Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lurching to obscurity: The value of holding steady

I just finished reading Good to Great by Jim Collins. The book came out in 2001, but didn’t interest me at the time. In a conversation with a pastor friend, he referenced the book, and the context of that reference tipped me into choosing to finally read it. I’m glad I did.

Among many other insights, one that truly resonated with me is how failed companies (or endeavors) are plagued with a lack of “steady as she goes.” Collins states, “After years of lurching back and forth, [the not great or failed companies] failed to build sustained momentum…” This constantly changing direction is labeled “the doom loop.” The examples of this were all too familiar, such as situations where new leaders are put into place, and in order to put their imprimatur on the business, they toss out everything started by their predecessor and set off in new directions.

Can’t you just see the entire organization hitting the wall! Ouch.

Constantly shifting direction, changing priorities, starting and stopping and restarting not only damages, de-motivates, and demoralizes the people involved, but it also wastes money and time. It hurts the companies, organizations, or projects on many levels. But too often, these costs are never counted.
While there are times when making a radical shift is the right choice, it should never be done on a whim. There must be compelling reasons to make the change. If not, then hold steady.

I think there’s a spiritual application here as well. The year before Collins’ book came out, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson was released. The title says it all. As Christians, “we don’t want to be tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” While we do need to regularly assess ourselves and make a clean break with anything sinful that lingers in our lives, for the most part, we must hold steady to the Rock.

Just for fun, here are some keywords from Good to Great that help paint the picture of successful endeavors: interlocking pieces, integrated, patterns, simple, coherent, methodical, momentum, deep understanding, consistent, disciplined action, sustaining, cumulative, iterative, diligent, quiet, deliberate, process.

Oh, and what was the context of the comment by my pastor friend that intrigued me? It was related to a key personality quality shared by leaders of great companies. But more on that later.

How important is it to hold steady in business or in life? What do you think the character trait is that I hinted at in the last paragraph? If you've read either of the books, share your thoughts on them in the comments section.

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