Good to Great: The Playlist

* The following playlist contains some explicit content.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t is a management book by Jim C. Collins that describes how companies transition from being good companies to great companies, and how most companies fail to make the transition. The book was published on October 16, 2001. Collins defines “greatness” as financial performance several multiples better than the market average over a sustained period. Using tough benchmarks, Collins and his research team identify a set of elite companies that made the leap to great results and sustained those results for at least fifteen years. After the leap, the good-to-great companies generated cumulative stock returns that beat the general stock market by an average of seven times in fifteen years, better than twice the results delivered by a composite index of the world’s greatest companies, including Coca-Cola, Intel, General Electric, and Merck. Collins finds the main reason certain companies become great is they narrowly focus the company’s resources on their field of key competence. But what were the main factors that Collins identified that contributed to the exponential growth seen in these good-to-great companies? To explain Good to Great, I have curated a musically diverse, informative playlist to identify each factor of the flywheel, and hopefully enlighten the reader with multiple insights into this revolutionary book.

Level 5 Leadership:
“High Hopes” – Panic! At the Disco
The first chapter in Good to Great provides readers with the first, most essential step to building a great company: a level 5 leader. In this chapter, Collins begins the process of identifying and further explicating the unique factors and variables that differentiate good companies from great ones. One of the most significant differences is the quality and nature of leadership in the firm. Great companies possess a level 5 leader, someone who is much more than simply a competent and efficient manager (Both level 3 and level 4 leaders respectively). “Level 5 leaders embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will. They are ambitious, to be sure, but ambitious first and foremost for the company, not themselves.” (Collins, 39). High Hopes, by Panic! At the Disco is an alternative/pop song, that inspires and encourages the listener to great extents. The song is a brilliant representation of the mindset of a level 5 leader. The lyrics “Had to have high, high hopes for a living”, “Didn’t have a dime but I always had a vision”, and “Mama said… Be something greater, Go make a legacy, Manifest destiny” are beautiful representations of level 5 leaders. Level 5 leaders are humble, yet visionary. They build establishments bigger than just themselves, and forge legacies.

First Who, Then What:
“LOYALTY. (FEAT. RIHANNA.)” – Kendrick Lamar
The next factor that Collins identifies as part of the Good to Great process is the nature of the leadership team. Specifically, Collins advances the concept that the process of securing high-quality, high-talent individuals with Level 5 leadership abilities must be undertaken before an overarching strategy can be developed. This process of “bringing the right people onto the bus” can result in a reduction of corporate failure or lethargy. Obtaining determined, hard-working, and skilled workers would allow for any company to truly flourish. “The key point is that “who” questions come before “what” decisions – before vision, before strategy, before organization structure, before tactics. First who, then what – as a rigorous discipline, consistently applied.” (Collins, 63) This excerpt not only allows for us to truly understand what Collins was beginning to explain, but also justified my song choice. LOYALTY. by Kendrick Lamar, featuring Rihanna is a hip hop/rap song that went mainstream in April, 2017. It is widely considered a work of lyrical genius, as the song delves into the true meaning of loyalty in today’s modern society. I believe that the song ties extremely well into the First Who, Then What concept, specifically due to lyrics such as “My resume is real enough for two millenniums”, “I meditate and moderate all of my wins again”, and “Ain’t no love like the one I know”. These lyrics display the qualities of “the right person” in terms of a Good to Great company: Someone who is well-qualified, dedicated, and passionate about his or her work. The line, “I need loyalty, loyalty, loyalty” provides another perspective regarding this second chapter: The perspective of a company when searching for employees. They require loyalty and utmost dedication to one’s job, to truly begin to forge a great company.

Confront The Brutal Facts:
“Viva La Vida” – Coldplay
Another key element of some companies’ unique ability to make the transition from Good to Great is the willingness to identify and assess defining facts in the company and in the larger business environment. In today’s market, trends in consumer preferences are constantly changing, and the inability to keep apace with these changes often results in company failure. While this chapter may seem much more insignificant than others, the importance is still undeniably clear. A company’s ability to adapt determines their success throughout the course of time, and is a key factor in the Good to Great Flywheel. “All good-to-great companies began the process of finding a path to greatness by confronting the brutal facts of their current reality.” (Collins, 88) The song I selected to further explain this key step in the good to great process is Viva La Vida, by Coldplay, a pop song widely regarded as a modern classic. Viva La Vida is undoubtedly a song reflecting on the years passed. It provides the reader with the perspective of a company that still lives in the past; a company for which time is irrelevant. The excerpt “I used to rule the world, seas would rise when I gave the word, now in the morning, I sleep alone, sweep the streets I used to own” is clear and concise, and resonates the danger of not confronting the brutal facts. It displays the fact that if one cannot adapt to its environment, it will slowly falter to a point for which it is nothing more than a name, if not something less. This fact is even better explained with the lyrics, “One minute I held the key, next walls were closed on me, and I discovered that my castles stand, upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand.”

Hedgehog Concept:
“Too Much (feat. Sampha)” – Drake
The fifth and plausibly the most important chapter in the book discusses the importance of simplicity when building a great business. Great businesses Collins observed typically tended to understand the hedgehog concept, the concept of being the best in one, single activity rather than being decent in multiple. Great companies understood the three circles of the hedgehog concept, thus allowing their business to maximize profits. “The key is to understand what your organization can be the best in the world at, and equally important what it cannot be the best at – not what it “wants” to be the best at.” (Collins, 118) Too Much is a hip-hop/rap by Drake featuring Sampha, released October 2013. The song connects to this chapter quite directly, in the sense that the chorus, which essentially repeats the lyric, “Don’t think about it too much, too much, too much” is sound advice to any good company wishing to advance into being great. The key is too not overthink or over-invest, and to simply stay within the three circles of the hedgehog concept, to ensure maximum profitability.

Culture Of Discipline:
“Wizard Of Oz” – Logic
A defining characteristic Collins identifies in the good to great process is maintaining a culture of discipline within the company, not to be confused with a strict authoritarian environment. Collins describes a culture of discipline to be an unrelenting sense of determination present in all employees of any establishment. A culture of discipline allows for efficiency, and sustained growth throughout a company’s good to great process. “Sustained great results depend on building a culture full of self-disciplined action, fanatically consistent with the three circles.” (Collins, 142) Wizard Of Oz is a hip hop/rap song by my personal favorite artist, Logic. Lyrics such as “I’ve been runnin’ my city like I’m the Wizard of Oz”, “I don’t do this for nothing but the family and the squad”, and “Money ain’t everything tell me what’s that money to a god?” are brilliant sole representations of the concepts of this chapter. These lyrics show that a culture of discipline possesses people who are smart, highly capably individuals who aim for collective excellency. These people work not simply for the money, but because they are passionate about their job.

Technology Accelerator:
“Still Got Time (feat. PARTYNEXTDOOR) – Zayn
Another seemingly irrelevant chapter of the book with undeniable importance is regarding technology. Collins states that companies should embrace technology, but with caution and patience, like they would do to any other new development in the business world. Collins states that “Good-to-great companies avoid technology fads and bandwagons, yet they become pioneers in the application of carefully selected technologies.” (Collins, 162) The song, Still Got Time by Zayn featuring PARTYNEXTDOOR is pop song on the importance of patience, which fits perfectly with the theme of the chapter. The line, “Just stop looking for love, girl you know you still got time” is short and concise, and brilliantly displays the importance of time, patience, and consideration when embracing change. The lyric, “This could be something if you let it be something” reminds the listener/reader that while one should be cautious about technology, one should not shy away from the benefits of technology.

Great Company:
“Started From The Bottom” – Drake
As for the final chapters, I simply included these songs to truly diversify the playlist. After completing all of the steps and factors mentioned above, the “good” companies truly became great. The song simply pays homage to the great effort put in by these good-to-great companies, and lyrics such as “Started from the bottom now we here”, from the song Started From The Bottom by Drake, are a unique, arguably more interesting method of explaining this step in the process.

Built To Last:
“Legacy” – Logic
The final chapter of the book is utilized by Collins to introduce his second book: Built to Last which discusses the necessary elements for a great company to survive. The title of another Logic song, Legacy, displays the final step of the flywheel: Building a legacy.

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