Jim Collins at Catalyst 2011

Here are some highlights and observations pulled from my journal notes of Jim Collins at Catalyst 2011, Thursday Oct 6. Jim was my favorite speaker of the day.

This was brand new material from his upcoming book, Great By Choice. It’s his first time to present it. He spent years researching companies and situations to find the answer to the question, given the same variables, why do some succeed and others fail?

“It’s all about people. Turn all of your ‘what’ questions into ‘who’ questions. If you have a problem, the answer is not a what, it’s a who. A person.”

This is a beautiful way to say, network and delegate. Stop trying to problem solve everything by yourself. Think of the person who can solve the problem and put them on it.

“Greatness is not achieved through personality but through humility and a stoic determination.”

“How do the mighty fall? Success, followed by hubris.”

Jim gave six sequential reasons the mighty fall, but I haven’t read his material on this and couldn’t get it down fast enough. (A reminder to myself to never assume people know your material, even your old stuff.) His main idea here is that success can lead to hubris, or an overbearing pride that in ancient Greece was a legal transgression where an abuser shamed or humiliated the victim for self-gratification. Hubris is the assumption that you’re the champion and therefore better than another. It leads to poor decision making, denial, and decline, eventually followed by a desperate, failed move for a quick fix and eventually to death.

The only antidote for the hubris success brings is humility and a continued discipline to what he called the “20 mile a day march” (more on that later).

Here are some traits of great leaders:

  • Ambition. Jim said that great leaders have level 5 ambition. They are compelled to do what they do.
  • Fanatic discipline. Here Jim began an extended and useful illustration of two competing explorers, Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott, a Norwegian and a Brit vying in the fall of 1911 (one hundred years ago this month) to be the first expedition to reach the South Pole. Amundsen’s faithful commitment to a “20 miles a day march”, like the tortoise in the fable, led to success, while Scott’s tendency to rush ahead with 30-40 mile days and then take breaks, like the hare, led to failure. It is an exercise of great self-control in an out-of-control world. We need to stick to the 20 mile a day march.
  • Productive Paranoia. Both explorers planned “what if?” scenarios. However, while Scott used data to make his calculations (X supplies need to reach the next station), Amundsen in humility assumed that he wasn’t good enough to make it in the first plan and calculated three times the number of necessary supplies. Jim called this “empirical creativity” – not just an approach to data, but a combination of data analysis and creative intuition. Amundsen navigated the return trip while Scott and his team perished 11 miles from a supply station. Literally, hubris, or at least arrogance, led to death.
  • Enduring greatness. If you don’t change, you will fail. If you do nothing, you will fail. If you refuse to grow, you will fail. but the ultimate signature of mediocrity is inconsistency. And the basis of consistency is values. Jim said there is a difference between values and practices. To succeed, change your practices and keep your values.

Jim then ended with a 10-point todo list which is so awesome it deserves a separate post.