Good to Great book by Jim Collins

Of Greatness and Compromise

“Good is the enemy of Great”

That is the opening line in Jim Collins seminal business book – ‘Good to Great’. It is my favorite business book bar none. There are many significant insights I took from the book that guide my behavior to this day.

‘First Get the Right People’

‘The HedgeHog’

‘The Flywheel Effect’

‘BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goals’

‘Level 5 Leadership’

All of these concepts inspired me to think in a new way about business, about myself, about life.

But there are two really big pieces to this book that resonate with me even more so today; more than when I first read them. Maybe it’s the fact that when I first read it I was a consultant and not carrying the load. I went through it chapter by chapter analyzing the businesses of my two largest clients. The second reason is that now I am the captain of this ship, and I have to think about the type of voyage we are on, our destination and our sea-worthiness.

The first really BIG thing is the opening line of the book.

You see, Jim Collins knew something that most of us didn’t, or at the very least, most of us wouldn’t admit to ourselves. He understood one of the essential pieces the human character. He knew our frailty. He knew about our inherent ‘self-doubt’. He knew of our fear of success.

And stemming from that he knew of our willingness to compromise all too often and choose just being ‘good’. Choosing the easier path than the one which leads to greatness. He knew that there was an over-whelming tendency in business to gravitate to the middle ground – to stay within the one standard deviation from the norm, to compromise and accept being average.

Actor Robert Downey said it best

“Mediocrity is my biggest fear. I’m not afraid of total failure because I don’t think it will happen. I’m not afraid of success because that beats the hell out of failure. It’s being in the middle that scares me”

It is said that a person has two major fears in his life

Fear of Failure


Fear of Success

So we like to find that wide dirt path in the meadow – something safe and comfortable, and avoid Knife Ridge on the South Summit – staying away from the next Hilary Step in our lives on the way to summiting Everest. Who wants to risk making a false step and either slide all the way down into Tibet or into Nepal?

As we launched our new breakthrough product – our web-based combination trucking & freight brokerage software application these past months, I admit that it has been a bit challenging at times. And I admit that I may have been a bit challenging at times.

The speed of our ‘pivot’ from the old to the new has been tough at times. I have asked a lot of my people, and sometimes they have pushed back. This full speed pursuit of being the best has taken a toll on the team at times. There have been headaches, frustration and some tears.

I sometimes wondered if it was me who caused this. Was I the uncaring boss who pushed people beyond what they can handle?

I am sure that some of it was me. But what I found more profound was the fact that the people who work with me and put their passion, joy and frustration into the company and the product –  they did it to themselves as well. In that way, they are just like me.

I remember when I compromised, when I thought that being a winner, being a champion just wasn’t me. Surely big things couldn’t happen to ‘little ole me’?

All of this ruminating does beg the question.

Why Be Great?

I mean who cares. I know that my family and those closest to me will love me. Why do it then? Does it even matter? What’s wrong with just making a decent buck, being a good father, paying taxes and a good neighbor?

Collins answers this in the last paragraph in his book. It sits framed in our company boardroom.

Every day it reminds me that I cannot – that I dare not – compromise.

When all these pieces come together, not only does your work move toward greatness, so does your life. For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Perhaps, then, you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might ever gain that deepest of all satisfactions: knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well-spent and that it mattered”

Is there really any other option?