A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste!

Jim Collins author of Built to Last and Good to Great’s speech at the World Business Forum

Good is the mortal enemy of great – I been curious to understand what systematically makes companies great. We now have over 6000 years of corporate data to compare what’s different.

The single most important distinction is most companies are like twins in the same industry with the same resources but one makes a leap and becomes great! It can’t be the industry or circumstance – greatness is not a function of circumstance – it’s a matter of choice and discipline.

What was the best publicly traded stock for the 30 year period of 1972 to 2002 – Southwest airlines!

What does it take to be Southwest not Pacific Southwest airlines – which was in the same industry with the same resources and even a bigger opportunity. If there was anything this last week in the stock market should teach us is that we should be very paranoid about our firms.

Weather you prevail or fail – depends more on what you do to yourself then what the world does to you. You can’t come back from death but you can come back from a near death experience – IBM, Cisco, etc used decline as a catalyst to make a comeback – a crisis is a terrible thing to waste!

Most Great Companies didn’t go out and get a new CEO on board who set a new vision a new direction and then motivates everyone to go in that direction. In fact the Great Company got leaders who admitted that they didn’t know where to go and what to do. They first got the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus. It’s first who then what – who is the head of strategy who is the head of tactics etc.

What is the percentage of key seats on your bus being filled with the right people? It’s like an SAT score or a cholesterol test – if it is trending down your company is getting sicker and you have a problem if it is trending up you are getting more healthy. If you have the right people on the bus they tend to be self motivated to make a difference. And they are the ones that can carry you through a crisis.

10 to-do’s
1) Try the Good to Great diagnostic tool – and sit down with your team and assess yourself
2) Be able to answer how many key seats are open on your bus and what is your plan to fill them
3) Get young people in your face
4) Build a council that does not judge
5) What is your question to statement relationship and can you double it?
6) Turn off your electronic devices – take time to think
7) Start a “Stop Doing” List
8) Ask everyone on your team to talk in terms of what are they ultimately responsible for
9) Get your core values solid period
10) Set out a 15-20 year Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) and identify what obstacles might get in your way and start removing them

He challenged us with one parting thought – now that you have listened to this – go out and make yourself useful!

4 comments to A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste!

  • Jeff Ogden

    I love Jim Collins ideas, but the “get the right people on the bus” comment causes some concern. Why? Most companies are, in my opinion, ill equipped to identify the “right people.”

    First one has to define a right person. Is it industry experience? What do you think?
    Jeff Ogden

  • Paul Dunay


    totally agree with you – this comment has been ringing in my mind too.

    the way Jim was approaching this was through his typical lens of Good to Great – so he was thinking of it more functionally – like CEO CFO COO CMO etc..

    those seats are the ones that help steer the bus for the whole organization

    so his challenge was more like “hey Mr CEO – be sure you know how many seats on the bus you have open and what your plan is for filling them”

  • Jeff Ogden

    What seats are open? What are the qualities of the person who should fill that seat? Those are questions to ask.

    My good friend Bob Griefeld is the CEO of NASDAQ. But Bob came from IT (Unisys and Sungard) not finance. Yet he has proven to be a terrific CEO — NASDAQ is booming.

    Bob would not have been invited onto most buses.

  • Paul Dunay


    great point – Jim was not suggesting hiring Charismatic CEOs right

    he was suggesting to find the ones that have the right qualities for the right role

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