How the Mighty Fall

How the Mighty Fall

And Why Some Companies Never Give in

Audiobook CD - 2009
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Jim Collins talks about why companies prevail or fail, endure or die. It depends more on what you do to yourself than what the world does to you.
Publisher: New York : Harper Collins, p2009
ISBN: 9780061939235
Branch Call Number: SCD 658 Collins
Characteristics: 4 sound discs (4 hrs.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in


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Mar 16, 2010

Book Review: Jim Collins' How the Mighty Fall
9:45 AM Wednesday May 20, 2009
by Julia Kirby

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Jim Collins' latest volume of management thinking, How the Mighty Fall ... and Why Some Companies Never Give In, begins with Collins recalling the advice of his mentor, Stanford professor Bill Lazier: "Don't try to come up with the right answers; focus on coming up with good questions." And certainly that describes Collins' achievement here. The question of why leading companies, seemingly in possession of every competitive advantage, so often manage to blow it is surely a good one.

So good, in fact, that the last management researchers to tackle it in a serious way won last year's McKinsey Award for the best article published by Harvard Business Review. "When Growth Stalls," by Matt Olson, Derek van Bever, and Seth Verry, summarized the results from the Corporate Executive Board's extensive inquiry into the downfalls of formerly high-flying companies.

Do the studies by Collins and Olson et al. agree? For the most part, yes, although it's not always easy to see how Collins has reached his conclusions. His method in past outings --Good to Great and Built to Last -- has relied on examining "matched pairs" of successful and less-successful companies. The point is to highlight what distinguishes the winners from the also-rans. Here, he revisits the corporate histories compiled for those studies and looks for the seeds of destruction in the periods preceding serious performance stumbles, in both the exemplars and the comparison companies.

Unfortunately, with only eleven pairs of companies under the microscope, Collins is unable to make a case against any common culprits. He's left quoting Tolstoy's famous line that "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

He settles for describing the typical path to ignominy in five phases ...

Hubris born of success

Undisciplined pursuit of more
Denial of risk and peril
Grasping for salvation
Capitulation to irrelevance or death

.. and cataloging ugly behaviors that can show up in each phase. That framework sounds about right -- in fact it sounds like Proverbs 16:18 (Pride goeth before destruction...) -- but it's hard to see how it derives from matched pairs analysis.

For these and other reasons, expect Collins' detractors to have something of a field day with How the Mighty Fall. At the same time, expect that legions of managers will snap it up from airport book stands with Harry Potter-like zeal. Just this week, Steve Ballmer told the New York Times that his single favorite business book is Built to Last. And "Level 5 Leadership," adapted from Good to Great, is one of HBR's most popular articles of all time.

My advice? Read the book, but skip over its half-hearted claims of rigor and go straight to the sage advice.

Jim Collins can't prove--any more than anyone else--that it's a bad idea to "make panicky, desperate moves" or "destroy momentum with chronic restructuring," or "search for a leader-as-savior, with a bias for selecting a visionary from the outside who'll ride in and galvanize the company" (all behaviors that exemplify Stage 4 of a company's downfall.)

But that doesn't mean he's wrong.


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