Forget “Good to Great”. It’s time to go from “Great to Good”

Amidst the fallout and discussion arising from my Commscrum post, my friend Indy Neogy dropped me a line and pointed me in the direction of Umair Haque’s fantastic HBR blog.

Especially given that I’ve got to be up early for meetings in London tomorrow (erm, today now actually) I’ve just spent far more time than I should have done browsing through some of his recent posts, but it’s seriously good stuff.

These two posts, in particular, are absolute corkers, updating Jim Collins’ biz book classic, Good to Great, and putting forward the hypothesis that the real opportunities for business in 21st century lie in going from Great to Good:

The Great to Good Manifesto

The New Economics of Business (Or the Case for Going from Great to Good)

As Umair explains:

Going from great to good is the single most disruptive move a country, company, or person can make today…

Call it the First Law of 21st Century Economics: today’s great challenge isn’t making the same old toxic junk, whether CDOs, Hummers, or soda, more efficiently — it’s making stuff that’s not toxic junk in the first place. That’s the challenge of going from great to good — and becoming a ‘Constructive Capitalist’.

As Pepsi, Microsoft, GM, Wall Street, and, well, America itself are discovering: merely being great isn’t good enough anymore. Good is better than great. Many are great. But very, very few are good.

Couldn’t agree more!

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7 thoughts on “Forget “Good to Great”. It’s time to go from “Great to Good”

  1. commscrum

    “Great to Good” is a good, perhaps even great catch phrase. But I tend to bristle a bit when organisations adopt moral postures–definitions of “good” and “virtuous” are by no means universal, and common denominators in this arena are often quite low.

    The problem I see is that “great to good” may easily degenerate into “great to right”.

    Organizations and movements that think highly of their own senses of moral superiority can often become closed and cult-like in their mentalities, alienating more free-thinking participants and losing the ability to assess the strategic landscape with any kind of open perspective.

    Take an organization that generally sees itself as virtuous, and paint it green, and you have the potential to raise the moral superiority factor exponentially–as to oppose the organization is to support the destruction of the earth and all the children therein…

    Let me posit another catchphrase: moralism may well be the mortal enemy of sustainability…

    Something to chew on–and perhaps recycle–over the weekend.

    Mike

    (PS: I just finished the book–some great stuff in it, but I found the tone a bit tough to take)

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    1. Dan Gray Post author

      A great and provocative comment as always, Mike, and definitely worth chewing on.

      If I can push back a little, I think you’re oversimplifying things by equating “good” with nothing more than moral rectitude.

      If you’ve read the book, then you know that that’s precisely the opposite of the business case I’m putting forward – justifying action on sustainability less on the basis of moral imperatives (which I absolutely agree are not absolute) and more on the basis of hard business logic and the value to be derived from pursuing more sustainable strategies.

      That said, I think your point about the risk of becoming closed off and cult-like is a great one. It’s a common enough risk as it is, let alone when the subject of sustainability is on the table – one that has a strong tendency to inspire almost evangelical zeal.

      There again, though, I’d go back to one of the book’s central points about sustainability as an increasingly important avenue of disruptive innovation. If you look at how companies that excel in product leadership and innovation actually structure themselves – teams constantly forming, dissolving, re-forming in line with new discoveries and the next challenge – then maybe that’s not so great a risk as it might first appear.

      Ultimately, it depends on the underlying logic and motivation for pursuing sustainability. If all it is is some hair-shirted sense of moral rectitude then, absolutely, those risks are very real. If, however, a business is able to keep the hard-nosed business logic front-of-mind – to see sustainability as a means to innovate, deliver better performance and achieve more radical differentiation – then I think we’re in a different ballpark.

      In many ways, it’s a classic “Opposable Mind”-type situation – being able to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable ideas of being “good” and being profitable. The businesses that cease to think in terms of trade-offs and, instead, manage to unite them into a coherent whole – a better way to bigger profits – will be best placed to succeed. That’s the essence of Umair’s hypothesis, as I see it, and one that I wholeheartedly share.

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  2. commscrum

    I don’t dispute the value of sustainability as a driver of innovation.

    Indeed, its presence as an issue is likely to drive innovative approaches to workforce communication (so that employees can speak to and advocate whatever sustainability approach their organisation is adopting credibly), so for that I am grateful.

    But I still question your focus on a holistic approach as being best in all cases. In some cases, a holistic approach will be the best–either because it causes organizations to optimize certain decisions, or because it positions the organization more favorably with a certain set of customers.

    Nevertheless, I still see opportunity for organizations who think more tactically, but operate with opportunism and agility. Given that the “50 year solution” is not ultimately going to be built on today’s technology and assumptions, an approach that is ongoingly tactical and agile may well be better than an approach that tries to navigate a round world on the basis of a flat map.

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    1. Dan Gray Post author

      Agreed, the long-term solution won’t be founded on today’s technology and assumptions, but that’s the point. Look at the Interface story and you see how the adoption of sustainability as a fundamental design value has been the driving force behind the discovery and development of new technologies and services that have ultimately led to its predominant market position and provided the grounds for much more radical and lasting differentiation from its competitors.

      I don’t doubt that more tactical, opportunistic approaches will continue to dominate the thinking of most companies – and that this constitutes perhaps a more immediate opportunity for comms professionals.

      But the big question that remains is this: how does that add value to the business, beyond preservation of the status quo?

      How does it differentiate you from everyone else who’s doing pretty much the same thing?

      How does it demonstrate an authentic commitment when your focus, goals and objectives are constantly shifting, depending on which way the wind is blowing?

      Of course there are short-term demands that need to be met but, to deliver real value to the business (and society at large), they need to be balanced with long-term objectives.

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  3. commscrum

    Good questions, as always.

    My point in raising these challenges here reflects three perspectives:

    * a focus on long term sustainability could be beneficial to some organisations

    * the value of this focus for an organisation is both a function of the approach itself AND on the objectives of the organisation as defined by the organisation

    * an organisation’s successful positioning on sustainability relative to competitors and opponents is not necessarily contingent on the adoption of a sustainability-centric strategy along the lines you describe, particularly in the near term

    In other words–long-term-sustainability-centricity is not “the answer”–and may be as inappropriate for some organisations as it could be beneficial for others.

    As an example, I found the use of the “Good to Great” statistic, where a dollar invested in 1926 would have earned six times as much when invested in “good to great companies” relative to the market as the definitive proof of your argument to be quite interesting.

    What was missing was the picture from 1930-1935, 1970-1974, or a term of investment that more closely resembles the real world attention span of many if not most investors.

    If you don’t mind me suggesting an evolution of your work, let me offer two suggestions:

    1) Focus on diagnosing how rapid adoption of sustainability-centricity can provide competitive advantage to specific companies in the long AND short terms

    2) Identify both a strategy and actionable, tangible steps a given company can take to make the transformation as quickly and as painlessly as possible.

    Like I said, I like what you are trying to do–but I find your tone more absolute than either your proof warrants (Interface is a nice story but not a definitive model) or than corporates are willing to swallow at first glance.

    A competitive world is a relative world–even in view of perceived absolutes around climate and resources.

    All the best,

    Mike Klein–The Intersection
    http://intersectionblog.wordpress.com

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  4. Dan Gray Post author

    In the immortal words of John Lennon, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” 🙂

    That said, your suggestions are excellent and definitely worth thinking about. Thanks, Mike.

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