Good to Great: The Forgotten Analogy

Everyone working in business has no doubt, at some point, heard the Jim Collins analogy about needing to:

“Get the wrong people off the bus, and get the right people in the right seats”

Great quote. I loved it when I read it five years ago and I still like it, even if it has been overused to the point of cliche.

Unfortunately, the quote allows lazy managers an easy way out. If you take it out of context, and I’m sure a lot of people do, it means that if a business wants to go from “Good to Great“, all it needs to do is hire great people and put them to work in the right places.

The rest will take care of itself.

Or will it?

Well, the analogy that precedes its more famous sibling says not.

A fox wants to eat a hedgehog, and has many tricky ways to ambush the hedgehog. Every time, the hedgehog has one tried and true response – curl up in a ball. It’s a simple strategy that can be repeated ad nauseum and works every time.

So in order for the bus analogy to be relevant, you need to first get your house in order and decide what your hedgehog strategy is.

What is the one thing that you (will) do better than anyone else?

If everything else turns to dust, the economy fails, customers desert you and the shareholders are clamouring for your head, what is the one thing you can turn back to to get you out of this mess?

Where is the bus going?

There can be many stops, but only one destination.

The same is as true for your career as it is for your business.

If everything turns to shit, what can you guarantee will get you through the hard times?

Note: “Blue Ocean Strategy” notes that most of the companies analysed in G2G would no longer be classified as “great” by the metrics defined in the Collins’s seminal work. I thought this was very interesting.


2 Responses to Good to Great: The Forgotten Analogy

  1. David Brain says:

    Ed you were way ahead of me on this book. I loved it but perspective is an odd thing. Check this quote out: “Fannie Mae grasped the subtle denominator of profit per mortgage risk level, not per mortgage (which would be the obvious choice). It’s a brilliant insight. The real driver in Fannie Mae’s economics is the ability to understand risk of default in a package of mortgages better than anyone else.” Page 105, Good to Great. Hmm?

    I have to say I hated the hedgehog analogy…..never really believed business came down to being or doing one thing better than others, but what do I know? I did like the Stockdale Paradox though:

  2. Ed Lee says:

    David – hope you’re enjoying a no doubt well deserved holiday on Corfu?

    With regards to Fannie Mae, I’d like to quote a news article from on the current predicament the company, along with Freddie Mac, faces:

    “Why should Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac enjoy special tax and regulatory privileges unavailable to other publicly traded corporations? Why should U.S. taxpayers be required to lend them money, or pick up the tab if they can’t pay their bills?”

    I think with a competitive advantage like this, even I would be able to run a company that was profiled in a seminal business book!


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