How the mighty fall…and the mediocre fail to rise 

Whilst Jim Collins is well known for his classic books Good to Great and Built to Last, I enjoyed his book How the Mighty Fall as much as these others. I suppose that I am very aware that whilst many of us might work for companies that are nearly good and aspire to be great, if the truth be told, most of us will work for organisations that oscillate around stubborn mediocrity.

Reading the key stages of demise described in How the Mighty Fall, I was surprised by how familiar they sound:

Stage 1: Hubris born of success;

Stage 2: Undisciplined pursuit of more;

Stage 3: Denial of risk and peril;

Stage 4: Grasping for salvation;

Stage 5: Capitulation of irrelevance and death.

It feels to me that there is a fine line between the behaviour when rising and that when falling. For example the confidence required to drive a recovery programme or a push to greatness could so easily be hubris born of success; or persistent challenge to the status quo and the change blockers in an organisation could so easily be denial of risk and peril; or the strategy developed to break completely new ground based on a step change in innovation could so easily be grasping for salvation.

The truth may be that in each case only hindsight will decide which outcome will result.

When it comes to recovery or transformational change, the 3 lessons I took from How the Mighty Fall were:

  1. By all means listen to your leadership instincts but underpin analysis and decision making with hard facts.
  2. Listen to the naysayers – they might just be right. Even if it is the blockers speaking, it never pays to push the challenge underground.
  3. Build the change in incremental stages. This allows iterative testing and learning and will result in more commitment and success.

If my confidence, that of my team or the organisation’s leader cannot stand up to scrutiny particularly from the hard facts and open debate, will it have the robustness to stand up to the hard knocks of transformation?

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