Great by Choice: Quotes From the Authors

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Great by Choice" by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Looking for Great by Choice quotes? What are some of the most noteworthy passages that highlight the author’s key ideas about running a business in times of crisis? 

In Great by Choice, authors Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen shed light on how some companies can weather great adversity better than others. The following Great by Choice quotes highlight some of the key ideas discussed in the book.

Here are some quotes and passages from Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All.

Great by Choice: Quotes to Think About

In business, as in life, the only thing certain is uncertainty. How, then, can companies survive—even thrive—when the future is unpredictable? In Great by Choice, authors Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen attempt to answer this very question.

Using nine years of research and offering plenty of real-world examples, the authors debunk long-held myths when it comes to highly successful companies and present the tools that these enterprises use to help them weather tumultuous times. The book’s overarching message: Luck doesn’t determine your fate—you do. And you can make the choice to become something great, whatever the circumstance.

Below are some quotes that discuss some of the key findings of this research.

“Innovation without discipline leads to disaster.”

Here, the authors are referring to their so-called “bullets before cannonballs” approach to innovation. To fire bullets before cannonballs means to test the ideas before executing on them.

This is how 10X companies approach innovation. They first fire off “bullets,” testing and experimenting to see what they hit. Once they’d gathered convincing data, they bring out the big guns. They concentrate all their firepower into “cannonballs” that are calibrated for success, aiming in the direction that bullets have shown to have the greatest potential. 

“If you want to achieve consistent performance, you need both parts of a 20 Mile March: a lower bound and an upper bound, a hurdle that you jump over and a ceiling that you will not rise above, the ambition to achieve and the self-control to hold back.  ”

To 20 Mile March means to hit specified targets year after year with a long-term view in mind. A good 20 Mile March has these five characteristics:

1. It specifies both lower and upper bounds. 10X companies did everything they could to meet targets year after year—no excuses—and these targets had both a minimum and a maximum. The minimum target, or the lower bound, was realistic enough so that a company could achieve it even during hard times, albeit with tremendous effort. The maximum, or the upper bound, was the farthest a company allowed itself to go, even when conditions were favorable. 

Having upper bounds requires immense self-control. You have to hold back even when you can push a little harder, even when competitors are growing faster, even when Wall Street is putting on the pressure. This keeps you from overextending yourself or becoming too weak to face unexpected challenges. It’s just like Amundsen sticking to his 15-to-20-mile range.

2. It’s consistent. Research shows that 10X companies didn’t meet their target 100 percent of the time. But on the rare occasion when they did miss the mark, they immediately did what needed to be done to get back on course.

3. It’s customized to the enterprise. The 20 Mile March isn’t one-size-fits-all. While a 20 percent lower bound for net income may make sense for a company like Stryker, it might not apply to your company. Don’t rely on outside factors to dictate your metrics and instead come up with performance markers that make sense for your organization. They might even be non-financial—for a church, it could be congregation size; for a school, it might be student performance.

4. It’s achievable through your own actions, not reliant on outside factors. 10Xers don’t sit around waiting for conditions to change in their favor. They know that there are many things they can’t control, like government regulations, technological advancements, and global competition, so they take action by controlling what they can control

5. It falls within a reasonable time frame. A too-short 20 Mile March exposes you to greater risk, while a too-long one won’t make enough of an impact.

“The idea that leading in a “fast world” always requires “fast decisions” and “fast action”—and that we should embrace an overall ethos of “Fast! Fast! Fast!”—is a good way to get killed. 10X leaders figure out when to go fast, and when not to.”

It is a common misconception that successful leaders are bold, visionary risk-takers. In reality, 10X leaders tend to hedge their risks and instead of focusing on speed, 10X leaders focus more on timing. They don’t respond to threats right away; they respond to threats the right way. They constantly ask, “What if?” and mitigate nightmare scenarios by:

1. Setting up buffers—10X cases had huge cash reserves to see them through the inevitable disruptive event.

2. Limiting and managing risk—they took fewer risks than the comparison companies. When it came to time-based risks, they didn’t panic and instead assessed the situation and made decisive moves based on the time they had.

3. Taking a macro and micro view of the landscape—they didn’t just pay attention to the work at hand but also kept an eye on their surroundings for oncoming threats. They addressed perceived threats accordingly.

  • Example: In 1979, Intel faced a growing threat. Motorola was racking up design win after design win and, if they continued on this path, would become the industry standard, rendering Intel obsolete. Intel quickly formed a special team to analyze what Motorola was doing right and what Intel was doing wrong, then came up with a comprehensive plan called Operation CRUSH. Within the week, they started executing the plan. Intel then racked up 2,000 design wins in a year, crushing the Motorola threat.
Great by Choice: Quotes From the Authors

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Here's what you'll find in our full Great by Choice summary:

  • How you can make the choice to be great, no luck needed
  • Why certain assumptions about great leaders are actually myths
  • How some companies are 10X more successful than their competitors

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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