Good to Great – “Disciplined Thought”

This post is part 3 in my recap of Jim Collins’ 2001 book, Good to Great. My prior post was about Disciplined People. This one is about Disciplined Thought. Once again, I took two major concepts from this section.

First, to become a great organization you must confront the brutal facts. Even though your organization may be doing well today, by whatever standards you choose, there are always brutal facts that you need to recognize and embrace. Face the challenges of your existing markets, your customers’ opinions of your products and services, your profit margins, your ability to innovate, your financial situation, your infrastructure, your management team – everything. There is no value in ignoring any challenges. It’s critical to evaluate your situation exactly as it exists. Recognize the difficulties.  Avoid hoping and wishing. Identify your options. Be clear on what you truly can and cannot accomplish.

My observation – If your organization’s ‘brutal facts’ aren’t obvious to you, you need to find them because they are there.

But, even though this implies that you have to face the occasional situation where the challenges are daunting, you need an underlying belief that you will prevail in the end.  They coined this ‘the Stockdale Paradox’ relating to the late Vice Admiral James Stockdale. While a prisoner of war in Vietnam, subject to frequent torture, he accepted the brutal facts of his situation. However, he never wavered from his belief that he would eventually prevail. While he made it out of the prison camps, many others didn’t. He believed it was because they were optimists and failed to accept the brutal facts. These others hoped that they would be released by Christmas, then Easter, then Summer, then … These dashed hopes eventually broke their will. Stockdale said “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

My observation – You need as many views and opinions as possible from those who are intimately or even tangentially related to your business or industry. You need as broad an understanding of your situation as possible. Optimism and hope has no place as you survey your landscape as it actually exists.

Second, you must develop a hedgehog concept. This refers to a simple understanding of how your organization can survive and thrive. The parable from the book related to the clever fox who was always devising schemes to triumph over the hedgehog. In contrast to the fox’s constantly shifting strategies and perceived cleverness, the hedgehog fully understood his own strategy. Regardless of what the fox tried, the hedgehog could always roll up into a ball and become unassailable. The hedgehog had a way of disregarding the irrelevant and remaining disciplined on what he knew would work for him.

The book then presents their key principles to developing a hedgehog concept.  I will recap these in my next post.

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