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on July 27, 1997
"Built to Last" is one of those rare non-fiction books you just can't put down. Unequivocally the best "business" book I have ever read, "Built to Last" by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras is a compelling, thorough, well-written, unprecedented look at what it takes to "create and achieve long-lasting greatness as a visionary corporation." Unlike many current "trendy" management and "business success" books out on the market, Collins and Porras differentiate "Built to Last" by using their own six-year comprehensive, well-documented research study as the basis for further analysis.

What separates "Built to Last" is that each visionary company (3M, HP, Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart...) is contrasted with a comparison company founded in the same time, in the same industry, with similar founding products and markets (Norton, TI, Colgate, Ames...). Perhaps what I found most intriguing were some of the twelve "shattered myths" they go on to counter throughout the book:

1. It takes a great idea to start a great company

2. Visionary companies require great and charismatic visionary leaders

3. Visionary companies share a common subset of "correct" core values

4. Highly successful companies make their best moves by brilliant and complex strategic planning

5. The most successful companies focus primarily on beating the competition

As a current business student with a summer internship in a "visionary company," I was amazed as their careful analysis rang true. This is one book I can highly recommend to any student, professional, or business educator looking for those not-so-subtle traits that characterize a truly visionary company.
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on September 12, 2002
In a compelling and thoughtful way, "Built to Last" shows how companies achieve long-term success through adherence to core values and commitment to innovation. What a refreshing antidote to the more common trend of selling out for short-term gains! The companies profiled here are truly to be admired.
However, the book left me with two bones to pick. The first is the example of IBM as a "visionary" company. As history tells, Big Blue was dragged kicking and screaming into the PC age. Its calcified structure blinded it to the demise of the mainframe and the microcomputing revolution, and indeed it utterly ceded the PC's operating system to Microsoft -- a strategic blunder of epic scale. Though the "PC-compatible" platform that IBM developed eventually became industry standard, IBM profited little from it. Had IBM been truly a visionary firm, it would have seen the PC revolution coming and dominated it, keeping at bay upstarts like Microsoft, Apple, Dell and others who caught Big Blue sleeping.
The second oversight involves the near-complete omission of the DuPont Company. Here is a company -- one of the oldest in America, now entering its third century -- that has reinvented itself time and again, stayed on the bleeding edge, and has always been committed to its employees. If any company in the world is "built to last," DuPont is it.
NOTE: I have neither a grudge against IBM nor have any interest in DuPont. This is just the way I see it.
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on June 6, 2002
As I dutifully plow through the currently popular business books - and I read only the ones that I need rather than for pleasure - I occasionally find a good and (fairly) interesting one. This is one of those books I would recommend. Instead of overflowing with ridiculously florid rhetoric about recycled banalities and excitement that is simply not justified, this book is based on solid research and is not afraid to offer un-spectacular advice.
It is about what the authors call "visionary companies," which stand for something beyond just making money and yet are profitable. They do well, and they do good. There is no doubt that such companies exist, which I admit in spite of my boredom and cynicism regarding most of the businessmen and "business intellectuals" that I deal with as a writer.
Set up like an academic study, the book is a synthesis of the authors' findings while taking a long historical view of consistently excellent (i.e. "visionary") companies like H-P, Merck, and P&G.
Not surprisingly, these companies do similar things: 1) they have visions and value that they try to uphold consistently throughout the company and to which they stay true over decades; 2) the set incredibly ambitious (and in retrospect realistic) goals that inspire their employees ("big hairy ambitious goals"); 3) they are cult-like in their beliefs in themselves; 4) they allow for trial and error, which lead to "evolutionary progress"; 5) they hire leadership from within; 6) they cultivate keeping their employees a bit off-balance ("uncomfortable") as a way of getting them to perform at their best; 7) they make sure that all elements work in concert and are internally consistent and self-reinforcing ("alignment").
That is it for the ideas, which are far more nuanced than the above paragraph. They could be summarized in one chapter, and the rest of the book is repetition and analysis by example. The examples are interesting and informative and the ideas, which have all been said before, are good to review in a systematic way. Very good.
These are good and useful ideas, if somewhat banal. But then, doing business is rather dull for the most part - there are very few exciting companies out there, but most of them are like horribly dysfunctional families. This is the authors' bid to explain the good few.
The tone of the book is rather modest, but the authors do get a bit too wordy and chummy in many instances. While I liked the modesty, I got bored with the chumminess.
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on September 25, 1998
Habits are in, habits sell, at least in titles, but I would have preferred the authors to be more original. I guess they didn't figure they could get away with "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Companies."
Aside from the title, I had to wonder if they spent more time trying to squeeze the companies they covered into their preconceived list of habits than they did actually examining those companies. Those familiar with any of the companies might have trouble recognizing them here. Reality seldom fits into such simplistic molds.
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on March 28, 2000
I came across this "built to last" book as a compulsory reading of my MBA class and I think there is a fundamental fault in the "built to last" argument which if not resolved, it is meaningless to talk about how to build such companies: Why bother? Why shouldn't an economy of "come and go" or "build to flip" be more efficient than one of "built to last"? Why shouldn't productivity and innovation be much easily fostered in an economy of "come and go"?
A lot of the "B t L" companies are there since the rise of the industrial economy in which large groups of people worked together in the form of division of labour to achieve efficiency. Internally, a corporation cultivates a set of collective behaviors pattern that forms the identity of the corporation and allows individual members working together to achieve synergy. Externally, customers identify the brandname of the corporation than with the product most of the time.
In the modern network economy, it has become much easier for individuals or smaller groups to identify their counter-parts to work with. Outsourcing, supply-chain management, B2B, virtual corporations are new way for groups of people to work together without much corporate identities. To customers, brand marketing is also loosing ground as power shifts from the vendor to the customers.
Isn't it make more sense to think of great corporations as small groups engage in a Darwinistic competition rather than a large conglomerate in which incompetence and inefficiency are protected by layers of bureaucracy and politics? What if in a world of "C & G", everyone has to focus more on upgrade of transferrable skills rather than climbing up the corporate ladder? Why shouldn't the world economy be better off if there are more "C & G" than "B t L" companies?
I dont have the answers and I think those would vary according to time, information technology advancement,national environment and industries. However, without answering them, how can anyone be sure that "B t L" is a meaningful pursuit.
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on December 31, 1999
I found the one chapter in the book on Cults and Culture to be compelling, but overall this was an unbelievably boring and repetitive work, with little or no substantive research on the control groups used to compare visionary and non-visionary companies. I think I got their point of clock building, not time telling the first time they used the metaphor. I found myself getting extremely frustrated with the repetitive reference to simple observations through out their study: Preserve the core, stimulate progress, blah, blah, blah...
A MUCH better book on which type of companies will succeed in the new age of the service based economy is The Profit Zone. It takes many of the same companies mentioned in Built to Last and does much better job of describing why some succeed and some fail. The chapter on GE is especially illuminating. The Profit Zone is a methodology based book; Built to Last is more of an excercise in aphorisms with the exception of one remarkable chapter on organizational cultures (chapter six, Cult-Like Cultures). I guess having one original observation is a BHAG for just about any business book.
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on November 20, 2000
"Built to Last" is very similar to the book of Peters and Waterman in terms of content and composition with a little difference, that is methodologically this book is stronger because the theory is worked to be proved by investigating two companies in selected sectors, one of which is very successful and the other is less successful or completely a failure.
You can find important considerations concerning leadership and its mission and function for an organization. The vitality of organizational values, innovation and running risk, challenging goals, organization culture, vision etc., are stressed by the authors. This book is one of the books which propose time and culture free universal principles. You may be pleased by rhetoric, but you must be alert.
Overall, I recommend this book to readers who have not yet read "In Search of Excellence".
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on January 24, 1999
This book states a premise at the beginning of each chapter and then overdoses the reader with multitudes of examples. These get too be quite long and are very selective in how they praise companies. The authors don't take any position on the morality of how companies got into their group. For example, Phillip Morris makes their list as a great visionary company. If this is the case, the Columbian drug dealers should have made the list as well. Also, Wal-Mart makes the list. How they treat their suppliers is absolutely deplorable and their effect on the communities they put their stores in is catastrophic. Nice club to belong to. Overall the book is sort of disjointed and too long. Does have some good points, however and should be skimmed (skipping the plethora of examples) and some of its core ideas should be used in running companies.
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on October 14, 1998
There is some good work in this audio book, although, to quote a friend, it's about 20 minutes of good information that they somehow crammed onto two hours of tape. The various points are belabored well past any argument for helpful review.
But the real shame is that the narration is SO terrible. These guys may be researchers, but they can't read out loud. The narration is bad to the extent that it simply hurts the book. Business audio, unfortunately, is such that you normally need to listen through more than once, and it's just too terrible to contemplate in this case. Why Harper Audio did not insist on a trained voice to read this tape suggests that, as a company, perhaps THEY aren't built to last.
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on December 4, 2001
I found this book to be a disturbing reminder of why I cannot work in corporate business. Being "bombarded" with someone else's "vision" for a company goals, in a culture that "weeds out" those people who don't buy in, is not my idea of a quality way of life. The mentality represented here is one that I have witnessed. I tried to tell myself that I was just being negative, but apparently not.
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