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I love your honesty and fresh style, Bob! While Good to Great has valuable lessons, we must remember "All models are wrong. Some are useful."


agree with jack , it's a good book


Hi Bob,
I have read "Good to Great" and I think it's really good !


Bob -- Thanks for this post. As an author myself I find myself frequently caught in the dilemma of the demand. I remember, for example, a CEO telling me that my work "didn't amount to a mature business model" one day because I was using too many anecdotes and someone else saying the next that "the data didn't have relevance" to their organization. People want answers that are universal AND particular. The only "truth" in this mess seems to be that it is possible to write a best seller out of recipes and formulas if they look like they might pay off, especially if enough "snake oil" is rubbed on them, and you're not with it if you don't do X or Y.

There's a misbegotten conceptual blunder in all this. We think we can reduce the complexity of business acumen and leadership to something that is actually at a much deeper level of both personal and organizational understanding. It's not that we shouldn't try to articulate how to improve, but to confuse that with a promise, particularly a scientifically verifiable promise, is simply naive. This is not, to my mind, terribly different than the employee, not doing his/her job, who complains: "just tell me what to do!" And if you can't tell me, then you are a hoax. So we do the best we can to offer the expertise, and voila, we are found out. We took the bait of hubris.

We skimmed over the section that said there are no absolute answers. We skimmed over the section that said we don't know. The answer to this MAYBE is a community. One where we talk about the real stuff that's going on in our firms and in ourselves. Seems like, from time to time, that might create a breakthrough.


So tell do you really feel ? No wonder GtoG hasn't been a productive topic. Taking all your points as given then what ? What we really need is a book that compiles, compresses and generalizes the huge swath of extant findings that we can use. And on the other side of the coin it's often been my experience that academics trap themselves into using tools they're comfortable with and very unwilling to consider anecodotal evidence and cases until the constitute a statistical universe. That means the small samples get ignored. How to split the differences ?


Hello Bob,

I have to admit that I have been GTG admirer although I was always skeptical about the research that was conducted to arrive to the 11 companies that they cite in the book.

But I believe that you can always learn something from every book eventhough 90% may be repeat of other books or old wine in new bottle as they say.


Kevin Horgan

Agree totally with your perspective. Would also apply similar critique to Bill George's True North which consists of retrospective interviews and platitudes. No wisdom unlike Fooled by Randomness or The Halo Effect or your work.


"Regardless of the quality of the scholarship, does the book claim that the management techniques that took the companies from good to great result in a permanently great company?

I'd like to know if the companies that went from "Great" to below average (or worse) sustained the techniques described in the book over the past 7 years. "

I couldn't agree more. I feel Bob and others make a lot of great points. Further, Collins should be careful about how 'magical' he considers his claims to be. That said, I don't recall Jim ever saying that his 11 Greats would remain great forever... or even beyond the time frame of the study.

I'm on both sides of this argument.

Andrew Meyer

I agree with all of your comments and I would add one other. A business exists in a business environment with a particular set of economic fundamentals. If something causes that business environment to grow and the economic fundamentals to improve, all the businesses in that area will probably do well. Likewise, if something causes that environment and its economic fundamentals to shrink, all of the businesses will be hurt.

As the great Warren Buffett said many years ago, if a management team with a reputation of great success encounters a business with bad economic fundamentals, it is the business with bad economic fundamentals that will retain its reputation.

I agree with you that Collin's book has some struggles, but also consider that many of the companies that did well were in environments that enjoyed good economic fundamentals for a long time. When those fundamentals changed, so did the reputations of the businesses.

Thanks for all your great writing, insights and for challenging people to think. I appreciate it, Andy


One of your best posts ever.


A good post. I have my own example from Sweden. A government backed VC I talked to claimed that: "We can show with statistics that the companies we invest in do better than the other ones (i.e. the ones we are not investing in)."

It's like going to the racetrack and betting on favourites and say: "The horses I bet on do better than the horses I don't bet on." If you only pick favourites, you are more likely to pick winners, that's all. In my case, the only thing the statistics showed was that the VC could pick successful companies, companies that probably would have made it anyway.

When it comes to repeating success in companies, it's surprising how few executives can do just that after they have left for another company. Apple is the most notorious example I can think of. Apple have had a string of executives who left and could not repeat what they did within Apple.

Processes cannot always be described with words. They can be dead simple to execute, but almost impossible to describe with words, like: describe to me how you tie your shoelaces. Easy to do, impossible to explain.


Agreed with all of the above, but I would like to make the case for the "magic" of management theory.

Imagine a world where some scientists know Maxwell's equations and others don't. The scientists who know Maxwell's equations can predict the future. Those who don't are lost in the wilderness.

That's the world we live in today when it comes to the "equations" of management and organizations. People who understand Peter Drucker and lean manufacturing are magicians compared to those who don't.

Or, at least, they have the potential to be magicians -- unfortunately, you still have to wake up in the morning and do the work. =)

Kevin Rutkowski

I bought the book a few months ago because my company's CEO is a big fan of it, but I haven't read it yet.

Regardless of the quality of the scholarship, does the book claim that the management techniques that took the companies from good to great result in a permanently great company?

I'd like to know if the companies that went from "Great" to below average (or worse) sustained the techniques described in the book over the past 7 years.

In the US, it seems that management has a lot of pressure to do something different than what they're currently doing regardless of current success. It seems that many people consider a manager who maintains the status quo to not be doing their job. I suspect that some of the companies changed what they were doing simply for the sake of change.

I have heard that Toyota specifically hires CEOs who will maintain the current successful system and frowns on ones who would make massive changes. Maybe the US companies could learn from that theory (if it indeed is a theory supported by evidence).

I noticed that Wells Fargo is a company on the list that I think would still be considered great by many measures. There aren't too many banks that are as stable as they are right now. Perhaps bank executives have less pressure to change what is currently successful.

Frank Roche

Bob, I've always been skeptical about Good to Great. Your points here about evidence-based assertions is so spot on. And it should be chilling to those who drank the GTG Kool-Aid.

I get offered a ton of books to review each year. I won't do it anymore unless there's an academic basis for the work. Making claims based on opinions and self-reinforcing "research" won't cut it. I agree, by the way, with what you say about the Heaths' Made to Stick -- great writing and real research.

Thanks for this post. I'm cheering you, even if I'm sitting on the cheap seats.

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