Thoughts on Jerry Porras’ & Jim Collins’ “Built to Last”

In their book “Built to Last” Jerry Porras’ and Jim Collins’ present their research into the development of some of the United States’ most successful corporations. They focus their research towards what they call “visionary” companies and compare them to competitors whose businesses disappeared after a period of time and eventually analyze them in accordance with guidelines they’ve set on what makes a good company.

The authors  first introduce the book by stating “This is not a book about charismatic visionary leaders. It is not about visionary product concepts or visionary products or visionary market insights. Nor is it about just having a corporate vision. This is a book about something far more important, enduring, and substantial. This is a book about visionary companies.” I believe that all these elements (a visionary leader, product, a vision) contribute to how a visionary company is built and the authors actually touch upon these different elements and how they contribute to making a company successful  later on in the book as well so I’m not sure why they wanted to start off their book by separating these different elements… In the first chapter they define a visionary company as a “premier institution in their industries, widely admired by their peers and having a long track record of making a significant impact on the world around them.” They set a list of 18 visionary companies including Walt Disney, Sony, IBM, Marriott an other. However, some of the companies praised as “visionary” have fallen on hard times including HP and Motorola. Also, even though they talk about companies that have endured over a long period of time and have survived so many cultural, social and economic changes, let’s not forget that most these companies were built around the 1940s which was a completely different time. Therefore, the guidelines that the authors set of what made these companies truly visionary mostly correspond to this time in history. So if you looked into 21st century visionary companies such as Apple or Facebook their premise would probably have been different.

In general, I don’t believe that there is a “secret ingredient” that makes a company great, but I enjoyed reading this book because I learned some interesting facts about these companies and their founders’ journeys. I thought it was interesting  that the authors disclaimed certain “business” myths such as “It takes a great idea to start a great company”, “Visionary companies require great and charismatic visionary leaders”, Visionary companies require great and charismatic visionary leaders”. I also liked the idea of how the authors defined a business being a “clock builder” or a “time teller.” Time tellers focus on being disruptive companies by having a great idea, a great product and making profits while clock builders are focused on building the “ticking clock”, meaning building the building block of the company. “Clock builders” are more reserved and focus on growth and preserving their core values for centuries into the future. The foundational idea is the tension that must be maintained between preserving the core foundational values, mission and beliefs that will never, ever change and stimulating progress methods and practices that will help the company change smoothly with changes in the culture or market.

 

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