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Great by Choice

Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All

By Jim Collins & Morten T. Hansen
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  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Great by Choice by Jim Collins & Morten T. Hansen

The world is an uncertain place, constantly changing and often chaotic. While many companies are unable to survive in this chaos, some companies are not only able to survive in these shifting conditions but even thrive in them. Great by Choice analyses why these companies succeed while most others fail. 

Great By Choice is the result of exhaustive, in-depth research into the business environment. It argues that success is not the result of a company being more innovative, bold or open to taking risks, nor is it a result of mere luck or chance. Success in fact comes from a mixture of discipline, evidence-based innovation and a fear of failure that borders on paranoia. It is this recipe, rather than luck, which enables certain companies to become great.

Key idea 1 of 9

In unpredictable business environments, companies that are well prepared prevail.

In 1911, two teams set off on a race to become the first explorers to reach the South Pole. One team, lead by Roald Amundsen got there first, planted the Norwegian flag, and returned safely. Robert Falcon Scott’s team arrived at the pole 34 days later. Losing the race was devastating, but things got even worse on the journey back. They never made it home; every member of the team froze to death.

So why did these two teams have such different fates?

Preparation was one major difference. Amundsen was obsessive in preparing for the trek and spent years beforehand scouring the globe for useful knowledge; for example, he learned the art of polar survival from Eskimos and tried every potential food source, even dolphin. On their trek, his team carried extra supplies as insurance against delays and carefully marked their supply depots with black flags which stood out against the white landscape. Amundsen hadn’t known exactly what the Antarctic would throw at them, but he had made sure his team was as prepared as they could be. In short, he left very little to chance.

Scott’s team, however, carried only a fraction of the provisions compared to Amundsen’s team; leaving them at risk of starvation should unexpected delays occur. Whereas Amundsen relied on proven Eskimo technology like dog sleds, Scott used untested technologies like motor sledges, which failed in the extreme conditions. This lack of preparation, both in acquiring knowledge and in carrying sufficient supplies, led to delays, failure and eventually death. 

Just as Amundsen and Scott faced uncertain conditions in the Antarctic, companies too face turbulent and ever-changing environments. Don’t let conditions determine your success; prepare to survive and thrive in any environment. The way to succeed is to follow Amundsen’s example: be prepared for any eventuality.

In unpredictable business environments, companies that are well prepared prevail.

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