How Do You Create a Visionary Company?

In the summer before my final semester of University, we had a Business Students Society retreat one Saturday.  I’ll never forget the presentation we heard over lunch.  The guest speaker, at the time was a finance prof from the faculty, Mr. Lorne Schnell.  The message was based a lot on the book Built to Last (1997) by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras.  It was about building a foundation, digging deep down to the core of why you’re doing what you’re doing (why were we on the business students society, and what did we want to create).  Start with a foundation, set BHAGS and ensure you get the right people on the bus (from Collins next book, Good to Great).

After that presentation, it led us to the create of our motto for the year, inspire.  It turned out to be a changing and very rewarding year on the BSS.

Sadly I didn’t read Built to Last until this year, after I read Jim Collins’ second and third installments in his business strategy book line, Good To Great (2001) and Great By Choice (2011).  Built To Last does not disappoint, like all of Collins’ books, it’s jammed packed with myth busting research on how to actually build a visionary company.

Core Ideology, Vision, Core Values.  This is what drives a company.  Companies that are on a mission, who are in business for more than just making money.  Business that have a purpose thrive.

One master strategy almost never works.  Successful companies had more of the “try a bunch of stuff until something works” mentality.  Understand your market, know what you can and can’t get away with and experiment, but only if you’re willing to act upon the result, no matter what happens.

“Those who built the visionary companies wisely understood that it is better to understand who you are than where you are going – for where you are going will almost certainly change.”

Sounds strikingly similar to Simon Sinek’s Start With Why idea in the book by with the same title.  I like how he assumes where a company is going will change eventually (like a Pivot?).  If you assume you must change to stay relevant in your industry, you can prepare much easier.

“We found that the concepts in Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species to be more helpful for replicating the success of certain visionary companies than any textbook on corporate strategic planning.”

The “evolution of business” as we’ll call it.  Adapting to your surroundings, embracing change for the greater good.  To stay ahead in your industry you must continue to evolve your competitive advantage.  It’s never massive shifts in practice or ideology, it’s small adaptations as technology propels industries into the next generation of business.

“In short, we found a negative correlation between early entrepreneurial success and becoming a highly visionary company.  The long race goes to the tortoise, not the hare.”

Focusing on determining your “why” isn’t easy and but it makes sense that the visionary companies start off slow, they know exactly what they want to create even when there may not be a market for it just yet.

“Never, never, never give up.  But what to persist with?  Their answer: The company.  Be prepared to kill, revise, or evolve an idea (GE moved away from its original DC system and embraced the AC system), but never give up on the company.”

I love the never give up.  That must be your attitude.  Kill, revise or evolve any idea but ensure the company stays intact.  you can see change is beginning to become redundant by now.  Must mean something….

“The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

“Putting profits after people and products was magical at Ford.  -Don Peterson, Former CEO, Ford, 1994”

“Our research indicates that the authenticity of the ideology and the extent to which a company attains consistent alignment with the ideology counts more than the content of the ideology.”

It doesn’t matter what your company believes in as long your actions are consistently inline with your beliefs.

“Core ideology = Core Values + Purpose = The organization’s essential and enduring tenets-a small set of general guiding principles; not to be confused with specific cultural or operating practices; not to be compromised for financial gain or short-term expediency.  Purpose = The organization’s fundamental reasons for existence beyond just making money-a perpetual guiding star on the horizon; not to be confused with specific goals or business strategies.”

This is the core strategy that every visionary company (in some form) has.

“”Failure is our most important product,” R. W. Johnson Jr.(co-founder of Johnson & Johnson), understood that companies must accept failed experiments as part of evolutionary progress.”

You can’t have success without failure.  The sure fire way to not succeed is to not fail whatsoever.

Phrases that guided 3Mers throughout history.

“Listen to anyone with an original idea, no matter how absurd it might sound at first.”  “Encourage; don’t nitpick.  Let people run with an idea.”  “Hire good people and leave them alone.”  “If you put fences around people, you get sheep.  Give people the room they need.”  “Encourage experimental doodling.”  “Give it a try-and quick!”

“Indeed, the discipline of self-improvement stands out as one of the most clear differences between the visionary and comparison companies.”

Ahh, here’s a very important piece of knowledge learned in Built To Last. The discipline of self-improvement was a clearly the most differentiating characteristic out of everything that was measured.  One could reason that one of the most important attributes companies should focus on is that of a mantra/philosophy/belief in consistent self-improvement over time.  If it’s the most defining attribute between the two sets of companies you want to ensure you’re on the side of the visionaries if you know what I mean.

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