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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In by Jim Collins

The Book:



How the Mighty Fall : And Why Some Companies Never Give in
225 Pages |PDF |9.9MB |ISBN: 0977326411

About the Book:

How the Mighty Fall addresses two related questions: Why do good companies fail? and how does management respond once a company gets into trouble? Collins introduces a five stage model to answer these questions, where steps one and two address the roots of corporate failure and steps three through five managements' response.

Collins' analysis of management response to decline--denial of risk, grasping for salvation, and capitulation to irrelevance or death--accurately describe how leaders respond to deterioration in their business. This analysis here is solid, the writing clear, and the tempo brisk. Collins does a particularly good job of describing dysfunctional leadership behaviors of companies is in decline.

Collins' analysis of why companies get into trouble in the first place is much less compelling. Companies fail, according to Collins, when success breeds managerial hubris, which leads to overreach and ultimately failure. Like many of Collins' findings, this makes intuitive sense. Unfortunately in this case, his core argument runs counter to research on hundreds of companies, conducted over decades by dozens of scholars. There are two major flaws in Collins argument.

First, he claims that companies get into trouble because they overreach and expand beyond their core. This is consistent with data showing that diversified companies trade at a discount to focused rivals. Recent research published in the Journal of Financial Economics and the Journal of Finance has established that the companies often diversify to escape decline in their core business. Overreach is a symptom--not a cause--of decline and thus cannot explain its roots.

Second, Collins ignores a rich body of research that finds decline sets in not because companies stray from their core, but because they stick too close to it. Clay Christensen's research on disruptive technology, for example, demonstrates that companies stumble when they stay too close to their established customers and fail to serve emerging segments. The competency trap literature finds that companies get locked in by what they do well and struggle to adapt when circumstances change. Hubris and overreach, of course, play a role in corporate decline, but a well-established body of research suggests that they are rarely the root causes.

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