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Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies Paperback – January 15, 1997
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This analysis of what makes great companies great has been hailed everywhere as an instant classic and one of the best business titles since In Search of Excellence. The authors, James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, spent six years in research, and they freely admit that their own preconceptions about business success were devastated by their actual findings--along with the preconceptions of virtually everyone else.
Built to Last identifies 18 "visionary" companies and sets out to determine what's special about them. To get on the list, a company had to be world famous, have a stellar brand image, and be at least 50 years old. We're talking about companies that even a layperson knows to be, well, different: the Disneys, the Wal-Marts, the Mercks.
Whatever the key to the success of these companies, the key to the success of this book is that the authors don't waste time comparing them to business failures. Instead, they use a control group of "successful-but-second-rank" companies to highlight what's special about their 18 "visionary" picks. Thus Disney is compared to Columbia Pictures, Ford to GM, Hewlett Packard to Texas Instruments, and so on.
The core myth, according to the authors, is that visionary companies must start with a great product and be pushed into the future by charismatic leaders. There are examples of that pattern, they admit: Johnson & Johnson, for one. But there are also just too many counterexamples--in fact, the majority of the "visionary" companies, including giants like 3M, Sony, and TI, don't fit the model. They were characterized by total lack of an initial business plan or key idea and by remarkably self-effacing leaders. Collins and Porras are much more impressed with something else they shared: an almost cult-like devotion to a "core ideology" or identity, and active indoctrination of employees into "ideologically commitment" to the company.
The comparison with the business "B"-team does tend to raise a significant methodological problem: which companies are to be counted as "visionary" in the first place? There's an air of circularity here, as if you achieve "visionary" status by ... achieving visionary status. So many roads lead to Rome that the book is less practical than it might appear. But that's exactly the point of an eloquent chapter on 3M. This wildly successful company had no master plan, little structure, and no prima donnas. Instead it had an atmosphere in which bright people were both keen to see the company succeed and unafraid to "try a lot of stuff and keep what works." --Richard Farr
"Built to Last...is one of the most eye-opening business studies since In Search of Excellence -- -- Kevin Maney, USA Today
"A 'must read' for any CEO who aspires to create a great company." -- -- T.J. Rodgers, President and CEO, Cypress Semiconductor Corp.
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Summarizing the basic themes:
* Be an architect and clock builder and design and develop a vision that stand the test of time
* Embrace the "Genius of AND." - do not accept difficult trade-offs and strive for the near impossible
* Preserve the core/stimulate progress - Develop, hone and ruthlessly protect core values, and innovate around that core
* Seek consistent alignment - Align all stakeholders to the vision of the organization and continue to insure alignment
Unlike some of the challenges faced by the companies chosen by Tom Peters in "In Search of Excellence", a 25 year run on Collins book finds many of his study subjects still in the forefront of their industries. Collins is definitely onto something, and is one of the more engaging writers of the genre. Definitely worth the read.
30/Jul/2009 Update: One can not read this book in the right context and perspective without reading The Halo Effect: ... and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers - so far the best business book I've ever read!
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The key points are that:
1. businesses should focus on articulating and living their "core ideology" - their core values...Read more