Jim Collins: be humble, disciplined and don’t miss the gorilla
Jim Collins speaks to a crowd of hundreds of business professionals Friday at Veterans Memorial Auditorium.
Jim Collins, author of bestselling business tomes such as "Good to Great" and "Built to Last," spoke to a standing-room-only crowd Friday at Veterans Memorial Auditorium. The audience was a mix of the Young Professionals of Iowa conference and the Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI) Taking Care of Business conference.
"Greatness, it turns out, is first and foremost a matter of conscious choice and discipline," Collins said.
Collins has been researching businesses for nearly 25 years, filling six books with data-driven concepts. His two-hour presentation provided a quick summary.
A few highlights:
"If your company cannot be great without you, you have failed to build a great company," Collins said. He pointed to humility as the "x-factor" that separates truly great leaders from good leaders.
That doesn't mean great leaders don't have charisma, confidence, ego and drive – they just direct it outwards. Instead of being motivated by personal glory, they direct their "utterly ferocious will" to their company, cause or passion.
On the other hand, Collins said that mixing success and arrogance is a recipe for failure. He said a strong leader could not singlehandedly build a great company, but an arrogant leader could singlehandedly bring it down.
Discipline trumps innovation
Even in technology and bioscience companies studied, having a key innovation wasn't related to long-term success.
"To be human is to be creative. We are born creative," Collins said. "What is especially rare is marrying creativity and discipline, in such a way that discipline amplifies your creativity without destroying it."
Jim Collins addresses attendees of the joint YPIowa Conference and Taking Care of Business on Friday.
Practice 'productive paranoia'
"The only mistakes you can learn from are the ones you survive," Collins said.
Find your 20-mile march
Imagine you were to walk from San Diego to Maine. Collins said if you walked 20 miles each day, rain or shine, you would reach the destination much sooner than a team that walked much farther on nice days and rested in bad weather.
Likewise, the businesses Collins studied that had slow, steady progress fared better in the end.
"The true signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency," he said.
Collins said the 20-mile march doesn't have to be in business: it could be to spend 10 hours of quality time each week with your life partner. But whatever it is, there can be no exceptions.
Organizing your life around the crucial things, the things you can't miss, is the key to maintaining a sense of control in an uncontrollable world, Collins said.
"Never forget, most overnight successes are about 20 years in the making," he said. He called Facebook a "nice start."
Make a "stop doing list"
"If you have more than three priorities – real priorities – you don't have any," Collins said.
Think of luck as an event, not an aura
There are lots of uncontrollable events in life, good and bad.
"The question is, what will you do with the luck that you get?" Collins said.
His research showed that great companies weren't luckier – they didn't have more instances of good luck or a higher ratio of good to bad.
During the question and answer session, an attendee asked how to recognize good luck when it happens. Collins said the key was not to miss the gorilla. In a famous study (video embedded below) where participants are asked to count the number of basketball passes made – and about half fail to notice a gorilla wandering through the game. He said leaders who make the best use of luck events, good and bad, have an ability to zoom out and notice peripheral events, before quickly zooming back in on the task at hand.
The more interesting question, he said, was "how do you know when to let luck disrupt your plans?"
Want more? You can find a Good to Great diagnostic tool at jimcollins.com.
Here's the video referenced in the paragraph above:
Credits: Photos by Sarah Binder. Video from Prof. Daniel Simons on Facebook.