I once knew a gentleman in the metal fabricating business who said his favorite leisure-time activity was reading "business books." Wow. Nothing says "party" like a weekend with Blue Ocean Strategy or The Wisdom of Crowds.
Pardon me if I'm skeptical of such literary efforts. But I've met a bunch of people running metal fabricating businesses was don't have fancy degrees or the latest self-help book on their nightstands, and they do just fine. They know how to bend, cut, form, and join metal, and they run their businesses with an integrity that is often lost in the pursuit of "big hairy audacious goals" and "win-win strategies."
This comes to mind only after reading an excerpt of the latest book, Great By Choice, from management guru Jim Collins and his writing partner, Morten T. Hansen. You can read the excerpt here.
The book chronicles seven businesses that navigated the uncertain world prior to 2002 and still managed to beat their industry's index by at least 10 times. One company was Southwest Airlines, which thrived while the rest of the airlines struggled to just reach profitability. The other companies were Amgen, Biomet, Intel, Microsoft, Progressive Insurance, and Stryker.
In Great By Choice, the authors offer up the theory of the "20-mile march." They require about 300 words to describe the theory, but it basically suggests that if someone sets forth on a 3,000-mile trek and steadily maintains a 20-mile-per-day pace, no matter what the territory or climate, that person will arrive at the destination in an acceptable amount of time. Parties that choose to expend effort to walk 40 or 50 miles in a day or wait out extremely bad weather won't be as fortunate in reaching the end destination in an acceptable time.
I learned the same story from a tortoise and a hare, but neither one of them wrote Built to Last or Good to Great. Credentials matter, I guess.
Putting jokes aside, I do get a sense that Collins has a feel for how the marketplace may have permanently changed. In a brief Q&A that accompanies the excerpt in Fortune, he stated: "Think about it: How many times in history does a people come of age in the seemingly safe cocoon of a dominant global superpower during an era of rarely stalled rising prosperity? Ancient Egypt, Greece in 500 B.C.E., the Roman Empire, England in the 1800s, and a few others--these, along with the U.S. in the second half of the 20th century, are rarefied slices of human history. And rarefied slices tend not to repeat. Morten and I came to believe that we were entering an extended period of uncertainty and turbulent disruption that might well characterize the rest of our lives. We wanted to understand what's required to perform exceptionally well in such a world."
That's a point I've often wondered. It's good to see someone exploring it. It might even be worth spending a weekend reading about it.