Built to Last

18.12.2018 in Book Review
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The modern book market offers thousands of books that explain people how to live, how to build their business and relations with business partners; some authors focus on the topic of earning money fast and without any effort; some of them try to explain the psychology of relations between a man and a woman; some authors focus their attention on the problem of manipulating the others – every person can find something that he or she is interested in. This paper is devoted to the book Built to Last, written by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras.

James “Jim” Collins is an American business consultant, writer and researcher. He is the author of such popular books as How great are dying and why some companies never give up, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Do not, Built to Last and The Great by Choice. His works are being published in the Harvard Business Review, Business Week, Fortune and other magazines. Jim Collins is the author or co-author of five books written on the basis of his research. Built to Last (2004) is included in the Business Week bestseller list and has been translated into 25 languages​​. In his last book Great by Choice Collins examines the company that managed not only to achieve exceptional results in its industry, but also retain its superiority over a long period of time. The book has been also included into best-seller lists, since four millions copies have been sold, and it has been translated into 35 languages​​.

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Jerry Porras is the Business School professor at Stanford University, an expert in organizational behavior and change; he is the author of Stream Analysis and one of the creators of the software for the diagnosis of organizational change. Porras runs a program at Stanford University in the field of organizational change for managers of companies. He worked at General Electric and Lockheed.

The book Built to Last explores the underlying causes of a long-term success of American corporations. Jim Collins and Jerry Porras provide a fresh perspective on the working methods of 18 prominent corporations, including 3M, Wal Mart, Walt Disney, Boeing, Sony and Hewlett-Packard.

As a part of a 6-year study sponsored by the Business School at Stanford University, Collins and Porras made research on the outstanding of long-livers in a direct comparison with their competitors, asking the question “What makes a truly outstanding company different from other companies?”

The book can serve as a great guide for building organizations that are able to thrive throughout the XXI century and beyond because it is filled with hundreds of specific examples presented in the form of a harmonious model of practical concepts that are available for use by entrepreneurs and leaders of all ranks,

Built to Last is a serious research work, containing valuable revelations about the origins of sustainable corporate greatness. Jim Collins and Jerry Porras examine factors that made a once promising company become a mainstay of the economy.

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This book is not about the charismatic and visionary leaders. It is not a revolutionary market solutions or brilliant product ideas. The authors talk about things that are more significant, long term and fundamental for every company –a vision. No matter how outstanding these companies are, the history of their development is not flawless. All companies have experienced the hard times, and in every company chiefs used to make mistakes. However, importantly, the companies with the vision exhibit excellent stability and have the ability to recover from failures. They show the outstanding long-term results, they were able to become an integral part of our society. The questions to answer are:

  •  How do they start?
  •  How do they cope with the difficulties on the way from a small office to a global organization?
  •  Becoming the giants, how do they differ from other large companies?
  •  What lessons can we learn from their development, which could be useful to others seeking to establish, set up and develop these companies?
  •  The book Built to Last discovers visionary companies so that you can answer these questions and more.
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Twelve myths debunked by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras:

Myth 1. To create a great company one needs a great idea.

“Great idea” does not necessarily lead to success. Some started with a frank failure. Moreover, regardless of the underlying concepts, companies with the vision were less successful in the beginning that the others.

Myth 2. To create a lookout, a company needs a charismatic and shrewd leader.

Some of the most prominent CEO’s greatest companies have little fit the image of a charismatic leader. They would rather focus their efforts on creating long-term organization, rather than seeking ways to become heroes.

Myth 3. The most successful companies focus primarily on profit.

Companies with a vision are guided by a set of goals, only one of which is the money. Paradoxically, they manage to earn more than inspired solely by mercantile considerations.

Myth 4. Well-known companies are guided by a uniform system of “correct” core values.

In fact, such a system for all the great companies does not exist. The core values ​​of the great companies do not necessarily need to be “educational” or “humanistic.” The corporate ideology is not critical, of vital importance is  how strong the belief in this ideology is, and how consistently the company lives by it.

Myth 5. Only the unchanged changes.

The company with the vision guards its underlying ideology. Core values ​​form the foundation of the company, and it is not subject to change for the sake of fashion.

Myth 6. Large companies tend to be careful.

Great companies are not afraid of bold and ambitious goals that can be desperate and risky, but the adventure, delight, and challenge are attracting people and produce a strong impetus to move forward.

Myth 7. Great company is great place to work.

Only those who meet the core ideology and high standards of a great company, consider it a great place to work. If not – you are kicked out of it just as the body gets rid of the virus. In great companies, what they want and aspire to is so well-known, that they simply haveno place for those who cannot or will not meet their high standards.

Myth 8. Successful companies are taking the right steps thanks to the excellent and comprehensive strategic planning.

Companies committed to the vision of some of their steps in the course of experiments, trial and error, opportunism, and, literally, by accident.

Myth 9. To make a fundamental change, companies need to invite the leaders from the outside.

Grown in native walls leaders were at the helm of great companies for much longer than in other, less successful companies. Time after time, they denied the common misconception that fresh ideas and significant changes cannot come from within.

Myth 10. The most successful companies focus primarily on the fight against competitors.

Great companies mainly compete with themselves. The question they ask themselves every day: “What we need to do to work tomorrow better than today?” No matter how much they won over the competitors, “too good” does not happen ever.

Myth 11. You cannot eat the same cake twice.

In great companies never let the word “or” to take the upper hand. Here, they reject the very principle of choice: stability or progress, cult ideology or personal independence, the leaders or radical changes… Instead, they bow before the word “and,” wanting to have A and B at the same time.

Myth 12. Companies acquire greatness, declaring their mission.

The proclamation of the mission can be a useful step in building the company, but this is just one of the thousands of infinite steps of the process of identification of its basic principles, which is inherent in companies with a vision.

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In Built to Last, the authors respond to questions that a reader may have as well:

   I am not the head of the firm, what do I do with all these ideas?

   Does an old small company have any hope? 

   What advice can you give to a successful company that is beginning to lose its status, as it was with IBM?

   Are there people who are unable to build a great company?

   Can the ideas presented in the book be applied to non-profit organizations? 

   How does this book relate to other studies, such as “In Search of Excellence”?

The book examined the past. What is the probability that in the XXI century, the study will be useless?

This book is important to read for every individual who is willing to start his or her own business. It was shown above that a book may become a guideline in starting one’s company, because it provides comparison of the most successful companies and their competitors. This book teaches a young entrepreneur how to reach success with minimum mistakes. One cannot say that this book is perfect, that it has answers for all the questions a young businessman may have. The way to success goes through ups and downs; it is impossible to read a book or two and become an excellent entrepreneur. However, one may read such a book as Built to Last and gain some experience, even if it is theoretical. The point is that such a book is a good material for a business school or degree in economics. 

In their book, James Collins and Jerry Porras have thoroughly studied success strategies of the world biggest companies and outlined several rules that might be helpful for a young entrepreneur. Moreover, the book may be useful not only for starting a new business, but also some of the rules may be applied in real life, in relations with a boss. The peculiarity of the book is that it was written by two magnificent researchers: James Collins and Jerry Porras. It is rather simply to distinguish chapters that were written by Collins from those that Porras has written. Collins explains in clear and more entertaining manner while Porras prefers to use scientific language. Moreover, as it has been mentioned above, the authors in their book debunk several myths; it helps a young entrepreneur not to be caught in an old trap. Some people say that if a person wants to be successful, he or she should learn from the most successful people in the world. The same strategy might be applied in the business world as well: if an owner of the company wants it to be the most successful company in the world, he or she should accumulate the experience of the past and implement all the successful ideas in his or her company. This means, that the book Built to Last should become a must-have for every person who wants to ever start his or her own business because James Collins and Jerry Porras have already gathered in their book the most successful ideas from the past.

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