A well written, thoroughly researched, and actionable book on how to build great companies. A must read for any founder, CEO, or manager.
Some fun quotes:
Visionary companies distinguish their timeless core values and enduring purpose (which should never change) from their operating practices and business strategies (which should be changing constantly in response to a changing world).
Gone forever—at least in our eyes—is the debilitating perspective that the trajectory of a company depends on whether it is led by people ordained with rare and mysterious qualities that cannot be learned by others.
Having a great idea or being a charismatic visionary leader is “time telling”; building a company that can prosper far beyond the presence of any single leader and through multiple product life cycles is “clock building.
The builders of visionary companies tend to be clock builders, not time tellers. They concentrate primarily on building an organization—building a ticking clock—rather than on hitting a market just right with a visionary product idea and riding the growth curve of an attractive product life cycle. And instead of concentrating on acquiring the individual personality traits of visionary leadership, they take an architectural approach and concentrate on building the organizational traits of visionary companies. The primary output of their efforts is not the tangible implementation of a great idea, the expression of a charismatic personality, the gratification of their ego, or the accumulation of personal wealth. Their greatest creation is the company itself and what it stands for.
Thus, early in our project, we had to reject the great idea or brilliant strategy explanation of corporate success and consider a new view. We had to put on a different lens and look at the world backward. We had to shift from seeing the company as a vehicle for the products to seeing the products as a vehicle for the company.
If you equate the success of your company with success of a specific idea—as many businesspeople do—then you’re more likely to give up on the company if that idea fails; and if that idea happens to succeed, you’re more likely to have an emotional love affair with that idea and stick with it too long, when the company should be moving vigorously on to other things. But if you see the ultimate creation as the company, not the execution of a specific idea or capitalizing on a timely market opportunity, then you can persist beyond any specific idea—good or bad—and move toward becoming an enduring great institution.
We suggest that the continual stream of great products and services from highly visionary companies stems from them being outstanding or organizations, not the other way around.
Profitability is a necessary condition for existence and a means to more important ends, but it is not the end in itself for many of the visionary companies. Profit is like oxygen, food, water, and blood for the body; they are not the point of life, but without them, there is no life.
In examining the history of the visionary companies, we were struck by how often they made some of their best moves not by detailed strategic planning, but rather by experimentation, trial and error, opportunism, and—quite literally—accident. What looks in hindsight like a brilliant strategy was often the residual result of opportunistic experimentation and "purposeful accidents."
It might be far more satisfactory to look at well-adapted visionary companies not primarily as the result of brilliant foresight and strategic planning, but largely as consequences of a basic process—namely, try a lot of experiments, seize opportunities, keep those that work well (consistent with the core ideology), and fix or discard those that don’t.
Maximize shareholder wealth” is the standard “off-the-shelf” purpose for those organizations that have not yet identified their true core purpose. It is a substitute ideology, and a weak substitute at that.
When a Boeing engineer talks about launching an exciting and revolutionary 777 aircraft she doesn’t say, “I put my heart and soul into this project because it would add 37 cents to our earnings per share.”
If you woke up tomorrow morning with enough money in the bank that you would never need to work again, how could we frame the purpose of this organization such that you would want to continue working anyway? What deeper sense of purpose would motivate you to continue to dedicate your precious creative energies to this company’s efforts?
It’s not what you believe that sets you apart so much as that you believe in something, that you believe in it deeply, that you preserve it over time, and that you bring it to life with consistent alignment.
You cannot “install” new core values or purpose into people. Core values and purpose are not something people “buy in” to. People must already have a predisposition to holding them.