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  • Writer's pictureBryan Jun

Good to Great by Jim Collins

I try to shy away from generic business books in an attempt to appear more intellectual than I am, much of which is driven by a bad reputation associated with the study of business as a whole. While I take pride in my Accounting and Business Administration Degree (thanks W&L for making one major sound like two), it is hard to argue against people (especially of the STEM breed...) when they say much of what we paid quarter of a million dollars for was useless. Although the networking abilities and a network in itself that I've obtained from being a part of the business school during undergrad is priceless, it's difficult to say I retained much of what I've learned, if I learned anything at all.

Now that I've admitted to my insecurities expressed through reading overly philosophical books or reads that go deep into the human psyche, I'll come out and say that Good to Great by Jim Collins might be my favorite book I read in 2021 (I think I might've said this for every book I've read so far, but I really mean it this time!) This is largely in part because of the low expectations I had starting the read, as it was laced with the generic "business framework" reputation. Books of this genre often say very similar things just with different proper nouns associated to them, in an effort for the author or the inventor of the framework to make their way into college business courses or ultimately the Harvard Business School case study pamphlets. I don't think anyone needs a book or class to tell you that strong businesses are built by smart and driven people and a thorough analysis of strengths and weaknesses are essential to keep growing.

However, I think as we dismiss such thoughts as simple and "obvious," we have a tendency to disregard them completely. While I completely concede that much of what these generic business books profess aren't groundbreaking findings, the "study of business" and frameworks to evaluate why certain organizations succeed and others don't exist for a reason. Our current obsession with individualism and "there's no one way to success," myself included, has blurred the lines between the idea that there's many routes to becoming a successful organization and the reality that all these successes act within existing frameworks exhibited in different ways at the surface level. The same way that statistical biases could be analyzed by The Undoing Project and Thinking Fast and Slow in different ways (but falling within the same framework) and national successes and failures can be reflected on by varying reasons through Guns, Germs and Steel and Why Nations Fail, we can't overlook business analysis, which many times draw on more data points and countless anecdotes than its other genre peers.

Aside from subscribing to the "business is a legit major" mentality (or perhaps I'm over-compensating for my lack of hardscore skills like developing algorithms or creating good door hinges), my two biggest takeaways from Good to Great are that we shouldn't blindly work for an organization without constantly analyzing whether or not our employer is headed the right direction to be a Great company and more importantly, the Hedgehog Concept.

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

The Hedgehog Concept, like many other business frameworks made with shapes and corny words, is the idea that we should all be Hedgehogs rather than Foxes (I'd say the easiest to understand comparison would be being a tortoise instead of the hare). Foxes are cunning and often looking for the easy way out, and taking a step further we could deem it to be too fast in its approach to success and looking for easy wins. Being a Hedgehog relies on answering the following three questions and aligning them together to figure out what you (or your organization) should focus on:

  1. What are you deeply passionate about?

  2. What can you be the best in the world at?

  3. What drives your economic engine?

In other words, if you can find something that you like that you're good at that makes money, that should be the answer to all your problems and what enables you to be great. Easy!

As many of you know, I'm in the school of thought that "your job doesn't (and probably won't be) have to be fulfilling and not something you're passionate about." This book has really challenged that mentality and made me wonder - what if something does exist out there that satisfies all three conditions and I'm just not looking hard enough? What if I can sustain a job that gives me the basic needs, but the hours that I waste watching Youtube could be invested in finding this one thing, especially during my 20's? Will I look back at my deathbed and wish I've done that instead?

Reality is, for every Hedgehog, there's a million Foxes. My concern (or excitement, depending on how you look at it) is that this ratio is this way because so many Hedgehogs simply don't try and live their whole life thinking they're better off as Foxes, when in reality the anxieties, difficulties and lack of fully taking advantage of one's potential outweighs the effort that would've went into finding their true Hedgehog self. And in the most pretentious way possible, with the financial "bedrock" that I've gained in the past two years, my youth, network and resources (which I'm ever growingly more grateful of) at my disposal, isn't it worth at least one shot to find the thing that is in the middle of that venn diagram?

I'm probably clouded by how this book was written and statistically speaking, will most likely live a generic human being life. But who knows, maybe I won't be working in front of Google Sheets in five years and hosting my own late night show (yes that's what I've been dreaming of recently).

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