Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras – Summary and Review

Summary

While there are many profitable business, and some that earn twice or more above industry averages, there exists an elite class of “visionary” corporations which go far beyond financial performance. According to authors Collins and Porras, such companies impact society at large in a profound way. Not only well-known, not only leaders in their industry, not only long-lasting, they become woven into the fabric of society. Built to Last is a semi-scientific attempt to determine what distinguishes this premier category of companies from the rest.

Update 6 January 2016: Added image, links, and tags; no change to article content.

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Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (1997) James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras.

The authors performed a retrospective cohort study of 18 businesses. Nine “visionary” companies, as identified by a survey of hundreds of CEO’s were “carefully matched” to nine “comparison companies.” To satisfy the longevity criterion, only businesses founded prior to 1950 were considered. Selection criteria for comparison firms included: 1) Highly profitable company (average performance above general stock market by factor of two), and 2) Similar origins, both geographically and in offerings to the paired visionary company. After the selection process, the authors performed a comprehensive analysis of each pair of companies throughout their entire history in several broad dimensions, looking not only for elements common to the visionary companies, but more importantly when such features were noticeably lacking in the comparison companies. The authors openly admit that a retrospective cohort can only establish correlation, not causation. However, they are very proud of the “scientific” selection criteria which should enable the research to be reproduced.

Their findings run contrary to commonly held business theories, namely that great ideas (products / services) and charismatic leadership are necessary for a great company. “The data,” write the authors, do not support the theory. Rather, visionary companies, when compared to others, are distinguished by one overarching principle: They preserve a core ideology while simultaneously stimulating progress. This is the unifying theme and message of the book.

The authors develop this theme with various methods and principles, each of which is supported in “the data” as a distinguishing characteristic of visionary companies:

  • Overtly teach and “indoctrinate” the core ideology to all employees, at all levels, creating intense loyalty and a sense of belonging to something special. Reject those who do not “tightly fit” the core values, beliefs, and behaviors, while rewarding those who do.
  • Set “big hairy audacious goals” (compatible with the core ideology) which not only motivate, but also inspire
  • “Evolutionary” exploration yields revolutionary discoveries and progress. This exploration creates a “tree” of options. The decision of which branches to prune and which to pursue is determined by the core ideology and not by market opportunity or even current business strategy. Leaders may leap through risky, narrow windows of opportunity, sometimes altering the entire nature of the business (as when American Express became a financial institution by inventing the “float” as a simple add-on service to it’s travel services business, despite previous promises that it would not engage in that industry).
  • Promote from within and prepare for multi-generational leadership steeped in the core ideology; as with audacious goals, the organization is far more and outlives any individual leader, even if considered one of the greatest CEO’s of all time (Jack Welch of GE)
  • “Good enough never is.” Constantly strive for personal, professional, and organizational improvement. Plenty of “good, old-fashioned hard work.”

It is not enough for the top-level leaders to follow these practices; rather, visionaries companies create financial, social, and procedural systems “with teeth” to execute the above practices. Collins and Porras carry a hopeful message that such wonderful results are within the reach of any who will seriously and diligently pursue these principles.

Review

I was quite impressed with the attempts to be exhaustive in studying the long history of all 18 companies, through both internal corporate documents as well as outside observations. Accordingly, the text is extensively referenced. The narratives and message are motivational and inspiring. But more than just feel-good success stories, the authors explain the reasons for the success, which rings true. The writing is engaging, rich, and intriguing, yet applicable for the business reader who wants to apply the findings to a living organization.

However, throughout the book, I was repeatedly unsettled with the idea that present-day CEO’s, when asked “Which companies are visionary?” would produce a solid data set in which to mine for nuggets of ageless business wisdom. Furthermore, the potential for bias in the selection of comparison companies troubled me as well. While I cannot provide a better search criteria, I feel there must be one.

While the methodology may be imperfect, the book is quite helpful. I recommend Built to Last to those who want to climb the Mt. Everest of business development. Not for those who want to “go big, sell out, and die with the most toys.” Not for those seeking a great individual legacy. No, the vision held by Collins and Porras is that the greatest contributions to society come through organizations which are greater individuals. For the humble leaders seeking to build an institution to serve others for decades after they, individually, are gone. For those looking to follow shining star examples from the past. For those who share this noble vision, Built to Last will serve you well.

Links

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Free Software Computer Workshop: Session 3

Third and last session of Free Software Computer Workshop today; register now and attend at noon in Janse D-117. Register now: http://goo.gl/zzeJS

via James Carroll (@jf_carroll) September 9, 2013, #NUHS

UPDATE: [9/9/2013 8:41 am] We will cover the following topics today:

1. Advanced commands in MS Office (Workshop)
  • Create custom keyboard shortcuts in Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook)
  • Create custom toolbars and custom buttons in MS Office
  • Record and use Macros in MS Office (optional topic for interested students)
2. Why is my Computer Slow?  Four common causes–and remedies–for slow computer syndrome. (Lecture)  
 
3. Advanced Web Search (Workshop)
  • Perform Google Web Search with results focused to a single website or domain
  • Filter Web Search results by filetype (pdf, ppt, etc.)
If you haven’t attended the previous sessions, that’s fine–just come!  If registered but can’t make it today, that’s acceptable, but my feelings will be hurt.  If you come, that’s great!  See you (all) at 12:00 noon in Janse, D-117 (Computer Classroom)

Learn More about the workshop.

The Role of Science

Encountered this thought-provoking anonymous quote:

The role of science is not to provide everlasting truth;

but rather, to provide a modest obstacle to everlasting error. 
– Author Unknown

Quoted by Nansel and Szlazak in Somatic Dysfunction and the Phenomenon of Visceral Disease Simulation: A Probable Explanation for the Apparent Effectiveness of Somatic Therapy in Patients Presumed to be Suffering from True Visceral Disease.

A couple of searches lead me to a reliable source of the quote

“The aim of science is not to open the door to infinite wisdom, but to set a limit to infinite error.” 
― Bertolt BrechtLife of Galileo

via GoodReads

Recipes for NUHS Cookbook

Today I submitted the following two recipes for an upcoming cookbook from the Alumni Association of National University of Health Sciences.

Whole Wheat Pancakes or Waffles

Modified from Linda Carroll

Ingredients

1 1/2 c. Whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp. Baking powder
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/2 c. Dry powdered milk

2 Eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp. Vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. Applesauce
1 1/2 to 2 c. Water
1/2 c. Wheat germ (optional)

Optional mix-ins for flavor:
1/4 c. Fruit (Berries, Apples, Raisins, etc.)
1 Tsbp. Cinnamon or similar spices

Directions

Stir dry ingredients in large bowl; add liquid ingredients. Add water gradually for proper consistency. For waffles, bake in preheated, greased waffle iron about 4 minutes. For pancakes, cook on hot greased griddle. Makes about 4 servings. (Dry ingredients may be prepared ahead as a mix.)

Serves: 4
Time Required: 30-45 minutes

My mother made waffles for her family of 10 children every Saturday when I was a child. (She would make 4 times the recipe) Now, I carry on the tradition and make Saturday morning pancakes for my small family. Enjoy!

Dinner in a Pumpkin

From Hyrum Carroll

Ingredients

1 small to medium Pumpkin

1 Tbsp. Vegetable oil
1 chopped Onion

1 1/2 lbs. Ground beef
3 Tbsp. Soy sauce
2 Tbsp. Brown sugar
4 oz can Sliced mushrooms (drained)
1 can Cream of chicken soup
1 1/2 c. cooked rice
8 oz can Water chestnuts (drained)

Directions

Cut off the top of the pumpkin and thoroughly clean out seed and pulp. Preheat oven to 350 F. In large skillet, saute onions in oil until tender. Add meat and brown. Drain drippings from skillet. Add soy sauce, brown sugar, mushrooms and soup. Simmer 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Add cooked rice and water chestnuts. Spoon mixture into pumpkin shell. Replace pumpkin top and place the entire pumpkin, with filling, on a baking sheet. Bake 1 hour or until inside meat of the pumpkin is tender. Put pumpkin on a plate. Remove the pumpkin lid and serve.

Serves: 4-6
Time Required: 60-90 minutes

From the association: “We will start accepting recipes immediately, and when we reach 300, we will have the collection printed. The first 100 participants to send in two recipes (one being an entrée) will receive a free copy of our cookbook as soon as it is completed. Additional copies will be sold in the Campus Store.”  If you are a student, alumnus, faculty or staff of NHS, submit a recipe today!

My Worth is Inherent and Intrinsic

Eight months ago, I failed a midterm examination worth 50% of my grade. While I did better on the final examination, I did not pass the class. As a result, my plans for graduation were postponed by one semester so that I could retake the course. Thankfully, I earned a ‘B’ on the second pass. Today I took the midterm of another course from the same instructor. Based on my performance during the exam, there is a substantial possibility that I failed this exam.

The possibility of retaking a second course from the same instructor and delaying graduation yet another four months is terrifying. It strikes not only at my finances and future plans, but also at my sense of self-worth. When I was a child, I derived much of my worth from the approbation of others–especially my school teachers–and my academic success. Today I know that my worth is inherent and intrinsic, and that it comes from God. My hope of salvation depends on my faithfulness and obedience, not on any worldly success.

Further, as I was reminded yesterday by a trusted mentor, “It’s not about me.” I’m here to learn and to prepare to serve my patients and provide for my family. It’s not about me.

Finally, I am glad that, during this trial, I was able to control my emotions and avoid transference of the stress to others.

If you are struggling with feelings of worthlessness, I encourage you to pray and ask God, “Lovest Thou me?” I know that He will answer your sincere prayer. He has answered my prayer, and since He is no respecter of persons, and since He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, I know that He will treat you with the same kindness and concern. You are His child. Great is your worth, incredible is your potential.  In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Update on Medical Dictionary for Mac Dictionary.app

Cross-posted on studentdoctor.net forum.  I previously wrote that Lupine shared a working Dictionary; sadly, it only worked for a day…

Yeah, it worked for me for some terms the day I downloaded it; when I went back for more, I got the same result: terms listed, without definitions. I have no idea what changed.

If the original author will please step forward, I’m sure we could get to the bottom of it. I suspect the file is somehow illegitimate. Why else is it hosted on mediafire and doesn’t show up with common search queries?

Sadly, it appears that all free medical dictionaries for Mac today are either simple word lists for spell checking only, or are web-based and often ad-supported. Windows and Google Chrome and Handheld (Palm, PocketPC) options exist, but nothing that integrates with the Dictionary.app on Mac OS X.

A truly free medical dictionary would be great; once the content is created, then making a dictionary compatible with Apple’s Dictionary.app would be trivial. Until then, I guess $50 or $55 is a reasonable price … if it fits with your current digital workflow.