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Jim Collins's Recipe for Greatness in Tough Times

November 07, 2009

Bighorn_head_butting Management consultant Jim Collins is best known as the author of Good to Great and Built to Last (co-authored with Jerry Porras).

In his latest book, How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In (click here for an excerpt), Collins explores what he calls the five stages of institutional decline: hubris born of success; the undisciplined pursuit of more; the denial of risk and peril; grasping for salvation; and capitulation to irrelevance or death.

The wild 60 percent snapback in the Dow notwithstanding, a lot of nonprofits find themselves sliding out of stage three and into stage four as they head into the critical year-end fundraising season. That's the bad news.

The good news is that it's not over till it's over. Indeed, says Collins, the signature of the truly great organization vs. the merely successful one

is not the absence of difficulty. It's the ability to come back from setbacks, even cataclysmic catastrophes, stronger than before. Great nations can decline and recover. Great companies can fall and recover. Great social institutions can fall and recover. And great individuals can fall and recover. As long as you never get entirely knocked out of the game, there remains hope....

The key to not just surviving but thriving, to being great not just good, says Collins, is to identify and hitch your organization's star to

those exasperatingly persistent individuals who are constitutionally incapable of capitulation. It's one thing to suffer a staggering defeat -- as will likely happen to every enduring business and social enterprise at some point in its history -- and entirely another to give up on the values and aspirations that make the protracted struggle worthwhile. Failure is not so much a physical state as a state of mind; success is falling down -- and getting up one more time -- without end....

There will be a lot of failure in the social sector over the next couple of years. The organizations most likely to emerge stronger after the dust settles are those with leaders, of whatever age, willing to run through walls to deliver on their organization's mission.

Are you one of them?

-- Mitch Nauffts

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Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."

    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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