Cooking up Greatness in Business: Takeaways from Good to Great

by Michelle Hartog

I recently read what most consider the official Bible on management, Good to Great by Jim Collins. Consider me enlightened. As a project manager, I work with clients to help them execute their visions through user interface design. We research our clients’ companies thoroughly, getting to know their industries through competitive analysis. We ask a lot of questions about how the business is structured in order to understand where their business is headed and what their goals are.

Collins examines a broad spectrum of companies that have positioned themselves for success. He starts to dissect common patterns and formulas for making the leap from good to great. What ingredients go into that special sauce of greatness? How exactly does that happen? It’s not just one smart business decision.

Refine what you have and take a hard look at what you can offer.   

Figure out what your company can be the best at. Don’t offer services you aren’t the best at or launch unrelated business ventures. Don’t get distracted by areas where you can’t be the best. Focus. Evaluate your process and have the discipline to remove extraneous activities or efforts that aren’t getting you closer to achieving your goals. We would all agree there is value in using to-do lists. Collins talks about the “stop-doing” list. For each thing you should be doing, there is a corresponding thing that you choose to stop doing.

Reacting to change

Great companies adapt to shifts in technology. A reactive approach to this ever-changing landscape is never beneficial. At Fresh Tilled Soil, we are continually learning about developments in the interactive space. Our solutions consider the long term, and the designs we produce are meant to be classic. We don’t like band-aid fixes. Sometimes it’s better and more cost-effective to invest in a more involved yet comprehensive solution that covers the needs of a user over time. For instance, a responsive website might make more sense than maintaining both a website and native mobile applications that require constant updating.

The Bus

Building a company is like driving a bus. Having a strong leader in charge is important but all the seats count. Make sure you have the right people on the bus sitting in the correct seats. Employees need to be in the proper roles to utilize their strengths. They’ll deliver positive business outcomes and also thrive professionally. The two are very much connected.

The hedgehog concept

Collins compares hedgehogs to foxes. The hedgehog is slower and simpler in its method of attack, less scattered. The big ideas get boiled down to their most essential states. Everything else is just a distraction.

With this frame of mind, the business you pursue should be:

  1. Something you are passionate about
  2. What you can be the best in the world at
  3. Be capable to drive your economic engine. If you can’t make money at it, you’re not going to last too long. Collins doesn’t mention starving artists, but you get the picture.

You can’t have a successful company that makes lots of money if you can’t be great at the service you offer. If you are passionate about something but can’t make money at it, it won’t succeed. If you can be the best at something but are not passionate about it, it will never be great.

The flywheel

Breakthroughs happen through a series of incremental changes. Change needs to roll out slowly, building momentum. Is it better to be on a crash diet or eat sensibly most of the time?

You can’t get all members of a company to embrace change through just one event or a large reorganization effort. Be consistent and disciplined. Don’t spend a lot of time aligning people and trying to motivate them—they will arrive at that point on their own. Be consistent in the effort to make improvements. Collins talks about a walk across the country as an example. You want to make the same effort each day. Walk two miles every day. That’s reasonable right?

The doom loop

Collins’ “doom loop” refers to an approach to change that is headed for inevitable failure. This is the flywheel gone haywire. It’s an endless cycle of change that never goes anywhere. Momentum is never built, and the process proves to be exhausting. It’s a cat chasing its own tail. In this situation, the facts need to be confronted head on. Don’t make rash decisions and cosmetic changes. It’s all in the approach. Some things to watch out for:

  • Implementing big changes and restructuring in hopes for a breakthrough moment.
  • Instead of confronting issues that need to be addressed, you find yourself embracing fads and switching to new management styles.
  • Inconsistency. One day you walk two miles and the next day you try twenty-four miles. You can hardly walk. This is not sustainable over time, and the results are not good.
  • Taking action before instilling a practice of discipline. Also, the right people are not on the bus.
  • Reacting to technology change out of fear of being left behind.
  • Making new acquisitions before reaching the breakthrough moment.
  • Spending too much energy trying to motivate and align people towards a new vision.

It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact formula for greatness. The recipe should be fine tuned carefully. It’s not always about massive change or taking extreme measures. Restructure what already exists. Get rid of what is not necessary, and rework what you have slowly and carefully to create a solid structure.

 

 

About Fresh Tilled Soil

Fresh Tilled Soil is a Boston-based user interface and experience design firm focused on human centered digital design