Good To Great #8: The Flywheel & The Doom Loop

Posted: August 2, 2010 in Books, Change Leadership, Good To Great, Jim Collins, Leadership, Success, Uncategorized
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This illustration of one of the key elements of companies that went from being good to great by Jim Collins is one of my favorite pictures of what it takes for an organization to be successful. Persistence is often overlooked and underestimated in today’s world of instant gratification. Our current culture is enamored by the stories of what appears to be overnight successes. When you take a look at the story behind these successes you often see that many years of persistence account for the successful building of a great organization.

Good to great transformations look like a dramatic, revolutionary event from the outside, but feel like organic cumulative processes to the people on the inside. These transformations come from consistently and persistently doing the right things over and over again for a long period of time.

Too often organizations look for the latest gimmick or fad to jump-start their organizations to the next level of success. Many organizations bring in consultants to clue them in on the latest trends in their type of business in order to chase the latest “new thing”. One of the problems with this approach is that these organizations are always in a reactive mode and never in a leading mode.

Good to great organizations in contrast gather the right people on their team that are willing to confront the brutal facts that are facing their organization. The culture of discipline in these organizations leads them to determine their hedgehog concept and pursue it consistently and persistently over time until this process yields great results.

Very few organizations are willing to pay this same price and build a strong successful organization over time, but instead want to find a quick fix or jump on the latest  bandwagon that they think will propel them to greatness. This approach only leads to chasing a dream but never reaching it creating a culture of frustration, not of greatness.

A flywheel needs a lot of small pushes to get it running fast. When it is running, no single push can be identified as the one big push. It is not popular to promote this side of success in modern times. Our culture has grown accustomed to doing everything instantly with no appreciation for the process of growing something successful over time.

Good to Great transformations never happened in one fell swoop – no single actions or innovations can be attributed to their success as an organization.

Good to Great companies were often unaware of the magnitude of their transformation at the time. They had no name, tag line, launch event or program to signify what they were doing at the time.

Some Key Points from this Concept:

  • Under the right conditions, the problems of commitment, alignment and motivation just melt away.
  • Create tangible evidence that the plans make sense – present in such a way that people see your accomplishments. Many times leaders lose their followers by not following this principle. This can lead to major set backs to your progress as an organization and even lead to your failure if not corrected.
  • Organizations need to see what they are doing and how well it is working.  Then extrapolate from that, and that’s where the organization is  going moving forward.

What do the right people want more than everything else?

  • They want to be part of a winning team.
  • They want to contribute to producing visible, tangible results.
  • They want to feel the excitement of being involved with something that just flat-out works.
  • When the right people see a simple plan born of confronting the brutal facts – a plan developed from understanding, not bravado – they are likely to say “That will work, count me in!

Comparison companies tried to skip this process step and jump immediately to breakthrough – lurching forward and back and failing to maintain consistency.

  • Comparison companies frequently tried to create a breakthrough with large, misguided acquisitions.

The Doom Loop

Comparison companies frequently launched new programs – often with great fanfare and hoopla aimed at ‘motivating the troops’ -only to see these programs fail to produce sustained results

Two main variations of the doom loop

  1. Misguided use of acquisitions: Good to Great companies generally took on big acquisitions AFTER the development of their Hedgehog Concept, and AFTER the flywheel had built significant momentum. They used acquisitions as an accelerator, not a creator
  2. Leaders who stop the flywheel: Managers who bring in their own program and halt the momentum of their predecessor.

Some questions for your organization to ponder:

  • How does your organization measure up to this practice of the good to great companies in Collins’ book?
  • Does your organization try to use quick hit, over night success approaches to jump-start success?
  • Does your organization have the discipline to follow the flywheel approach or does your leadership run chasing the latest greatest fad that consultants are promoting or that they have read in a magazine article or that trendy blog?
  • The most important question of all, “Do you have the right people on the bus to execute this disciplined approach to begin with?” If not, the rest of the book will not matter, you won’t be able to pull of moving from good to greatness without fixing this key ingredient.

  1. Thank you for providing this great summary. I just finished reading his book, now I can read it here as a good reminder of the principles.

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