JEFFREY TOBIN: From great to good
In 2001, James C. Collins published a groundbreaking new management book called “Good to Great.”
Perhaps you’ve read it. If not, you should.
With more than 4 million copies translated into 35 languages, “Good to Great” became an almost instant classic. Was it an important book? Yes. Did it receive worldwide acclaim? Obviously. Did the book change the world? Not so much.
So why not? Why isn’t every business “great,” especially since Collins’ book made the road map to greatness available to the entire world for less than $20 a pop? Why is there not now an obvious and worldwide corporate landslide toward greatness as described by the author?
Sometimes the dream of greatness is more attractive than the will to get there.
I’d like to be great, wouldn’t you? I know, setting “greatness” as a goal isn’t necessarily the most humble or even realistic of goals, but still … it is kinda fun to think about. And it’s important to think about ways in which you can make a difference, of course.
But there’s a little problem: The idea — the concept — of going from good to great itself can sometimes be its own most limiting stumbling block. Here’s why:
Becoming “great” — whether with personal or corporate intent — can be too big of a mental concept. Defining, divining, even dreaming of greatness creates an awfully large gap between the now and the goal. It digs a wide moat between you and your castle, a distance that is challenging to traverse. With great respect for Jim Collins’ work, one thing has kept the world from changing: our penchant for falling into that dreamy moat of greatness. And there we float.
But greatness demands action. And here’s the little secret to getting there: The action needn’t be great. It just needs to be good.
Why hasn’t every reader of “Good to Great” become great? Too often it’s the lack of willingness to do the basics, to continue forward even when the ends are sometimes considered only “good enough.” Activity beats out intellect alone. Like the door-to-door salesman who keeps ringing doorbells: Activity that is good enough, done for long enough, will always outperform the intellect of the dreamer who plans but who doesn’t act.
Don’t disregard the value of your plodding — your doing what is good enough — and trade it for the dream of greatness. Like waking up from a deep sleep, arising to the stark reality of the mundane will take you much, much farther.
Where others have failed, you can succeed simply by being good enough, but doing it persistently. Could you do better? Perhaps, but don’t let the concept of greatness overshadow your drive to do the work.
Sometimes the dream of greatness is more attractive than the will to get there. Don’t focus all of your intentions on greatness. Focus on doing your hard work. Even if you’re only good at it, your “good” can eventually lead you to “great.”