Principles in “Good to Great”

“Good to Great” by Jim Collins is a secular book on what makes companies go from being “good” to “great.” The main premise of the book is that being “good” is the greatest enemy of being “great.” Collins and his twenty-person research team studied 126 companies to find the best examples of going from good to great. The criteria was to find companies that had an average or below average profits for fifteen years, then they hit a place of increase and grew consistently for the next fifteen years with a minimum of 3x greater profits than the stock market. Some of the companies profiled are Kroger, Gillette, Wels Fargo, and Walgreens.

Collins developed a graph to display his concepts that he believed showed why eleven companies went from good to great. His main concern was to document what the great companies did that good companies did not do. The graph is based on three key foundations to a great company, (1) Disciplined People, (2) Disciplined Thought, and (3) Disciplined Action. The three foundations are seen within a “flywheel” which is a large wheel used to produce energy. Lastly, the phases of growth “buildup” and “break through” are placed in the wheel on top the foundations to show the right way to grow. Thus, this graph is helpful to see the main concepts that make a company go from good to great.

Here is a quick overview of the three foundations, (1) Disciplined People: a company needs to have a “Level 5” leader that first builds a team and then develops with the team a simple action plan, (2) Disciplined Thought: the leadership team must be able to have faith for a greater future, but also be able to confront the brutal facts. Plus, the company needs to find what they do better than anyone else and avoid any distractions, and (3) Disciplined Action: the company needs to stay disciplined and on track towards their goals and use technology and new ideas to get there.

The basic idea of the “flywheel” is that good companies become great not because they do “one thing right” or have a “miracle moment,” but that over time they keep making small yet focused pushes that eventually gain great momentum. The flywheel was used in the 1800’s to produce energy by rotating at a fast speed. However, the speed was not reached by just pushing the wheel one time, it had to be manually pushed until it had enough momentum to be self-sustaining. Collins uses this example to show that it is not “over-night” success that makes a company sustain growth and become great over 15 years, but the continual pushing and simple steps that make a company great and stay great for many years.

Lastly, “build up” and “break through” are based on the “flywheel” concept that describe the phases in which the company becomes great. Buildup: First, the leadership develops the right team and then they make the right plans. Second, the changes begin to gradually take place and they find a rhythm. Breakthrough: Third, at some point the breakthrough begins to take place. The company begins to grow from being good to great. Lastly, the company needs to maintain the breakthrough by using fresh ideas and technology.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths: “Good to Great” had a few strengths to apply to ministry: (1) Collins’ “flywheel” concept reinforced the idea that Paul said in Galatians 6:9, “let us not grow weary in well-doing,” (2) The book did a good job of encouraging people not to “settle” for second best, (3) It did a good job of emphasizing the importance of good leadership, and (4) Collins’ “hedgehog concept” of doing your best thing with all your effort was a good idea.

Weaknesses: The book had many weaknesses- here are just a few, (1) It deals strictly with the business world, thus “worldly” ways are not necessarily the ways of the Kingdom, (2) Some of the companies the book highlights have recently gone bankrupt, “Fannie May” and “Circuit City,” (3) The book does not deal with integrity and servanthood, which is a key part of leadership, (4) Collins makes no mention of companies that were started great and remained great, like “Micro-Soft” and “Starbucks,” and (5) The book is boring to read, nothing exciting or cutting edge.

My Personal Thoughts

I enjoyed learning about what makes businesses great, but I wish it would had been written by a Christian leader so that the places of similarity and differences could have been outlined clearly. Can I as a pastor really only focus on “one thing?” “Excuse Mr. Jones, we do not do marriage counseling here- it is not our ‘one-passion.’” I can understand how a drug store does not have to get into the movie rental business, but does that really relate to the church? I do not think so.

Also, has anyone heard of “revival?” Do we as Christians believe in revival anymore? I understand that we should be faithful in the church to “preach, pray, and plug away,” but is that it? I still believe God can change a person in a moment, bring revival instantly, and do more in one minute than man can do in a lifetime of effort. I wish leadership classes would focus more on what God can do than what man can do.

Lastly, Jesus used the worldly concepts of work and success to illustrate His principles, not as the basis. Meaning, we as Christians do not need to read the research of secular businesses to know how to have a powerful, Pentecostal, soul-winning, disciple-making on-fire church! May we as pastors turn back to pray, God’s Word, and Biblical mentorship to grow our churches and ministries!