Book Review: Built to Last

Built to Last is the follow up publication of Good to Great. Whereas the latter asked the question, “How do you turn good results into great results?” the former (and topic of this post) is about turning those great results into an enduring company. Personally, I found Built to Last the better of the two.

The book starts with an introduction and foundation. The authors are extremely scientific in their process (and as such, the book does not make for the quickest read) and gives the reader a full summation on their analytical methods. They then proceed to give one of the best over-arching insights to great companies that I have ever read before – a proverbial northern star for the rest of the book – the explanation between different mind sets: clock building and time telling.

Clock Building and Time Telling

Let’s say someone had an extreme gift; they could look to the heavens and conclude the time, day, month and year. This would be a significant skill – but only while the individual was present. Remove the individual, and you remove the value. However, if that person were to take their knowledge, they could build a clock – so that generations to come would always have the ability to appreciate the time. That is the difference: some people are time tellers, and some people are clock builders. The later tends to produce great companies, while the former organizations flame out after the exit of certain individuals.

The book then goes into major characteristics that each company in the study (or the majority of) display, these include:

  • No “Tyranny of the OR” (the don’t see options as always mutually exclusive)
  • More than Profits
  • Preserve the Core/Stimulate Progress
  • Big Hairy Audacious Goals
  • Cult-Like Cultures
  • Try a Lot of Stuff and Keep What Works
  • Home-Grown Management
  • Good Enough Never Is
  • Building the Vision

Each chapter contains examples, anecdotes and situations that help get the authors point across. In each chapter the reader also receives the gold standard example of what certain companies are already doing in those particular areas (such as P&G’s culture document).

The over arching conclusion is this: the company itself is the ultimate creation. Not a particular product or service; realizing that is the beginning of building a lasting enterprise. A personal favourite snippet from the book:

If you equate the success of your company with the success of a specific idea – as many businesspeople do – they 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 – an move toward becoming an enduring great institution. 

I think that paragraph in itself gives evidence to the books worth. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has either entrepreneurial or managerial ambitions. Additionally, I would suggest that you read this book before reading any corporate biographies or studies – you will get much more out of it (as I did). Learn how you can help build a company that will last beyond your time.

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