How to excel in turbulent times

Throw leaders into an extreme environment and it will separate the stark differences between greatness and mediocrity, according to Jim Collins and Morten Hansen in their book Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. The book provides the results of a study of companies that thrived in conditions of uncertainty and chaos while other companies with similar opportunities did not.

The book follows the now familiar Jim Collins process, starting with identifying companies that have had exceptional results (in this case in the context of a turbulent business environment), then comparing them with similar companies to identify differences which helped in reaching the exceptional outcomes. The identified differences are then presented using memorable terminology as best-practice principles for others to learn from. Principles from the book include:

  • The 20 Mile March: A disciplined steady annual gain, rather than wildly fluctuating results
  • Fire Bullets Then Cannonballs: An approach which involves small-scale testing before making large commitments
  • Productive Paranoia: Keeping a close eye on risks and changing conditions, and building reserves and buffers to prepare for unexpected events
  • SMaC recipes: Specific, Methodical and Consistent operating codes for turning strategic concepts into reality
  • Return on Luck: The outcomes achieved by the way a company responds to good luck and bad luck events

I expect that this book is destined to join Built to Last and Good to Great as a business classic. The text (excluding appendices) is somewhat shorter and the principles less detailed, but the work as a whole is convincing, and the illustrations are both entertaining and informative. Most business leaders will have much to gain from absorbing and applying the wisdom set forth by the authors.

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