Built To Last by Jim Collins: Summary and Notes

Built To Last summary “Visionary companies are so clear about what they stand for and what they’re trying to achieve that they simply don’t have room for those unwilling or unable to fit their exacting standards.”

Rating: 8/10

Related Books: Good to Great, Great By Choice, How The Mighty Fall, Start With Why

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Built To Last Short Summary

Built to Last is a must-read if you are an active or aspiring CEO, manager, or entrepreneur seeking to build a profitable organization that will stand the test of time. Many companies begin on a high note but quickly fizzle out along the way. Authors Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras will show you how to be the company that remains a force to reckon with in your industry and a beacon of light in your community for many years to come.

The Best of The Best

Visionary Company: premier institutions in their respective industries 12 shattered myths about building and sustaining powerful visionary companies:

  1. It takes a great idea to start a great company. Reality: Starting a company with a “great idea” might be a bad idea
  2. Visionary companies require great and charismatic visionary leaders. Reality: A charismatic leader is not required for a visionary company, and might even end up being detrimental to prospects
  3. The most successful companies exist first and foremost to maximize profits. Reality: Visionary companies are ideology-driven. Money is one factor, but not the most important
  4. Visionary companies share a common subset of “correct” core values. Reality: There is no “right” set of core values for visionary companies
  5. The only constant is change. Reality: The ideologies of a visionary company remain tightly fixed
  6. Blue-chip companies play it safe. Reality: Visionary companies are not afraid to make commitments to Big Hairy Audacious Goals
  7. Visionary companies are great places to work, for everyone. Reality: Visionary companies are so clear about what they stand for and what they’re trying to achieve that they simply don’t have room for those unwilling to fit their exciting standards
  8. Highly successful companies make their best moves by brilliant and complex strategic planning. Reality: Visionary companies make some of their best moves by experimentation, trial and error, opportunism, and accident
  9. Companies should hire outside CEOs to stimulate fundamental change. Reality: Homegrown management rules at visionary companies
  10. The most successful companies focus primarily on beating the competition. Reality: Visionary companies focus primarily on beating themselves
  11. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Reality: Visionary companies do not limit themselves to having to pick between one great idea OR the other. Instead, they work to pursue all possible positive options at the same time
  12. Companies become visionary primarily through “vision statements. Creating vision statements is one of many helpful steps visionary companies take to clarify their agenda

Clock Building, Not Time Telling

Waiting for “a great idea” before committing to building your company might be a bad idea. The company itself, and not conventional goals, is the ultimate creation. Keeping a visionary company alive is its ultimate reward.

“Luck favors the persistent.”

Always be open to discarding, revising, or evolving an idea, but never allow letting go of your company to be an option.

“One of the most important steps you can take in building a company is not an action, but a shift in perspective.”

No “Tyranny of the Or” (Embrace the “Genius of the AND”).

A visionary company gives 100% commitment to its short term goals and 100% commitment to its long term goals. It is never about one or the other. A visionary company seeks both longevity and profitability, not one or the other.

More Than Profits

“Profit is like oxygen, food, water, and blood for the body: they are not the point of life, but without them, there is no life.”

Core Ideology = Core Values + Purpose

  • Core Values: the organization’s essential and enduring guiding principles
  • Purpose: the organization’s fundamental reasons for existence beyond making money
“In finding your company’s core values, the key is authenticity: not uniqueness.”

Preserve The Core/Stimulate Progress

A visionary company always strives for its forward movement, improvement, and progress, not a competition against other companies. A company ought to be able to change anything about itself over the years except its core basic values. A company can practice flexibility without losing its core identity. An organization’s drive for progress is an internal force. A company’s own goals and motivations cause the internal fuel it needs to make bold moves, take risks, and seek rewards outside of its comfort zone.

Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG)

“All companies have goals. But there is a difference between merely having a goal and committing to a huge, daunting challenge.”

A Big Hairy Audacious Goal:

  • Is clear and compelling and serves as a unifying focal point
  • Has a clear finish line that helps the organization know when it has achieved its goal
  • Should fall well away from the comfort zone
  • Is exciting on its own and so continues to stimulate progress even if the organization’s leaders disappeared before it had been completed
  • Should be consistent with the company’s core ideology

Cult-Like Cultures

“You don’t need to create a “soft” or “comfortable” environment to build a visionary company.” 

Visionary companies only have room for those whose core values match theirs. There is therefore no space to ‘convince’ an individual to remain a part of the organization if they are not the homegrown right fit.

Try a Lot of Stuff and Keep What Works

Sometimes a visionary company can stumble into success quite by “accident”. It is beneficial for companies to experiment with as many ideas as possible and diversify their products. Accept that mistakes will be made. Learn from them and allow yourself to use the lessons better to grow yourself as an individual and as a company. Never hesitate to make bold decisions and take risks. Give people the room they need to share and possibly implement their ideas within the framework of your organization’s core ideology. Take small but steps towards progress and improvement. The journey is more important than the ‘destination’ in a visionary company.

Home Grown Management

Promote staff from within to preserve the core. Homegrown staff is usually more dedicated to a company’s success than external personnel grafted into the company. Pick managerial candidates who share the company’s core values at a gut level, even if they have a different managerial style.

Good Enough Never Is

There is no ultimate finish line in a highly visionary company. Comfort is not the objective of a visionary company.

‘’Build for the future, and do well today.’’

The End of The Beginning

A company doesn’t become a visionary one by simply having vision statements.

‘’A visionary company doesn’t rely on one program, strategy, tactic, or mechanism to preserve the core and stimulate progress. It all counts.’’

Sweat the small stuff. Don’t be discouraged by errors you could learn from instead.

‘’Swim in your current, even if you end up swimming against the tide.’’

Keep the universal requirements while inventing new methods of achieving great results.

Building The Vision

Always work from the individual to the organization. The individual is the foundation of the organization.