Book Review: Built to Last by Jim Collins & Jerry I. Porras

If you are involved in building and managing an organization, the single most important point to take away from this book is the critical importance of creating tangible mechanisms aligned to preserve the core and stimulate progress. This is the essence of clock building. ~ P. 89

A pastor friend highly recommended I read ‘Built to Last.’ I would echo that sentiment. The quotation above really encapsulates the book. To put it in other words, the book is more concerned about who you are as apposed to what you do. The visionary companies described in their book were more about who they were- their core ideology- then the products produced. Their great products were a result of their core ideology in action.

Building the core
The purpose and values of an organization is what is most essential and non-changing. It is the preservation of this core ideology that drives leadership development, products, adaptations, consistency and culture of visionary companies. These companies have transitioned through multiple CEO’s, economies, products, and culture shifts. Core ideology is the center of visionary companies, not profit nor product. The company itself is the greatest achievement. Preserving the core allows freedom to and opportunity to explore what the company can do.

The greatest shock in reading the book was the un-central role vision played. Many of the leaders were not charismatic visionary leaders, though some were. In reading through the book everything went back to who the company was at its core. Growth of these companies normally occurred in one of two ways, BHAG’s or trying a lot things and keeping what sticks. The paperback version, which I read, had a chapter about vision, but this chapter still pointed back to the core ideology. Surprising fact from this book: can you build a dynamic organization without a vision? Yes. Without a core ideology? No. The book does not negate vision, but vision is certainly not the driving force, as the book almost arguing against it being the driving force.

Ministry value
The greatest ministry value from this book is to focus more on who you are and want to be rather than what you do. Values are discovered, rather than imposed, and a culture is developed rather then chosen. Attention should be given to the theology of what a church should be more than its actions. What a ministry does will have a greater impact if it is from its ideological center. As with any book, discernment should be used. The church is an organism not an organization.

A big key to the success of these companies was the preservation of its core ideology, particularly through multiple CEO’s. This is an element many churches struggle with. I have heard of too many stories of ministries declining after a successful tenure of a key leader. The draws attention to a much broader discussion.

The book
The book read ok and the stories were excellent. It did feel very choppy to me. The book is a report on a study and it felt like a report on a study. Things they pointed out were very well done, but the book could have been considerably shorter and communicated the same thing. While a worthwhile read, it was not the most enjoyable to read.

Bottom lines
Focus on living out and preserving the ideological core of the organization you’re in.
Focus on developing the culture and leadership of the organization you’re in.

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