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Book Review: How the Mighty Fall

April 6, 2011
Warning! Mediocrity Ahead

The most important thing is to “get wisdom” (Proverbs 4:7). From Jim Collins’ book, How the Mighty Fall, I learned that first and foremost a movement needs to attract and retain “self-managed and self-motivated people.” With such colleagues, “you don’t need to have a lot of senseless rules and mindless bureaucracy.”

Bless the Lord for all self-managed and self-motivated people. Here’s what Collins writes[1] about David Packard, one of the founders of Hewlett-Packard:

Packard’s Law states that no company can consistently grow revenues faster than its ability to get enough of the right people to implement that growth and still become a great company. Though we have discussed Packard’s Law in our previous work, as we looked through the lens of decline we gained a more profound understanding: if a great company consistently grows revenues faster than its ability to get enough of the right people to implement the growth, it will not simply stagnate; it will fall.

Any exceptional enterprise depends first and foremost upon having self-managed and self-motivated people—the #1 ingredient for a culture of discipline. While you might think that such a culture would be characterized by rules, rigidity and bureaucracy, I’m suggesting quite the opposite. If you have the right people, who accept responsibility, you don’t need to have a lot of senseless rules and mindless bureaucracy in the first place!

But a Stage 2 company can fall into a vicious spiral. You break Packard’s Law and begin to fill key seats with the wrong people; to compensate for the wrong people’s inadequacies, you institute bureaucratic procedures: this, in turn, drives away the right people (because they chafe under the bureaucracy or cannot tolerate working with less competent people or both); this then invites more bureaucracy to compensate for having more of the wrong people, which then drives away more of the right people; and a culture of bureaucratic mediocrity gradually replaces a culture of disciplined excellence.

When bureaucratic rules erode an ethic of freedom and responsibility within a framework of core values and demanding standards, you’ve become infected with the disease of mediocrity.


[1] pp. 55-56, How the Mighty Fall, copyright 2009

One Comment leave one →
  1. Shane permalink
    April 6, 2011 8:00 pm

    Wow, Bob, that pretty alarming, but it rings true. I’m passing it on to a friend who’s business is really growing right now. Thanks for posting this.

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