I recently had the amazing experience of briefly meeting Jim Collins, the highly acclaimed author of Built to Last, and Good to Great. He mesmerized an audience of 10,000 plus with his casual demeanor, understated charm, and elegant, simple delivery of brilliant thoughts and ideas.

Several points in his 60-minute speech resonated deeply and I am confident that all of those who were lucky enough to hear him will remember the experience for years to come. In it, he made several key points:

  • Don’t be interesting – be interested
  • Refuse to accept that where you start is where you’ll end up
  • Avoid going from Great to Good
  • Are you at risk of becoming mediocre?
  • The inevitable six stages of the demise from Great to Good, and subsequently, Bad to Irrelevant

Although it is natural to suspect that these failures are the result of complacency, an unwillingness to change, or a fatal character flaw, that is not always the case. Just because things may be going well, do not assume that you are immune!

Jim offered these suggestions as to what you can do to inoculate this likely decline:

  1. Turn the organization’s talent development efforts into pockets of greatness.
  2. If your growth exceeds your ability to attract, retain and develop the right talent, you will fail.
  3. Good decisions, executed brilliantly and accumulated one at a time, are the antithesis of chronic inconsistency, which is a hallmark signature of mediocrity.

His Hedgehog Concept to the right (Copyright © 2002 – 2007 Jim Collins) elegantly articulates the intersection of three fundamental drivers of cumulative momentum:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What can you do best in the world?
  • How can you build value that others will want to pay for? (the economic denominator)

One of his most emotional topics was his experience spending a day with the famed management guru Peter Drucker. He described this 86 year-old father of many of today’s most valuable management concepts as one with a chronic addiction to curiosity and a passion to share what he had learned in developing others. In his thick accent, Drucker had simply asked Collins, “Mr. Collins – do you want to build an organization to last or ideas to last?” When Collins replied back with simply, “Ideas,” Drucker poignantly responded with, “Then don’t build an organization.”

His last two points were focused on mentoring, which he described as the highest human calling, and he left the audience with three points to consider:

  1. How do you pay back a mentor?
  2. Become a student in life. At 86-years old, when asked which of his 26 books he was most proud of, Drucker simply responded with, “The next one.”
  3. Lastly, which I personally valued greatly was his comment to build relationships towards a great life vs. seeking transactions for little to no meaning. Aim for who questions vs. what questions because the value add you can bring to your relationships to enhance their lives will inevitably enhance your own.

Check out Jim Collins’ Website for more lessons in Greatness

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