Saturday Book Review: Built to Last

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One of my favorite business books, Built to Last is the doctoral work of Jim Collins. The book attempts to look at what sets an entire company apart from other companies.

Many people look at successful companies and think it is one or two visionary products, a visionary leader, or just plain luck. In Built to Last, Collins and Porras survey hundreds of business executives asking them to list visionary companies. From the companies submitted, they looked at companies that were over 50 years old (not just one visionary leader) and had outperformed the stock market.

Once they had that list, they created a second list. This list was of companies that were in the same industry, were started around the same time as their counterparts, and had at least some measure of success in the company’s lifetime.

This gave them 18 visionary companies and 18 not-so-visionary ones.

The Lessons Learned

In the book, they came up with a list of items that the visionary companies generally had and the not-so-visionary ones did not.

While many people have criticized the results of the book, which led to Collins writing multiple books after this one, it is still a powerful example of how visionary businesses can impact their industries and the world.

BHAG

The BHAG, or Big Hairy Audacious Goal, is one of the items they came up with that I have often struggled with. I set goals that are too large and am unable to reach them. Looking at the goals they hold up, they were overly bold to the rest of the world, but to the people within the businesses the BHAGs just made sense.

This is one area where my understanding has grown since originally reading the book. The best goals stretch us but they are also attainable. Because when we achieve goals, we get to celebrate and win.

Preserve the Core

This is the term that Collins and Porras used to describe how the visionary companies all had values and culture that significantly impacted who that company was to the world. Whether it was Phillip Morris (who eventually went under because of tobacco regulations) and their radically individualism or Merck’s commitment to give away medicine to the developing world, each company had core values that were more important than the bottom line.

For aspiring business owners and entrepreneurs, freelance writers and marketers, I think this value is key for our success.

If we understand the core values of our readers, our customers, and our own team, we are able to build rapport, gain interest, and connect with them.

Have you read the book? If so, what were your most significant takeaways from Built to Last?

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