Great by Choice
In Great by Choice, the authors rightfully assert that we have entered an extended period of uncertainty and turbulent disruption that might well characterize the rest of our lives. The question then is, what is required to perform exceptionally well in such a world?
For their study, the authors chose a set of major companies that achieved spectacular results over 15 or more years while operating in unstable environments. They call these companies "10Xers" for providing shareholder returns at least 10 times greater than their industry. Then the authors compared those companies—Amgen, Biomet, Intel, Microsoft, Progressive Insurance, Southwest Airlines, Stryker—to similar, but less successful, "control" companies: Genentech, Kirschner, AMD, Apple, Safeco, PSA and United States Surgical.
These 10Xers didn’t survive on chaos, they survived in chaos. They achieved spectacular results not because they experienced different circumstances, but because they displayed very different behaviors. 10Xers shared a set of behavioral traits—fanatic discipline, empirical creativity, and productive paranoia—all held together by a central motivating force, Level 5 Ambition—the passion for a cause larger than themselves and infused with the will to do whatever it takes to make good on that cause.
Fanatic Discipline: Extreme consistency of action. Don’t overreact to events.
Empirical Creativity: Bold, creative moves from a sound empirical base.
Productive Paranoia: Highly attuned to threats and changes especially when things are going well. Fear and worry is channeled into preparation, contingency plans, buffers and margins of safety.
10X Leadership Behaviors
20-Mile March: This is the discipline to stay the course in both good times and bad. This means maintaining a lower bound and an upper bound, a hurdle that you jump over and a ceiling that you will not rise above, the ambition to achieve and the self-control to hold back. A 20-Mile March provides a tangible point of focus that keeps you moving forward.
Fire Bullets, then Cannonballs: 10Xers increase their luck by firing lots of bullets instead of a big un-calibrated cannonball. The underlying principle is, be creative, but validate your creative ideas with empirical experience.
Leading above the Death Line: 10Xers build in buffers because the only mistakes you can learn from are the ones you survive. They zoom-in and zoom out to manage risk and recognize luck.
SMaC: Specific, Methodical and Consistent. Tactics change from situation to situation, whereas SMaC practices can last for decades and apply across a wide range of circumstances. “Steve Jobs didn’t so much revolutionize the company as he returned it to the principles he’d used to launch the company from garage to greatness two decades earlier.” There is always the struggle to find the balance between continuity and change. I find too many are wedded to one ditch or the other.
Certainly luck plays a part. The authors found that the difference between the 10X companies and the comparison companies wasn’t the good or bad luck they got, but what they did with it. Key comment regarding luck: “If the ratio of head to tails tends to even out over time, we need to be skilled, strong, prepared, and resilient to endure the bad luck long enough to eventually get good luck.” Mountain climber “Malcom Daly had to be lucky enough to survive the fall, but he also had to be strong, skilled, and resilient before the 44 hours of peril after his two-hundred-foot fall.”
The organizations they studied were paranoid about chance events and complex forces out of their control, but they focused on what they could do, seeing themselves as ultimately responsible for their choices and accountable for their performance—no matter what the sequence of coin flips.
A thought provoking book that, like Collin’s other work, takes us back to basics. In conclusion they ask:
When the moment comes—when we’re afraid, exhausted, or tempted—what choice do we make? Do we abandon our values? Do we give in? Do we accept average performance because that’s what most everyone else accepts? Do we capitulate to the pressure of the moment? Do we give up on our dreams when we’ve been slammed by brutal facts?
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