Get on the Gorilla Bus: A Good to Great Book Review



I just couldn’t bring myself to come up with a more energetic response than that. Wednesday had arrived with all the energy of a three legged turtle hopped up on warm milk. The clocked ticked over to 8:00 am and I opened up my calendar to see what the schedule had in store for the day. “Oh, look. Just like last Wednesday. And the Wednesday before that, and the one before that, and that.” In a sudden burst of morbid curiosity I jumped my calendar forward three months and  looked at Wednesday. “And we have the exact same day.”


I sat back in my seat and stared fitfully at the ceiling. I had long ago come to the realization that this job was slowly eating out my soul from the inside. Still, here I sat preparing for yet another day. “Meh, it’s a living.” I said and reached for my mouse, intent on slogging through today’s predictable pile of overnight email.


Mee… Mee… Mee…


“Whaton earth?” I stepped to the door of my office to find out what was going on.


I was greeted by the silvered back of Hogarth as he slowly back stepped down the hall. The god awful racket was coming from him, right in time with his long arms waving in a throng of confused looking businessmen. His poor imitation of a bus backing up was replaced by a gruff series of commands. “All right, Mr. CIO you’re going to be down the left hall all the way to end. Don’t worry, we’ll replace the half eaten fichus tomorrow. Director of IT Database infrastructure, head left, third door on the right. VP of Human Exploratory Resource Operations, head to the right, take the first left, the second right and down two flights. Director of Project Improvement Management  Process, you’re right here at the end of the hall. Peter, John and Michael second star to the right and straight on till morning.”


“Hogarth, what are you doing this time?”


My gorilla pooka turned around and gave me one of his screaming white smiles. “Hey there, so are you packed yet?”


“Packed? What are you talking about?” I looked at the curious businessman trying to step past me into my office. “And why is this guy scoping out my office?”


Hogarth waved towards the exit, “The bus is here, time to get on it.”


I shook my head, “I think you’re getting that backwards. In Collins’ bus analogy, the bus  is the company. You bring the right people on the bus and get the wrong people off the bus.”


Hogarth nodded, “That’s right. But where do you think the people being tossed off the bus go?”


“Another bus?” Realization dawned in my muddled brain. “Hey, wait a minute!”





I was first exposed to Good to Great some years back. At that time I thought it was anything but great. I didn’t read the book then, but my experience with it so colored my perceptions that for a while there, Collins was in my lexicon of four letter words. A VP had been brought in to lead my organization. He hit the ground running and held up GTG as his guide book for how he was going to improve the organization.  One of those “improvements” led to my being laid off with a large number of my fellow co-workers. Needless to say, my opinion of the book was pretty low and I hadn’t even read it.


Years later and with the perspective of time I approached this book again and set out to read it. Doing so helped to codify my position on management and my own personal direction. I came to see my previous brush with Good to Great as being one of the best things that ever happened to me.


You see, I got thrown off the bus.


At the time, I thought this was the worst thing in the world. I thought the VP didn’t have a clue and he was just making his own little crony club.  It took reading GTG to finally realize that he did have a clue, and it really didn’t matter what happened in that job or what that VP did. I had been on the wrong bus!


I’m getting ahead of myself. Well more I’m pontificating and not reviewing.



Why do some companies make the leap to being one of those companies we dream about being at and why do some companies become “Acme, oh I remember them, they used to be big in widgets?” That’s what Jim Collins and his research staff set out to determine.  Collins had already delved into the mechanics of how visionary companies lasts, in his book Built to Last, now it was time to see where those visionaries came from.


Collins walks through a six step analysis of GTG companies, building on each previous step as he goes. You can’t get from A to F without starting at A.


Level 5 Leadership: This scale does not go to 6. Collins explains the levels of leadership and why you need a level 5 leader to go great.


First who… Then What: Probably the most profound section for me. This one will speak to agilists as it is about building the right team, then building the company.


Confront the Brutal Facts: I’m the gorilla talker, I’m all about talking to the obvious and dealing with it. GTG companies have to do this to succeed.  Collins explains it all.


Hedgehog Concept:  Hedge what? Seriously you have to read the book, you have to understand why you do what it is you do best.


A Culture of Discipline: Can you say accountability? I knew you could.


Technology Acceleration: No, this is not how Twitter will change the world. This is more about the basic mindset of technology in the work place.


And he ties all that up into his Flywheel of doom.. No wait, the Flywheel and the Doom Loop.


The book is laid out in a conversational style, with Collins walking you through each chapter and each thought process. One could almost envision him standing in front of the class and giving one of those professor lectures we all actually liked to listen to. You know, the ones that got to a point and you could follow?


The books is only 210 pages long, with another fifty pages of explanatory appendix and a bibliography that would choke the world hot dog eating champion.


The Good:

Data, data, data- This book is not based on theory and hokum. It’s based on hard research by Collins and a dedicated (perhaps crazy) twenty person research team. They piled through mountains of financial data, company reports, news clippings and conducted many interviews in the quest to create this book. When Collins declares a hypothesis, it is one based on mountains of research.


Sit on down for a chat- As mentioned in the summary, the book has a comfortable conversation style. Like Collins just sat down and talked about the book with the tape recorder on (I know, I’m dating myself) and then that was transcribed to text. It made the book very approachable and welcoming to read.


The right bus- I don’t know if Collins ever intended the book to serve this purpose but I recommend this book to people who I can see are floundering in their personal careers or are stuck in dead-end jobs. CEOs read this book to find out how to make their companies great. Normal people read this book to realize that the bus analogy goes both ways. In a nutshell, one of the six components of a GTG company is “First who… then what.” He uses an analogy of getting the people you need on the bus and getting the people you don’t need, off the bus. Build a great team and the company will be great.


Now first of all I’d like to point over at my passion of agile management and how agile focuses on the team, not the project. Then I want to point out that the bus goes both ways. When I was kicked off the bus, I went on to discover that I’d been on the wrong bus. I got the kick in the pants that led to meeting Hogarth and waking up to smell reality. This book isn’t just a good company guidebook, it’s a good personal guidebook. You can learn how to look at a company and decide if you should really keep clocking in or if it is time to find your real career.


The Bad:

Time is no friend to companies- When two of the companies featured are Circuit City and Fannie Mae, it can be hard to keep reading. Published in 2001, the book is a definite look back in time. Bank of America could do no wrong in the nineties. Today, we have 99%ers pitching tents in its lobby. While the facts used can’t be argued with, I had to wonder at the connection between Great companies and companies that last. Is it sustainable to be Great or not? Perhaps the answer lies in Built to Last, which I’ve yet to read.


Drowning in data- There were times when I felt I was being bludgeoned by the data. I’d already understood the concept and I was still getting hit with the justifications. If you see yourself as already progressive, you might be able to stop after  the first chapter, or at least only read the first few pages of each chapter. The data will get to you as you say to yourself “I’m sold already, where the hell do I sign?”


The Bookshelf Index:

One of the ways I measure a books value is where I put it when I’m done with it, the book shelf index. GTG gets the best shelf space, sitting on my desk at work next to the Peter Drucker. Laid out with strong headers and valuable data makes it still a go to reference book in my day to day work.


In the end I found this book useful for reasons Collins may not have envisioned for the book. Yes, companies can use this as a guidebook for going in the great direction. And the individual worker can use it to determine if they are in the right company for them. As much a personal development guidebook as it is a company development road map.


Joel Bancroft-Connors

The Gorilla Talker Project Manager

Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email

You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP


Who is Hogarth? Read Blog 001 to find out all about my personal gorilla.


One thought on “Get on the Gorilla Bus: A Good to Great Book Review

  1. Pingback: It’s Your Gorilla, So Change the World! | The Gorilla Coach

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