Career Lessons from Great by Choice

15 01 2013

A few months ago, I promised you a review of Jim Collins’ bestseller Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, but I realized that I never posted my thoughts.  Rather than a traditional review, I’d like to go over the highlights and discuss how the concepts can apply to your career.  After all, what’s the point of a review if you don’t know how you can apply the things you’ll learn about in the book?

“We cannot predict the future. But we can create it.”

– Jim Collins

The 10Xer (pronounced “ex-er”):  By definition, 10Xers are companies that beat their industry by 10 fold.  Collins’ research finds that 10Xers aren’t more creative, more visionary, more charismatic, or more ambitious, more blessed by luck, more risk seeking, more heroic, or more bold. They’re focused on data with great discipline and stick to their plan (ie: their 20 Mile March.) They’re consistent.  In your career or job search, are you sticking to the plan?  Do you have a plan?

What is your 20 mile march?  Do you continue to develop yourself as a professional, learning and tweaking your strategy along the way?

Zoom Out, then Zoom In: The 10Xers possessed a “dual-lens capability” in which they could zoom out to see changes in the environment and assess risk and then zoom in to focus on the superior execution of plans and objectives.  In other words, don’t get lost in the weeds.  It’s important to understand the macro before you tackle the micro.  In your job search or at work, are you zooming out first to understand the bigger picture?  Knowing this will help you find the right long-term solution vs. a quick fix.

cannonballBullets, then Cannonballs: In the book, Collins describes this concept as a lesson in calibration.  Let’s use the legendary pirate metaphor: Imagine if you had a limited amount of gunpowder on a ship.  Would you pool all your resources (the gunpowder) to fire a cannonball at a target?  What if you miss?  You’re definitely in hot water then.  But, if you use just a little powder to fire a few bullets to test the wind direction and other factors, taking into account the differences you will encounter will a larger shot, you can then use the rest of the powder to fire the big one – the cannonball.  Lesson: Fire bullets first.  Test the waters.  Learn what works for you, recalibrating along the way.  When you have empirical validation that you’re on the right path, fire the cannonball.

So, what did I really think about this book?  Honestly, it was pretty easy to read, has real-world applications, and the multitude of case studies (my favorite ones were Scott/Amundsen, Southwest Air, Apple, and Microsoft) made it all come together.  My employer, Enactus, even felt that the business concepts of this book were so important that we read and discussed it at length during our summer strategic summit, helping us each understand how it applies to what we’re doing as an organization.

Here’s the thing, though…

Just reading a book isn’t enough – at least, not a business book or a book meant for personal or professional development, in my opinion.  For most of us, simply reading something only sticks with us for a short while.  My advice?  Take good notes.  Note how the book relates to what you’re doing right now, what you’ve done in the past (successes and failures) and what you can do to improve your future.  Apply the key concepts to your career.  I’ve found that the best books continue to give you inspiration throughout your life.  In fact, some of my best BHAGs have been inspired by them.  Will you apply the principles from the best and choose greatness? 

PS. If you want to know what a BHAG is, I’d highly recommend reading Good to Great, also by Jim Collins.  You don’t necessarily have to read it before Great by Choice, but I found that it helped.

PPS. I read plenty of fiction for entertainment as well (didn’t want you to think I’m a boring business book guy.)  My favorite authors include James Patterson and Michael Crichton.  Just finished Crichton’s Micro and I give it two thumbs up!  It was a great escape over the holiday break.

Read any good books lately? 


Get Into the Zone & Change the World

18 12 2012


Last week, my colleagues and I had the opportunity to work with The Soderquist Center during a week-long series of meetings focused on leadership.  There were a lot of takeaways from each session ranging from how each person’s personality is different, requiring us to work with each other differently to team building exercises focusing on trust.

One of the most memorable quotes from the meetings was that of an executive who said, “I strive to keep all my relationships in the positive to neutral zone, never letting any of them cross the line into the negative space.” 

This resonated with me.  Too often we find ourselves spending time thinking about what we’re doing or how we’re doing it would be disapproved by someone in our negative space.  This affects productivity, among other things.  Why?  Rather than focusing on the positive outcomes, we’re too worried about damage control.  We’re thinking of how that person will shoot down our ideas.  Now, don’t get me wrong, Jim Collins has taught us to exercise productive paranoia in his book Great by Choice, but there’s a fine line between that and toxicity.  By keeping your relationships positive or neutral, I think you’ll find that there is more time to focus on innovation and creativity, continuing to improve those relationships, thus increasing their value.  So before you open you mouth with a snappy response, fire off the email with ALL CAPS, or take a jab at someone else’s expense, think about how you can move their relationship with you to the neutral or positive zone.

Keeping all relationships in the positive or neutral zone is one of my personal goals going forward.

There are a lot of bad things happening all around us throughout the world.  I don’t have to provide examples.  All you have to do is read the headlines.  I’d like to encourage you to think about all the positive things we’re accomplishing in the world, possible things that were once thought impossible.

I mentioned earlier that keeping all relationships in the positive or neutral zone is one of my goals.  It’s not a 2013 goal.  It’s a forever goal.  Want to change the world with me?  Let’s do it together!

For a little inspiration, check this out:

26 Moments That Restored Our Faith in Humanity This Year.  I challenge you to read it without tearing up.  I failed that challenge…

I’d also encourage you to check out Enactus.  Enactus, which was formerly known as SIFE, is an organization that is enabling progress through entrepreneurial action. We’re a community of student, academic and business leaders committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to transform lives and shape a better more sustainable world.  In 2012, Enactus students in 39 countries put in more than 7.2 million volunteer hours to empower people in need by applying business and economic concepts and an entrepreneurial approach to improve their quality of life and standard of living.  I’m proud to be part of this organization as their VP of Career Services, helping these fantastic young leaders prepare for their careers after college and assisting our valued partners with a tailored recruitment strategy to help them achieve maximum ROI.  Check out for more information.  Here is a quick link to some of the projects they’re doing to truly change the world.

Don’t wait until tomorrow.  Let’s change the world now. 

As always, thanks for reading.