Good to Great to … What?

In 2001, Jim Collins published Good to Great, noting discipline in three areas —people, thought, and action — were the most significant factors in determining a company’s ability to achieve greatness. Collins argues companies need to define a narrowly focused objective, based on a core competency, and focus all their resources accordingly. He warns that straying too far from established strengths is inimical to attaining greatness.

That was then.

The 21st century is characterized by converging technologies and multi-generational workforces. Companies that didn’t exist in the 20th century have beaten market predictions and financial projections. What can we add to Collins’ wisdom to achieve success now?

Start With Leadership

Collins defines Level 5 leaders as combining personal humility with an indomitable will. But their ambition is directed toward fulfilling the organization’s purpose, not inflating their egos. In the 21st century, those kinds of leaders will recognize systemic, systematic, and sustainable innovation as a necessity. They’ll also recognize that inflating their egos will take their companies the way of Blockbuster, Kodak, and other companies that failed develop new products and services in response to changing technologies, flagging sales, and diminishing market share.

Given the realities of the 21st century, Good to Great™ still has relevance. But great will no longer cut it. The ever-increasing paces of technological change, consumer demand, communication devices and media, products, services, business models, and markets make reactiveness — adapting from behind — wholly inadequate. Leaders in the 21stcentury are creating the future, or they’re consigning themselves and their organizations to the past.

Follow With Discipline

In Good to Great, Collins asserts a culture of discipline shouldn’t be confused with a strict authoritarian environment. Rather, Collins suggests managers and staff members should driven by an unrelenting inner sense of determination. In this culture, each individual functions as an entrepreneur, with a deeply rooted personal investment in his own work and the company’s success. All team members are afforded the degree of personal empowerment and latitude necessary to ensure they’ll be able to go to unprecedented lengths to achieve the company’s objectives. And that discipline becomes a key to innovation in the 21st century.

In the 20th century, businesses depended on technology to increase efficiency, reduce overhead, and maximize competitive advantage. But Collins cautions that companies shouldn’t regard technology as a panacea for all that ails them, especially if they select technologies conducive strictly to their established offerings. In that sense, again, great won’t get it done. Instead, strategic innovation — supported by initiative, investment, development, management, and marketing — is a must.

Then Add Relentlessness

The most telling characteristic of Collins’ 20th century perspective is that he believed the implications of business decisions and activities accumulate incrementally. More pointedly, he couldn’t foresee the 21st century reality that success or failure often occur suddenly. Because they do, a pipeline of new products, services, business models, and markets must be kept full. And that pipeline can only be kept full by relentless innovation.

That means innovation has to be a matter of strategy, of mindset and culture, of policy, people, and processes. It must cascade from leadership through every level of the organization. It must embrace failure and learning. It must be characterized by responsibility with commensurate decision-making authority. Finally, innovation must be systemic, systematic, and sustainable.

In other words, companies in the 21st century must aspire to go from good to great to resilient.

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