What is a synopsis of Chapter 1 -- "Good is the Enemy of Great" --  in Jim Collins' book Good to Great?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Jim Collins' 2001 business guide Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't is, as the title suggests, a primer on the methods various companies have employed in the effort at vastly improving their market share and value relative to their competitors as well as independent of external competition.  Not surpringly, Chapter One, "Good is the Enemy of Great," serves both as an introduction to Collins' study and as an overview of the scale of research and the parameters within which the study was conducted.  The basic framework of the study was the identification of companies that, following 15 years of stock earnings at or below the median point of the market, saw their stock earnings exceed that median point for the following 15 years.  Much of Collins' findings center on the importance of leadership, particularly leadership that places the welfare of the company above that of him- or herself and that hires quality personnel that he or she respects and admires.  Before that emphasis, however, Collins notes the importance of a corporate culture that aspires to greatness, rather than remaining content as merely good.  As he notes in Chapter One,

"The vast majority of companies never become great, precisely because the vast majority become quite good—and that is their main problem." 

It is in that context that he employs the reverse of the conventional wisdom that ascribes to the belief that great is the enemy of the good -- in other words, settle for what works and gets the job done and don't exhaust energy and resources on striving for higher ideals.  Collins views that principle as antithetical to the heights to which companies should aspire; to wit, "good is the enemy of great."  Collins places great emphasis on effective leadership that instills in the company a culture of excellence, which allows for innovation and independent thought.  As he posits in his study:

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline.”

As noted, Chapter One is an introduction to Collins' larger study, describing the methodology used in the research -- for example, comparing companies that met the basic parameter mentioned above with respect to earnings -- while examining the reasons for the failure of other companies to achieve the goal of higher earnings and sustain it over a number of years.  As his research illuminated the vital role of quality leadership, including the setting of goals intended to elevate the company's fortunes as well as operating within morally and financially-appropriate parameters, Collins was able to propose his theory regarding the the traits needed to achieve and sustain greatness.

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