Built to Last (Book Review)

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras is the conclusion of 6 years of research by the authors on the best companies out there. They call them ‘visionary’ companies. Among the few that have made the cut, and have survived over decades, are Walt Disney, IBM, and Sony. The book has become an instant management classic and now 19 years after its conception is still ever relevant.

In Built to Last the authors have compared the visionary companies with similar companies that have been operating in the same industry and for the same time. They call them the runners-up or the silver medal winners of the industry. They have good reasons for comparing the two types of companies. Only by comparing the good and the great you can differentiate between what works good and what works better. Without using a control group (the silver medal companies) they could just as easily have stated that buildings (which all of the great companies have) are the determining factor for their success.

What makes the 18 identified companies so great? It is vision, one which has guided most of these companies for up to a hundred years. A vision that is conceptualized in Big, Hairy, Audacious, Goals (BEE-hags). It is a goal that is not achievable in the near future, or even in the next few years. It is a goal that does not have a 100% success rate, but that inspires the whole company none the less. Two examples are from Ford: Democratize the automobile, and Philip Morris: Become the front-runner in the tobacco industry.

Next to the BEE-hags, the book also elaborates on other things great companies do. There is an emphasis on building the foundations, so that your subsequent work can be flexible around a steady core. Make the company itself the ultimate product, not the product. Products all end up obsolete and by having a focus on the company, it will remain standing. Build the company around a core ideology, a purpose beyond making money (eg. 3M’s commitment to innovation). And imprint this culture with all your employees (building a cult-like culture).

There are many more examples in the book, and practices that are as knowledgeable as convenient. But what is most important is that you look beyond the dilemma of the or and embrace the power of the and. Having a steady core and being the most innovative company are not two sides of the same coin, both statements can be true for the same company. This leads me to reflect on the 3rd Alternative by Stephen R. Covey, and note that both books share the same positive philosophy.

On a more critical note, people have taken a close look at the companies that are reviewed in the book. And the conclusions are far from great, some are no longer industry leaders and do not seem to follow a certain ideology or BEE-hag at this time. There have also been doubts about the scientific methods used by the authors and how the companies got selected. But what stands above questioning is the inspirational power that comes forth from the book. Having a vision, a BEE-hag to aspire too and thinking with and can do wonders to starting, established and mega corporations. It gets a 5 out of 6 rating.


The Book:

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies – Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras – ISBN-10: 0060516402 | ISBN-13: 978-0060516406


More on Built to Last:

http://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/building-companies.html – Jim Collins on Building Companies to Last

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Hairy_Audacious_Goal – Wikipedia on BEE-hags

http://www.fastcompany.com/50992/was-built-last-built-last – Fast Company on Timelessness of Built to Last

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