I read Built to Last with the knowledge that Jim Collins had worked with Jeff Bezos in Amazon's early days, and it's clear to me after reading this book that it had considerable impact.
The book summarizes some of the the raw data used in Collins' research as to why some companies form lasting, dominant, innovative, industry creating businesses, but colorfully illustrates them with clear anecdotes.
Oddly enough, much like his book Good to Great, I can't remember most of the anecdotes, but the core principles stood through. Companies that are built to last share the following traits:
- They have a core purpose (They start with "Why", in the words of Simon Sinek) and pervasive culture that supports the core purpose.
- They use mechanisms, like training, promotion from within, department goal setting policies, and other tactics to support the culture and core purpose.
- The stay true to their core purpose over short term gains or profit opportunities.
- They take succession planning and continuity very, very, seriously.
- They periodically take big, bold, game changing bets to stay relevant and dominant, while simultaneously using those goals to reinforce culture. (This is known as a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, or BHAG.)
Collins uses an analogy throughout the book to tie these points together. As an individual, you could focus on developing your skill at reading the sun, moon, and stars to tell time, or you could develop your skill at building clocks, and teaching others to build clocks. CEOs that build clocks, enforce clock building behavior, and teach others to build clocks build companies that are built last.
One thought before I close is that I have to point out that this book was written in 1994, and I suspect that some of the example companies chosen as exemplars of lasting dominance, might not make the cut today. These include HP and Motorola. I suspect that the author might point out that they lost their core "why", and probably lost it at some critical transition/succession point. 3M and Disney, on the other hand, are still crushing it.
Overall, I recommend for anyone going into leadership, and executive level leadership in particular.