The DNA of Enduring Greatness Lies in the "AND"

Audio Transcript

Preserve the core and stimulate progress. If I were to take one idea from all our work to date, the one that I still feel is the deepest, richest, and most important in the long run, it’s this one. It’s the idea that the real DNA of enduring greatness is the AND of preserving and adhering to and building around a set of core values and a purpose that goes beyond making money that is the ideological foundation, the guiding philosophy, the values fabric. And that this remains intact while everything else is open for change. You’re stimulating progress. So, we have our core values and we stimulate progress with BHAGs. We have our purpose—why are we here? What would the world lose if we cease to exist, if we do it right? But the basic strategies might actually change.  

Think about Boeing, because its core values remained intact, but it made a complete change from military to commercial aircraft, consistent with the three circles. That’s preserve the core and stimulate progress. The idea of Disney starting out in cartoons, and then full-length feature animation, Mickey Mouse Club, theme parks, cruise ships—stimulating progress but the core values still being there as a fabric to hold it together. 

As we stand back and look at it, the key is to always be able to keep clear in our mind that we need to have really powerful mechanisms to bring things to life, but those mechanisms have to be open for change. That how we do things, our practices, have to be open for change while the values remain—the practices have to be open for change while the values remain fixed.  

I’ll just give you one example of that from my own world, the world of academia. Core value: freedom of inquiry. Mechanism: academic tenure.  The idea behind academic tenure was you can’t get fired for what you think. But what has happened? Tenure is now you can’t get fired whether you are thinking or not. The mechanism has, in fact, grown to be contrary to the core values in the social sciences. If you don’t agree with my paradigm, I will not vote for your tenure. 

However, if you go in and you try to remove tenure, the faculty will be up in arms. They will say, “Well, we have to protect tenure because tenure is a core value.” And they are confusing the practice—the mechanism—with the value itself, which is freedom of inquiry.

As you evolve as a company, I want you to have all sorts of powerful mechanisms but understand that those have to be flexible so that the core can remain fixed. 

One final societal example of that. If you go back and you look at the founding of the United States—and I’m unabashedly American. If you look back at the founding of the United States, the genius of those guys is—we talk in Built to Last about clock builders versus time tellers. They were the ultimate clock builders. But you know what their ultimate genius was? They invented the first written constitutional version of government that had embedded a mechanism of change. The whole amendment mechanism was an explicit recognition that the Constitution exists to preserve the core values, but it must have an internal mechanism for being able to change itself. And that recognition of the need for preserve the core and stimulate progress is its genius.
Copyright © 2017 Jim Collins, All rights reserved.