What’s Coming Next? 3 Lessons Learned in Great by Choice

Jim Collins, in his new book Great by Choice, tells us that “we cannot predict the future. But we can create it.”  (That’s actually a Peter Drucker quote, which Collins later acknowledges.)

I’m not sure I totally agree that we can create our future.  In fact, I believe feeling that we can create the future is a bit cocky and naïve. But I wholeheartedly agree we can change our future and absolutely choose how we navigate it.

What Collins tells us is that despite a devastating recession and stubborn unemployment, many companies are navigating these times of uncertainty quite well.  Some are even managing to thrive despite the vulnerability, disruptions, and unanticipated events.  And a select few won’t just thrive, they will prevail.

So what is it that some companies do to allow them to thrive in unstable environments and manage effectively despite seemingly out-of-control, unpredictable, opposing forces while their competitors flounder or disappear.

His most current research revealed a few findings that run counter to our intuition and contradict a lot of the management folklore popping up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and hyped by the business news talk-jocks on CNBC.

1.  For example, Collins refutes the myth that “successful leaders in a turbulent world are bold, risk-seeking visionaries.”  Instead his research showed that the best leaders “were not more risk taking, more bold, more visionary, and more creative… They were more disciplined, more empirical, and more paranoid.”

Personally I believe it might be the paranoia that creates the tipping point between leaders that prevail and those that fail.  For obvious reasons we’re not talking about clinical paranoia but a healthy dose of fear and anxiety.  Collins call this productive paranoia. “Productive” paranoia instills a sense of humility and vulnerability. Without it, we get hubris and the resulting detachment from reality. Paranoia in the most successful leaders drives an uncanny awareness of the marketplace, the global business environment, and competition.

2.  Another myth that Collins blew up is that “a threat-filled world favors the speedy; you’re either the quick or the dead.”  Contrary to popular theory, 10X leaders, Collins’ term for these prevailing leaders, is that they figure out “when to go fast, and when not to.”

3.  A third shattered myth is that “great enterprises with 10X success have a lot more good luck.”   But both the successful and failed companies had luck.  It was the successful leader that knew what to do with the luck you get.

Collins offers a few other shattered myths but I think you get the point here without enumerating them: popular myths relating to why one organization succeeds and another fails are not always true. You’ll likely read a lot more in the future about the research and recommendations gleaned from Great by Choice on this blog and elsewhere. But I’d live to close this post with the following challenge:

Knowing now what makes a great leader, how do you create your future?  What are you going to do differently? How do you know when you recruit your next leader(s) if they have the ability to lead, possess a sense of vulnerability, know when to go fact and when not to, and know what to do with luck when they get it?

I’m listening.


Ira S Wolfe


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