This is the first installment in a series that I have chosen to call LOF, short for “Learning on Friday.” LOF is a place for random things that I learn and that I think are worth sharing. As always I think if it helps one, it has the potential to help another. This is a weekly feature, so tune in every Friday. Enjoy the first installment!
I have been reading a book by Jim C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras called Built to Last. The premise of the book is to look into what makes a select few companies stand the test of time; the subtitle for the book is “Successful Habits of Visionary Companies”. These companies are called visionary companies as they are some of the captains of industry whose products influenced our lives in one way or another. Some of these companies are:
- Procter & Gamble: Soaps
- Merck: Pharmaceuticals
- Boeing: Aerospace
- Sony: Does anyone remember the Walkman?
- HP: Computers!
I’m still hovering around the first three chapters of the book. The primary reason for this hovering is that Chapter 2 presents a mind-boggling premise. The basic premise is that in most cases the visionary companies were not built on an idea/product or on the back of a “charismatic leader.” Visionary companies were built around an underlying purpose that was determined upon the inception of these organizations. The authors call it “clock building” versus “time telling.” Hewlett and Packard didn’t know what HP was going to be about, they just knew that they wanted to be in business together; Sam Walton of Walmart just wanted to be in retail and not so much revolutionize retail logistics; and Masaru Ibuka of Sony had the first brainstorming session with employees “after starting the company” and like the founders of HP, he sold any product that would pay the bills in the early years.
The authors clearly point out that this is totally contradictory to conventional wisdom and what is taught in business schools. This is true as my first entrepreneurship class was built around finding and accessing the viability of ideas.
I sat with this new information for a while and it started to make sense. The part of the business that stands the test of time isn’t so much the ideas that a business is founded on, but the foundation from which the ideas are launched. When you think about it, if you started a business today to exploit the growing trend of blogging for instance and for that reason alone, what happens to your business when something comes along and renders blogging obsolete? Don’t think it can’t happen, look at what email did to the post.
What did I do with this information? Well I re-read the chapter over and over again, and I thought about the reason I want to go into business for myself in the first place. Freedom. The freedom to choose the customers that I want to serve and the product that I want to offer them; the freedom to change my offering with customer needs without having to deal with bureaucracy; the freedom to explore new ideas/new methods; the freedom to be able to work where I want to (geographically); and of course the freedom to define my work around my life and not the other way around. After reading it several times, I took some of the actionable lessons from that chapter, shared them with my partner, and brainstormed on the type of organization that we want to build.
I haven’t finished the entire book, but I felt compelled to share this new nugget of knowledge. The authors encourage would be entrepreneurs not to wait for the big idea or the stroke of genius that could be the master piece on which your company would be built. Do it the other way around: envision/build a company that you can be proud of, one that is founded with a purpose that can stand the hard times that can come with entrepreneurial endeavors. And when the big idea that will knock your socks off finally comes, you would be ready to execute from your solid foundation.
Have you read the book? If you have, please share some of your insights.
If you want to read more about the book, you can find it here.
One of the authors also has an article that is based on the book his website.