Great By Choice

I’m reading Great by Choice by Jim Collins. I’m not finished with it yet, but it is such a game changer and paradigm shifter I need to post about it.

Collins’ uses a phrase 10Xers. These are those companies or leaders that outperformed their comparable competition during tumultuous periods 10 times. They essentially analyzed why some companies, when faced with identical circumstances, thrived and others did not, despite the periods of uncertainty and chaos they both encountered.

Essentially, he boils it down to three things. These leaders or companies possessed:

1. Fanatic Discipline: Leaders of 10x companies are “utterly relentless, monomaniacal even, unbending in their focus on their quests.” They don’t let external pressures knock them off course. They are disciplined in both the good and the bad times, and never allow themselves to lose a disciplined consistency with performance, long-term goals and otherwise.

2. Empirical Creativity: “Social psychology research indicates that at times of uncertainty, most people look to other people—authority figures, peers, group norms—for their primary cues about how to proceed.”

“10Xers, in contrast, do not look to conventional wisdom to set their course during times of uncertainty, nor do they primarily look to what other people do, or to what pundits and experts say they should do. They look primarily to empirical evidence.”
In other words, leaders of 10x companies don’t just do what everyone else does because that’s what they do. They do what the actual evidence is showing them.

3. Productive Paranoia: Even in calm, successful times, leaders always consider that things could go bad at any moment. It’s not that they live in fear to just be afraid. They live in fear and turn that into production. They create buffers and margin.

This is such gold, and this is only the first few chapters (I’ve read almost 3/4). But here’s how this has applied to my life in the last week and even the last few years.

I honestly don’t want to be someone who toots my own horn, but I’ve generally possessed a fanatic discipline when it comes to learning and growth. I used to consume books upon books, even when I didn’t have a job to apply it toward.

On the other hand, I have not always been fanatically disciplined in regards to school, exercise, and my job. Occasionally, I let myself slip into periods of lethargy. This point by Collins reminded me it’s more about consistently moving the ball down the field, rather than throwing up hail mary passes once a week.

In terms of empirical creativity, there are times when we really think we should do ___ (X) because EVERYONE says that’s the way it should be done. I think my friend Evan has always had a influence in this regard in my life, but I’ve always rejected the reason: “That’s just the way it’s always been done.”

For instance, at my previous youth ministry position, the church had ALWAYS gone to a Leadership conference in Chicago. It was the “big thing.” But they never got a large turnout (because it was so expensive and it was too far). It was a high effort, low return experience. I came in and questioned it and essentially said: Why do we do this when there is very little evidence it is valuable? After basically getting crucified for suggesting it, we did eventually get some people to start looking at the data and empirical evidence, not simply “tradition.”

This will be another post soon, but recently, I decided to post-pone (or maybe forgo forever) my seminary pursuits. Why? The empirical evidence was just not there for me. Sure, lots of people believe that graduate school or seminary has a tremendous return, but is there evidence in MY life that proves to be the case? The short answer, for this time in life, is no. I could no longer justify the value of seminary (Just to be clear: I’m NOT saying this is true of everyone; just true for me as of this time in my life).

Finally, I am starting to consider a more “productive paranoia” approach to youth ministry leadership. How can we prepare ourselves for a time when less kids show up then we expected? How can we manage our budget in a way that allows for an increase in students “down the road?” How do we prepare as if our entire youth ministry department was going to crash and all that was left was Jesus?

In conclusion, this is a game changing book. It’s rare I come across a book that has so much golden insight that I know I’m going to read it again and again and again.