“Can you recommend a book for…?”
“What are you reading right now?”
“What are your favorite books?”
I get asked those types of questions a lot and, as an avid reader and all-around bibliophile, I’m always happy to oblige.
I also like to encourage people to read as much as possible because knowledge benefits you much like compound interest. The more you learn, the more you know; the more you know, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more opportunities you have to succeed.
On the flip side, I also believe there’s little hope for people who aren’t perpetual learners. Life is overwhelmingly complex and chaotic, and it slowly suffocates and devours the lazy and ignorant.
So, if you’re a bookworm on the lookout for good reads, or if you’d like to get into the habit of reading, this book club for you.
The idea here is simple: Every week, I’ll share a book that I’ve particularly liked, why I liked it, and several of my key takeaways from it.
I’ll also keep things short and sweet so you can quickly decide whether the book is likely to be up your alley or not.
If you’ve already read a book that I recommend or have a recommendation of your own to share, don’t be shy! Drop a comment down below and let me–and the rest of us “book clubbers”–know!
Lastly, if you want to be notified when new recommendations go live, hop on my email list and you’ll get each new installment delivered directly to your inbox.
Okay, let’s get to the featured book: Good to Great by Jim Collins.
Simply put, if you’re in business either for yourself or working for someone else and want to become a better entrepreneur, businessperson, worker, boss, or even, I would argue, a better person, you want to read this book.
In short, it provides a compelling and comprehensive answer to the question of why some companies excel and others don’t, and it’s the result of a tremendous amount of in-the-field research and scientific analysis, not a single author’s experiences or opinions.
One of the reasons I recommend Good to Great so highly is it deals with the strategic level of business and work, where decisions carry far more weight and influence than those made in the trenches.
In fact, sound strategic thinking is probably the ultimate success “hack” there is because no amount of hard work can transform a lousy strategy into a screaming success, and nothing succeeds like a brilliant strategy executed competently.
I believe that applies not just to business, but to all areas of life. Assuming you can do the types of things most people don’t want to do, the more bright ideas you can generate and implement, the more your life is going to be filled with hope, excitement, and reward.
And this book can help by showing you how to make more good strategic decisions than bad ones.
As you’ll see in my takeaways, Good to Great has heavily influenced my own decision making particularly in my businesses, and to great effect.
As a matter of fact, I’d ascribe much of my success as an author and entrepreneur to the “hedgehog” and “flywheel” concepts alone, which have informed much of the direction of my work and companies for a number of years now.
Let’s get to the takeaways.
For no matter what we achieve, if we don’t spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect, we cannot possibly have a great life. But if we spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect—people we really enjoy being on the bus with and who will never disappoint us—then we will almost certainly have a great life, no matter where the bus goes. The people we interviewed from the good-to-great companies clearly loved what they did, largely because they loved who they did it with.
This wouldn’t have resonated with me years ago, but it really rings my bell now because I’ve experienced very acutely what it’s like to spend too much time with people who are perpetual disappointments.
As Collins says elsewhere in the book: “Every minute devoted to putting the proper person in the proper slot is worth weeks of time later.”
So very true. Don’t hire and appoint lightly. Having the right people in the right jobs is one of the great “secrets” to building a great company.
And as a corollary, I’d say that having the right people in your personal inner circle is a major “secret” to living a great life, regardless of where you end up going and what you end up doing.
Much of the answer to the question of “good to great” lies in the discipline to do whatever it takes to become the best within carefully selected arenas and then to seek continual improvement from there.
This is a central tenet of the book: if you’re going to be great, you must find what you can be the best in the world at, and then do as much of that and as little of everything else as you possibly can.
This is also a vital part of the “Hedgehog Concept,” which Collins coined to describe an essential strategic framework present in all the top-performing companies that he and his team analyzed.
To quote from the book:
“A Hedgehog Concept is a simple, crystalline concept that flows from deep understanding about the intersection of the following three circles: 1. What you can be the best in the world at (and, equally important, what you cannot be the best in the world at). This discerning standard goes far beyond core competence. Just because you possess a core competence doesn’t necessarily mean you can be the best in the world at it. Conversely, what you can be the best at might not even be something in which you are currently engaged. 2. What drives your economic engine. All the good-to-great companies attained piercing insight into how to most effectively generate sustained and robust cash flow and profitability. In particular, they discovered the single denominator—profit per x—that had the greatest impact on their economics. (It would be cash flow per x in the social sector.) 3. What you are deeply passionate about. The good-to-great companies focused on those activities that ignited their passion. The idea here is not to stimulate passion but to discover what makes you passionate.
. . .
“A Hedgehog Concept is not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at. The distinction is absolutely crucial.”
I took this advice to heart early on in my fitness career and owe a lot of my success to it.
When I began (2013), I saw that there were a number of potentially winning strategies for winning in this space, including entertainment, celebrity, advertising, and education. I chose the latter as my primary focus for a few reasons:
- I wasn’t interested in becoming a social media “personality” or “celebrity” (lack of passion). In fact, I eschew these things as much as possible.
- I knew I could never dominate an advertising war with the large publishing and supplement companies who specialize in it (can’t be the best in the world).
- I’m passionate about reading, researching, and writing, and I believed that I could excel at those things and produce content far better than most everything else being published in the space (passion and possibility of becoming the best). Furthermore, I knew that outstanding content marketing can be very profitable.
And so I decided to focus on number three and haven’t looked back. I did, however, make a few missteps, which I’ll get to in a minute.
Herring understood that the way to get people lined up behind a bold new vision is to turn the flywheel consistent with that vision—from two turns to four, then four to eight, then eight to sixteen—and then to say, “See what we’re doing, and how well it is working? Extrapolate from that, and that’s where we’re going.” The good-to-great companies tended not to publicly proclaim big goals at the outset. Rather, they began to spin the flywheel—understanding to action, step after step, turn after turn. After the flywheel built up momentum, they’d look up and say, “Hey, if we just keep pushing on this thing, there’s no reason we can’t accomplish X.”
In other words, big talk is like caffeine—a cheap stimulant that becomes less and less effective the more it’s used.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having and communicating big goals, but in the end, nobody cares about what we say we want to do or even what we actually spend our time doing—they only care about what comes of it in the end (results).
And ironically, the people, groups, and companies who are most solidly on the path to greatness can and often do care the least about reminding everyone where they’re going. It’s self-evident.
If you have the right executives on the bus, they will do everything within their power to build a great company, not because of what they will “get” for it, but because they simply cannot imagine settling for anything less. Their moral code requires building excellence for its own sake, and you’re no more likely to change that with a compensation package than you’re likely to affect whether they breathe. The good-to-great companies understood a simple truth: The right people will do the right things and deliver the best results they’re capable of, regardless of the incentive system.
This ties into my first takeaway and its importance really can’t be overstated if you want to build a remarkable business, team, or group. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Some people just have what it takes to win (intelligence, grit, drive, integrity, etc.), and some people don’t. This isn’t a moral judgment, merely an observation.
- If people are going to change at all, it usually takes a very long time. Trying to facilitate this is probably a waste of time, and trying to make them into who you want them to be is most definitely a waste of time.
- Money is a horrible motivator and powerful catalyst of character. If you want to know who someone really is, give them a bunch of money and see how they choose to live and behave.
Those who built the good-to-great companies, however, made as much use of “stop doing” lists as “to do” lists. They displayed a remarkable discipline to unplug all sorts of extraneous junk.
This is so true, and especially as you become more successful.
In the beginning, the opportunity cost of most work is negligible (a bit of your time), so you simply say “yes” to basically everything, hoping to gain momentum. As things improve, however, opportunity costs rise and you have to get better and better at saying “no” to opportunities that would pull you away from your Hedgehog Concept.
To quote Collins again:
“The more an organization has the discipline to stay within its three circles, the more it will have attractive opportunities for growth. Indeed, a great company is much more likely to die of indigestion from too much opportunity than starvation from too little. The challenge becomes not opportunity creation, but opportunity selection.”
I’ve tasted a bit of this in my businesses in a couple of ways:
- I let nearly 2 years go by without publishing a new book or new edition of an existing book. My book writing launched my entire career and has been my absolute best source of long-term followers and customers. I should’ve never abandoned what I’m now getting back to: committing to an aggressive publishing schedule and fitting everything else around it.
- I spent a lot of time and money creating a completely unnecessary workout app without fully weighing the opportunity cost. Now, in retrospect, I can say that the time and money that went into the app could have been better spent on many different things. That said, now that I have the app and many people use and like it, I’m gearing up to do a complete overhaul of the UI/UX (which will involve very little of my time and a reasonable amount of money) and see where it goes from there.