Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite them All by Jim Collins
When Orchestras Canada asked me to review this book, I was thrilled to gain access to something that I might be able to put to work in my new job with the PEI Symphony Orchestra, and potentially in my personal and family life as well. I generally like ‘self help’ books, and was interested to see if and how this book might speak to my own experience. The subtitle of this book also intrigued me, as we are certainly going through times of uncertainty and chaos in the arts world – not to mention the world of my family and our life onPEI!
According to his website (http://www.jimcollins.com/), Jim Collins is a student of enduring and great companies. He’s written several previous books, including the bestsellers Good to Great and Built to Last.
I was concerned, when I started Great by Choice, that I might need to have read his previous books to fully benefit. In truth this didn’t really become a problem until the epilogue, in which the research findings in this book were compared with those that inspired his previous books.
Overall, the book is easy to digest, only occasionally dry enough to induce sleep, and generally quite entertaining. Collins compares pairs of companies in the same business, one of which was a huge winner in the period of time studied, and one of which faltered. He then considers what might have contributed to the success of the “winning” companies vs. their comparison companies. His approach is data-driven, and some of it is a bit dry–but there are also comparisons against real life situations (as much as climbingMt.Everest or journeying to the South Pole can be real life), which I found very interesting. And each chapter has a closing summary, which means that you can easily get the gist of the chapter if you’d lost your way earlier.
I don’t think that Jim Collins has come up with any earth shaking revelations. Instead, he’s summed up a few universal messages in a single location: great companies are led by great leaders who are willing to take calculated risks AND plod steadily through life with long term success on their minds. I enjoyed the concept of “productive paranoia”: stockpiling resources for times when things might be leaner than you would like, while still making sure you research and produce new products to keep your organization ahead of those around you. I also enjoyed the concept of the “20 MileMarch”: by putting one foot in front of the other, day by day, month by month, and consistently executing regardless of the conditions encountered, you will always see progress. A good metaphor for my New Year’s weight loss resolutions as well!
Natalie Williams Calhoun
Natalie Williams Calhoun is a cellist, Administrator of the PEI Symphony Orchestra, and a recent arrival toPrince Edward Island. She is mother to 3 year old Lucas, a private music teacher in theCharlottetownarea, and moonlights as an examiner for the Royal Conservatory of Music.