior books, but it does a great job of providing new insight without overly repeating prior points.

Great By Choice to be a good place for people to start. You do not need to read Collin's other books, but logically this book is the second half of How the Mighty Fall. I would suggest that if you are going to read both that you read HtMF first as you need to fix that first before the ideas in this book will have an effect.


The book contains strong ideas that are simple to communicate and easy to mentally think about how they fit with your organization. Its easy to see how they would may your company a 10X performer.

The case descriptions are informative, insightful and illustrative. The cases are well worn: Southwest Airlines, Microsoft, Apple, Progressive Insurance and Intel, but well applied.

The use of mountaineering and explorers as non-business based examples will give you the stories to tell around the water cooler.


The book provides powerful description of concepts that we already know. Rewriting Collins' points boil down to the following: have along term vision (20 miles), experiment to innovate (bullets and canon), `Be Prepared' (death line), follow your core (SMaC) and take advantage when possible (Return on Luck)

The companies featured are studied from 1977 to 2002 which was a period of significant change: the internet, oil crisis, stagflation, etc. However, historically economists have dubbed this period part of what they call the great moderation. So while these principles are timeless, they do not account for what has happened and happening now.

There is no treatment of technology in the book. Given that much of the global, collaborative and social world is driven by technology, this is a big omission.
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Review Details



Mark P. McDonald

Location: Chicago, IL United States

Top Reviewer Ranking: 884