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Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

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Published by hmerin
NY Times on Jim Collins the author
NY Times on Jim Collins the author

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Published by: hmerin on Jun 19, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
For This Guru, No Question Is Too Big
A lifelong climber, Jim Collins brings the same doggedness to his research, exploringmysteries like why some companies succeed and, in his latest book, how successfulcompanies can implode.ByADAM BRYANTPublished: May 23, 2009Jim Collins times himself and tries to stick to his goal of spending half his workday oncreative pursuits like his research. To keep the “other” category small, he keeps hiscompany small.JIM COLLINS calls his third-floor offices in the heart of this mountain-ringed city a“management lab.” But little distinguishes his workspace from most others, save for afew things.There is, for example, the small sign outside the door: “ChimpWorks.” In case anybodydoesn’t get the point, a large Curious George doll sits in a leather chair, delivering thewe-ask-a-lot-of-questions-here punch line. And in a corner of the white board at the endof his long conference room, Mr. Collins keeps this short list:Creative 53%Teaching 28%Other 19%That, he explains, is a running tally of how he’s spending his time, and whether he’ssticking to a big goal he set for himself years ago: to spend 50 percent of his workdays oncreative pursuits like research and writing books, 30 percent on teaching-relatedactivities, and 20 percent on all the other things he has to do.These aren’t ballpark guesstimates. Mr. Collins, who is 51, keeps a stopwatch with threeseparate timers in his pocket at all times, stopping and starting them as he switchesactivities. Then he regularly logs the times into a spreadsheet.He has a good jump, too, on another overarching goal he’s set for himself: to produce alasting and distinctive body of work.Within the sprawling and overpopulated world of self-styled gurus dispensing advice onmanagement and leadership, Mr. Collins is in rare company. His last two books — “Built
to Last” and “Good to Great” — were breakout hits, selling about seven million copiescombined.Rather than presenting silver-bullet formulas that are easily forgotten, Mr. Collins’s booksoffer tangible frameworks for understanding why organizations succeed. His winningstreak is about to be tested with his just-released book, which takes a turn, as he says, tothe “dark side,” focusing on why companies fail. At any other time, it would seem a longshot, in that it lacks the upbeat message of his previous books. But his timing, given thenumber of once-great companies now in ruin, couldn’t have been better.It seems that Mr. Collins, for all his exacting approaches to time management andresearch, has been blessed with something he cannot control: repeated bouts of flat-outluck.He started researching his new book, titled “How the Mighty Fall: And Why SomeCompanies Never Give In,” in 2005. Back then, theDow Jones index had passed 10,000 and was still climbing, eventually to more than 14,000, and Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, General MotorsandFannie Mae still had bright futures.  Now the stages of decline that he maps out in the book — hubris born of success;undisciplined pursuit of more; denial of risk and peril; grasping for salvation with aquick, big solution; and capitulation to irrelevance or death — offer a kind of instantautopsy for an economy on the stretcher.He writes that he’s come to see institutional decline as a “staged disease” — harder todetect but easier to cure in the early stages — which is likely to foster a sense of corporate hypochondria in many readers.He started working on his previous book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Makethe Leap ... and Others Don’t,” in the mid-1990s, smack in the middle of New Economyfever.“Good to Great” was finally published in late 2001 — not long after the dot-com bubble burst, the pixie dust surrounding visionary leaders had fallen away, and the 9/11 terroristattacks shook the country to its core. The book struck a chord with its back-to-basicsmessage: Quiet but determined leaders who remained focused on clear and simple goalswere the real success stories of corporate America.It won a following, about four million copies’ worth, that extended well beyond the business world and included football coaches, pastors and school principals.“We were really slow, and so it comes out right after everything is falling apart,” Mr.Collins recalls. “If we had come out in 1998, I don’t think anyone would have read it.”His first best seller, “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies,” another five-year project, which he co-wrote with Jerry I. Porras, came out in 1994, on the heels
of the re-engineering craze in corporate America; it also went on to sell millions of copies.And his next book, which he is writing with Morten T. Hansen and is due out in two or three years, is about why certain companies manage to thrive through tumultuous times.
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“I think it’s just pure luck,” says Mr. Collins, parsing his track record in an interviewhere. “You flip a coin and it comes up heads, and you flip a coin and it comes up heads,and you flip a coin and it comes up heads, and one day you have four heads in a row. Youcan’t really say you made it come up heads.”But it’s not all luck, of course.PART of the Jim Collins method borrows from other hypersuccessful people. Heapproaches every aspect of his life with purpose and intensity.Consider a few examples.Four days after his first date with Joanne Ernst in the spring of 1980 — an eight-mile runwhen both were students at Stanford — they were engaged, and married later that year.When she announced over breakfast one day that she thought she could win an IronmanTriathlon, Mr. Collins gave up his job at Hewlett-Packard to help her train, be her roadie and negotiate her sponsorships with companies like Nikeand Budweiser. Joanne won the1985 Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon.Back then, he says, his wife was the better-known half of the couple, and everyoneassumed that his name was Jim Ernst.For his 50th birthday — his “gift to myself,” as he put it — Mr. Collins, a lifelongclimber, trained for 18 months to try a climb El Capitan, the 3,000-foot vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park.Most climbers take a few days for the ascent. He wanted to do it in less than 24 hours. Sohe trained with a younger, stronger partner. He studied weather patterns at Yosemitegoing back almost 100 years to figure out the best window for an attempt. They climbedthe first 1,400 feet in the dark, and completed the ascent in 19 hours.Oh, he sleeps with vigor, too. He figures that he needs to get 70 to 75 hours of sleepevery 10 days, and once went to a sleep lab to learn more about his own patterns. Now — surprise, surprise — he logs his time spent on a pillow, naps included, and monitors arolling average.

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