As the work of a scholar, as opposed to practitioner, Jim Collins explores the concepts behind a company’s transition from good to great rather than the mechanics. In that we have a model for the transition of America from good to great as well.
Collins’ work is worth the read in its entirety, but to me two elements he presents stand far above the rest.
The first is what Collins calls the “Hedgehog Concept,” which he believes lies in the union of the answers to three basic questions:
- What are we deeply passionate about?
- What drives our economic engine?
- What can we be the best in the world at?
These are the most basic things that we must understand – and agree upon – before we can hope to move forward. Yet there seems to be no effort from any quarter to determine a consensus on any of them. Consequently we spread our resources too thinly trying to be too many things.
Globalization is forcing us to reevaluate the second and third questions. New forces are driving our economic engine so it follows that what we were once the best in the world at no longer matters. We need to reexamine our passion to discover a new direction.
One observing our society from a distance, however, would be hard pressed to see the passion we once had. Passion is uplifting and motivating but the anger and outrage that has taken its place is disheartening and enervating. We are wasting our resources arguing over things that can only hold us back. In the process we turn our vision rearward and cling to whatever is – or was – good. But “good is the enemy of great,” Collins says.
Standing in the way of greatness, I believe, is our failure to take the first and most vital step towards greatness: “confronting the brutal facts of [our] reality.” Before we can meaningfully advance to what will be we must first understand and accept that which is for what it is.
The petty issues that dominate debate today contribute nothing to that understanding. “You have to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything,” as the saying goes. We have been falling for anything lately, it seems to me.