A CEO recently said to me: “Leading my company these days feels like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube, blindfolded while on a roller coaster.” He was talking about the disorienting pace of change, the inability to predict what will happen next, and the complexity of the landscape in which our organizations operate. I sent him a copy of Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen. After reading it he told me it changed the way he leads.

The premise of Great by Choice is that the future will remain unpredictable and unstable for the rest of our lives. Working with a 20-person research team, the book’s authors investigated the question: What factors distinguish great organizations, those that prevail against extreme odds in complex and uncertain environments? Through their research, they debunk five pervasive “myths” about leading organizations in an unpredictable world. Including:

* Successful leaders in a turbulent world are bold, risk-seeking visionaries.
* Innovation distinguishes those companies that succeed in a fast-moving, uncertain and chaotic world.
* A threat-filled world favors the speedy.
* Radical change on the outside requires radical change on the inside.
* Great enterprises have a lot better luck than other enterprises.

If these time-honored business slogans are untrue, what are we supposed to believe? If they aren’t true how, then, should we lead? Thankfully, Great by Choice provides an alternative to successfully navigate organizational complexity.

Here are three of my favorite ideas from the book.

Fire bullets, then cannonballs. Organizations don’t need to be more innovative to succeed in uncertain and complex environments. In fact, the research shows that the most successful companies in the study were less innovative! A bullet is a low-cost, low-risk, low-distraction test to determine what works. Once you have a bullet that consistently hits the target, then fire a cannonball.

Learn the discipline of “the 20-mile march.” Develop a concrete, realistic, and disciplined mechanism for making progress each and every day – one that ensures you are making steady forward movement in difficult conditions but not pressing too hard when conditions are good.

Lead above the death line. Research shows the value of “productive paranoia” – not fixating on what can go wrong but systematically minimizing the risk of unforeseen, uncontrollable scenarios by building cash reserves and buffers.

Great by Choice follows in the tradition of Collins’ previous books providing a data-driven, contrarian perspective with practical takeaways for growing and sustaining a great business in a rapidly changing world. Making Great by Choice “required” reading among Collins collection of books.

What myths about leading organizations in an unpredictable world have you bought into?

Photo Credit: Hayley Robinson