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How to Go from Merely Good to Truly Great (Ep. 178)

Some companies are born great, but not everyone can be so lucky.

If you’re decently well-off, but not quite Apple or Disney, can you cross into their world and achieve greatness?

In Jim Collins’ Good to Great, he tell us the answer is yes — and of those that made the jump, there are quite a few similarities to learn from.

Here’s a quick overview:

  • Craft the humility and will of a Level 5 leader. Focus on your mission with the work ethic of a farmer – more plow horse than show horse. Be humble – own the mistakes, but give credit when things go right. Look out the window in the good times, and in the mirror during the bad times.
  • Look for your Hedgehog Concept. What can you be the best in the world at (define the world), what are you passionate about, and what drives your economic engine (i.e. where is the market?) Greatness in your career lies in the middle of all three. Two is not enough. Passion + Best in the World = World’s best underwater basket weaver. Passion + Economics = you’re not competitive. Economics + Best in the World = work that won’t fulfill you.
  • Embrace the Stockdale Paradox. Never hide from the brutal facts of your reality; confront them. But never let them deter you from having the faith that you’ll eventually win, even if it takes a long time and lot of setbacks. Both sides are necessary. Those who hide from the brutal facts get blindsided and fail. Those who lose faith will let the brutal facts discourage them, and they’ll quit.
  • Build a flywheel and work towards a breakthrough. There is no one catalyst. Realize that the outsider’s perspective is deceiving – the egg hatches one day to much fanfare, but from the chicken’s perspective, it’s merely one step in a long process that went quietly unnoticed. Evolution, not instant change. The thing that will kill you is stopping the flywheel. It doesn’t take a new CEO coming in to do that to your personal goals – your own lack of focus, or discouragement at a failure can do it. Keep making pushes.
  • Optimize the technology and systems that fit into your Hedgehog Concept. Once you know what it is, do all you can to be the innovator when it comes to the systems that support it. For everything else, parity is fine – if you need to use it at all.
  • Let the results of your pushes on the flywheel speak for themselves, rather than announcing grand visions and goals. In teams, these results let the team members aspire to greatness of their own accord. The companies that failed were often the ones constantly announcing new initiatives.

Many of these lessons from the business world feel quite at home in our personal lives, so even if you’re not trying to carve out a spot in the Fortune 500, you just might be able to use them to cultivate greatness on a more personal level.

Things mentioned in this episode:

FreshbooksThis week’s episode is sponsored by FreshBooks.

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  • 0:01:19 – What is “Good to Great” about?
  • 0:06:21 – How to measure and classify companies as great
  • 0:12:58 – How to properly manage a company
  • 0:18:28 – Several “levels” of leaders and easing other people’s work
  • 0:22:16 – Giving credit where its due without being too humble
  • 0:27:39 – Choosing an area to pursue with the hedgehog concept
  • 0:34:11 – The Stockdale paradox and confronting harsh realities
  • 0:38:19 – Getting feedback as soon as possible
  • 0:41:30 – Sponsor: FreshBooks (Working as a freelancer)
  • 0:44:07 – Building momentum with the flywheel concept
  • 0:52:56 – Using the right technologies
  • 1:00:49 – Letting the fruits of your labors speak for themselves
  • 1:03:24 – Conclusion

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How to Go from Merely Good to Truly Great