Good is the Enemy of Great

Good is the Enemy of Great

“Built to Last” and “Good to Great” by Jim Collins are two of my favorite business books. Based on empirical data versus theory, Collins sets forth the frameworks and models “great” companies use to deliver significant business and revenue results year after year. Each book has a lot of practical applications and useful insights for real-world professionals. In Built to Last, Collins says, “good enough never is.” In Good to Great, he says, “good is the enemy of great.” Both statements summarize one of the characteristics all great companies and top performers have in common – hyper discontent with the status quo.

The question all great companies and top performers ask themselves is, “How can I do better tomorrow than I did today?” Good is never enough. Greatness is always the aspiration. Consequently, top performers come to work every day knowing that they can do better . . . knowing that they can improve on something. Their drive toward continuous and never-ending improvement does not de-motivate them. It energizes them because outstanding execution is the outcome of their self-discipline. Great companies institutionalize continuous and never-ending improvement. Top performers internalize it until it becomes part of them.

Because being content leads to complacency and complacency leads to decline, great companies make hyper discontent with the status quo part of their corporate culture. They install mechanisms to create discomfort and thereby stimulate change and improvement. For example, Boeing’s “Eyes of the Enemy” program. The program tasks top managers with developing strategy, as if they worked for a competing company, to win customers and market share from Boeing. Nordstrom’s “Sales Per Hour” ranking is similar. It measures hourly performance relative to one’s peers creating no opportunity to ease up during the day.

The bottom line: Growth requires change and change requires intent. The more you grow and improve, the more value you can add to others. The more value you add to others, the more value they can add to other people, including customers, partners and teams; thus, multiplying your impact and influence. Commit to continuous and never-ending improvement every day. Live by the motto that “good is the enemy of great.” Remember, greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness is a matter of choice. Develop a hyper discontent for the status quo. No one should ever be (constructively) harder on you than you are on yourself.

ADD ON (08-28-10): Assume that every competitor can and will imitate your best practices. While sharing best practices within your company makes sense because it helps everyone get better, differentiation is achieved by winning through execution. However, with external competitors (and internal competitors too), you have to run faster, think bigger and work smarter to maintain your advantage. Innovation is the key. There are two ways to innovate: 1) Create something original and useful; or 2) Continuous and never-ending improvement toward how you currently operate and sell. Both must be ingrained in the company’s culture.

All contents copyright © 2010, Josh Lowry. All rights reserved.

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