Jim Collins delivered the Keynote at this year’s Vistage ChairWorld meeting to over 800 participants.

About Jim Collins

Jim Collins is a student and teacher of what makes great companies tick, and a Socratic advisor to leaders in the business and social sectors.  He has authored 6 books that have sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. His books include: 

  • Good to Great which examines why some companies make the leap to superior results,
  • Built to Last, which explores how some leaders build companies that remain visionary for generations; 
  • How the Mighty Fall, which delves into how once-great companies can self-destruct; and 
  • Great by Choice, which is about thriving in chaos—why some do, and others don’t.

Conor’s Video Summary of Jim Collins 12 Questions

Jim Collins shared 12 questions that come out of his work over the last 25 years.

These are my notes and reflections from his Keynote address.

The 4 part video series below gives a short overview of each of the 12 questions.

Video: Summary of Jim Collins’ 12 Questions

#1 strive for excellence

The first step is a conscious decision on the part of leadership to decide for excellence, to decide to build an enduring great company. Often leaders are enduring great individuals, but that doesn’t make for an enduring great company. Leaders must put excellence in the company over “success” in their own individual life. (This doesn’t mean that they give up a good life, but that they are willing to pay the price of leading an Enduring Great Company.)

Differences between level 5 and level 4 leader?

  • Humility. This is key to level 5. Deep genuine personal humility combined with a brutal will, a fierce resolve directed at something that is not about them
  • Leadership: People follow when they have the choice to not follow… otherwise it is just power.
  • Charisma – not necessary for Level 5 leadership (“never confuse personality with leadership”)

The author of this blog with Jim Collins, best selling author of Good to Great and Built to Last, at Vistage ChairWorld, January 2019

#2 First who, then what.

Right people, then trust them to figure out where the bus is going. Great vision without great people is irrelevant. Single most important talent: select great people for the key seats. Nothing is more important that key seats filled with great people.

#3 confront the brutal facts

What brutal facts must we confront? No opinions.

#4 Hedgehog concept

Fox knows many things, hedgehog knows 1 Fox loves complexity, hedgehog loves simple Intersection of Passion, best in world, drives economic engine Big is not equal to great (think restaurants- if it were to disappear it would leave an unfillable hole)

#5 20 mile march

Driving the flywheel  “Which push made the difference?” None… Cumulative effort consistently over long time Flywheel- causal links between, inevitability  “I admire Nike” “what do Nike do? Products so great that pros wear them” great products + social proof Execution 1-10… flywheel accelerator at quality of execution of lowest quality of execution  Best investment strategy “a highly undiversified investment where you are right” “We can make it up on a good day” fallacy.  Be super careful of overextension leading to missing your March Cycle across USA… booked the hotels ahead of time: have to make it, and prepare for tomorrow and the next day
“Part of the task of helping others is to be really hard on them… with love”

#6 bullets, then cannonballs

Innovation small, then massive support of small wins. Scale the right innovation. Scaling innovation is more important than innovation. Fail: Not enough bullets Bullets but no guts to fire cannonball Untargeted cannonballs

#7 don’t die

The first step of moving from good to great to built to last is “don’t die” I am terrified by good times. Complacency! Be properly terrified all the time. Fortune 500 85% carnage rate.

Jim Collins’ shares the 5 Stages of Decline of a Business

Productive paranoia:Prepare for the storms (cash to assets ratio 3-10 times greater)

The only mistakes you can learn from are the ones you survive 

#8 clock building or time telling?

Idea-> biz-> great company = enduring success

“The genius with a thousand helpers model is not building a great company”

Jim Collins

Shift from time telling (individual level) to clock building (at a company level). Every leader can grow to be the leader of a bigger, greater company. Don’t answer questions with answers… help people find their own answers, their own resourcefulness.

Steve Jobs 2.0 – had a yoda who helped him create a culture of geniuses.  What’s your leadership 2.0?

#9 preserve the core, stimulate progress 

Yin & yang Core set of unchanging values and purpose, constant progress towards your north star

#10 What’s our BHAG?

Time frame 10-25 years… anything less is just base camp

“The best people want to do the hard things”

Jim Collins

A Good BHAG frightens mediocrity away. Test of BHAG – does it repel some people?

#11 return on Luck

Luck event:

  1. You didn’t cause
  2. Consequences 
  3. Can’t control

Get good at making the most of when luck happens. How do you handle the unexpected? Use both good luck & bad luck (crisis allows change) to improve.

#12 Stop Doing list

Only doing is not discipline. True discipline is about what not to do first.  What should you not be doing?

Peter Drucker – age 65 had written only 1/3 of his books. Age 86 wrote 10 more books.

“You will survive, you will probably succeed… The question Mr Collins is how to be useful”

Peter Drucker (to young Jim Collins)

More from Jim Collins

Are you a Level 5 leader? How do you address these 12 questions? Where do you struggle? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Genetically we differ 2% from chimpanzees and 3% from worms. Our big difference is the cortex, the upper layer of the brain.  The cortex is the home of imagination.

Imagination gives us the choice to live intentionally.  We can make a choice: lead a life that is not just response to stimuli, but building towards a vision: an imagined future.

Why is imagination so important?

A leader sees a future that is not yet here.  This requires imagination. The clearer you can see and touch and feel this potential future the more compellingly you can communicate it to others.

Imagination is what makes us human. 2,300 years ago in the Greek city-state of Athens, Aristotle asked himself “what is the purpose of human life?”  Aristotle defined the purpose of an object as being that which it can uniquely do.  A human is alive – but plants are also alive – so that cannot be human purpose.  A human feels – but animals also feel – so that cannot be human purpose. The unique gift of humanity is reason, the ability to solve problems in the mind, to imagine.

How can you develop your imagination?  The video below shares a tool that Jim Collins uses to develop his power of Imagination.

If you are reading this via email, the video is on the blog here: Start with the End in Mind

“Only 3 things happen naturally in organisations: friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership” Peter Drucker

Mediocrity is effortless.

Excellence requires effort.  Excellence requires a culture of excellence.  In the absence of cultures of excellence I will find an excuse to let myself slip from my best.

mediocrity is effortless

Do you surround yourself with cultures of excellence?

“Great leaders create culture by design, while average leaders allow culture to evolve by default.” Mike Myatt

Personal Culture

Are you clear on your values and purpose?  If not, you are bouncing from one opportunity to the next.  You take today’s good opportunity to lay bricks rather than building the great cathedral of your life.  The clue to the existence of a clear personal culture is that you say “No” to most things.  You are not bouncing from one interesting distraction to another interesting interruption.

The ability to start things is a good step towards a positive personal culture.  The ability to finish things is the goal.  Are you better at starting things than you are at finishing things?  (I am.  It takes real effort for me to declare a project finished.)

I have my own explicit written personal culture.  I first wrote it down 7 years ago as I emerged from a very difficult time in my life:

  • 17 Daily Personal Habits for a Fulfilling Life
  • I have a much updated version that I keep with me today.  I don’t share it publicly, but have often shown it to those who have shared their own personal mission, vision and values with me.  You can find my email if it is important to you.

Family Culture

“A family culture happens whether you’re consciously creating it or not. It’s up to you and your wife to determine whether that culture is of your choosing. If you want a positive family culture, you must commit yourself to years of constant planning and teaching. A culture isn’t something that’s created overnight; it requires daily investment.” Brett McKay

The family culture is the first culture we experience.  Your earliest experience of co-existing with others was in your childhood family.  If your parents were clear about their values; the behaviours that express those values, the non-acceptable behaviours; and the rituals that keep these values visible: then you had a great start.  If your parents did not work to jointly define and live this family culture, you still had a culture…  but with unclear and unsatisfying results.

There are 3 pillars of group culture:  Values, Norms and Rituals.

Values – Each family’s set of values will be different and shaped by different education, religion and country values.  Some families see competition as positive, some see it as negative.  Some see position as giving rights (“You’ll do it because I am your father!”), some see dignity and agreements giving rights (“You’ll do it because we value kindness.”)

Norms – explicit and implicit rules of engagement.  For example, how do we resolve conflicts?  Shouting and passive-agressive stand-offs?  Calm discussion and seeking to understand the other?  How do we share chores?  Does one person work while others sit watching?  or does everybody find a way to help when clearing the table after a meal?

Rituals – routines, sanctions and celebrations.  Family meals – are they in front of TV when each individual is hungry, or does everyone gather and share?  Weekends, mornings, nights…  what are the regular routines?  Rites of Passage – what way do you celebrate the passing of the seasons, the reaching of an individual goal, the birthdays, the local and religious festivals?  There are 3 levels of ritual: Daily, Weekly and Life Changing.

These elements exist whether you chose them consciously or not.  There are no accidental cultures of excellence and meaningful community.

Resource: The Art of Manliness blog on Creating Family Culture:

Business Culture

“If I were running a company today, I would have one priority above all others: to acquire as many of the best people as I could.” Jim Collins

Business differ from families in 2 ways:

  1. they can remove individuals and
  2. they can hire pre-prepared individuals.

Jim Collins in Good to Great (my favourite business book of all time) tells us that it is all about people.

Last week in Washington I heard Dr. Evian Gordon ask “How many people does it take to ruin a team?”  Answer?  You already know…

One.

Verne Harnish told me that the important people question is “would I enthusiastically re-hire this person tomorrow?”  If there is doubt, then you must act.  Ken Blanchard told us how in 3 steps:

  1. Establish explicit goals together
  2. Publicly praise immediately when you see good behaviour
  3. Individually reprimand immediately when you see poor behaviour (“you are great, this report is not worthy of you.”)

A summary of Jim Collin’s book Good to Great is available on his website.

Community Culture

The country in which you live will have a major impact upon your implicit sense of what is right and what is wrong, the right way to behave and the right way to treat others.  Geert Hofstede told us that there are 6 major areas of difference between national cultures: it is worth knowing these 6 and where your own country is on each of these 6 in order to appreciate yourself and those who come from other national cultures.

Resource:  Geert Hofstede’s 6 Dimensions of National Culture

Rome (and Cultures): Not Built in a Day

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Your personal, family and business cultures were not built in a day, and cannot be changed in a day.

Changing for the better is not a project.  It is what life is about.

The first step is to describe your personal culture.  The next step is to create, jointly with your family members, a description of what family means to them.

Mediocrity is the easy path.

The smarter you are, the better your reasons for being mediocre.

An inspiring life requires hard thinking, hard discipline and hard patience.  Do you have the patience?  Do you have the discipline?  Do you have the desire?

Better the poor man with dreams and desire, than the great man with no dreams and no desire.

“The significance of man is not in what he attains, but rather in what he longs to attain” Khalil Gibran, Sand and Foam

David William wrote this post at Lifehack, but I find that I have gone back a couple of times now to find these questions.  I was on a bike ride along Tibidabo mountain last night with my daughter (8) and I asked her a couple of these questions.  I get some profound answers.

Jim Collins says that we should be constantly increasing our Questions to Answers ratio.  A question means I am open and curious and learning.  An answer is saying what I already know.

Here are the 15 questions that David shared:

15 Questions that Create Profound Discussions with my Daughter

  1. 4026524974_829edb326f_oWhat five words do you think best describe you?
  2. What do you love doing that makes you feel happiest?
  3. What do you know how to do that you can teach others?
  4. What is the most wonderful/worst thing that ever happened to you?
  5. What did you learn from the best/worst thing that’s happened to you?
  6. Of all the things you are learning, what do you think will be the most useful when you are an adult?
  7. If you could travel back in time three years and visit your younger self, what advice would you give yourself?
  8. What are you most grateful for?
  9. What do you think that person feels?
  10. What do you think your life will be like in the future?
  11. Which of your friends do you think I’d like the most? Why?
  12. If you could grow up to be famous, what would you want to be famous for?
  13. How would you change the world if you could?
  14. How can you help someone today?
  15. If you could make one rule that everyone in the world had to follow, what rule would you make? Why?

More on The Art of Good Questions