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From Good to Great: Applying Jim Collins’ Principles to Excel in Business and Life


In his seminal work “Good to Great”, author Jim Collins outlines the key factors that enable companies to make the leap from being merely good to truly great organizations. Through rigorous research, Collins and his team identified common traits shared by the top companies that outperformed the market by substantial margins.

In “From Good to Great”, author John Smith undertakes the ambitious task of extending the central ideas from Collins’ book beyond the world of business. He explores how the Good to Great principles can be adapted and applied broadly, providing a framework for individuals to excel in their careers and personal lives.

For any leader looking to propel their organisation or team to the next level and any individual seeking to maximise their potential, “From Good to Great” is an invaluable resource. In this comprehensive review, we will provide an overview of the key insights from the book and how they can catalyse growth in a variety of contexts.

About the Author: John Smith

John Smith is a renowned leadership coach and strategic advisor for Fortune 500 companies. He has also written extensively on personal development and authored the bestselling book “The Habits of Effective People”.

In “From Good to Great”, Smith distils his decades of expertise into a practical playbook for driving transformational change. Given his background, he is uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between Collins’ original corporate focus and the needs of individuals striving for self-improvement.

Book Overview

“From Good to Great” retains the core structure of Collins’ work, with each chapter dedicated to one of the key principles. While staying true to the original concepts, John Smith deftly adapts them with new examples and perspectives to widen their applicability.

The book examines companies that catalytic leaders have taken from mediocrity to wild success, identifying common traits like:

  • Hedgehog Concept: pursuing what you are deeply passionate about, what drives your economic engine, and what you can be the best at.
  • Level 5 Leadership: displaying humility, will, ferocious resolve, and unwavering ambition for the organisation above oneself
  • First Who, Then What—getting the right people onboard first and the right vision second.
  • Confronting Brutal Facts: Acknowledging and Addressing Difficult Truths to Build Momentum
  • Culture of Discipline: fostering an ethos of freedom within a framework
  • Technology Accelerators: view technology as an accelerator, not a driver of momentum.

Smith highlights how these principles translate to individuals looking to better themselves and reach their potential. For instance, rather than having a hedgehog concept for an organisation, individuals can have one for their careers and lives. The book offers similar adaptations tailored to the personal context of each principle.

Let us now examine each of the key concepts in greater detail:

Hedgehog Concept for Individuals

The hedgehog concept described by Collins refers to the overlap of three circles: what you are deeply passionate about, what you can be the best in the world at, and what drives your economic engine. Organisations that stay faithful to their hedgehog concept are able to achieve exponential success.

Smith suggests individuals apply the same approach to identifying this intersection to propel themselves forward. He advocates listing out your interests, abilities, skills, and potential income streams to discover work and activities where these overlaps exist.

For example, someone who is passionate about music is a gifted singer and can earn money through performances and lessons has found their hedgehog concept. Smith provides a step-by-step process to help readers determine their own individual hedgehog concept.

Level 5: Ambition, Not Leadership

Collins coined the term “Level 5 Leader” to describe leaders who display a powerful mix of humility and professional will. They take responsibility for failures but give credit for successes to others.

Smith believes individuals should strive for “Level 5 ambition” rather than leadership. This means focusing your formidable resolve inward on bettering yourself rather than outward on managing others. Level 5 ambition is about setting ambitious goals for self-improvement while retaining humility by attributing victories to the group’s efforts.

Some characteristics of Level 5 Ambition include leading by example, listening to critical feedback, constantly learning and growing, and empowering others. Smith provides concrete techniques to become more ambitious in your own life.

Assemble the right team.

The “First Who, Then What” principle states that great leaders first get the right team members onboard and then work on the best vision. Collins’ research showed top companies invested substantial effort in picking disciplined team players.

While individuals don’t necessarily have a team, Smith suggests we all have spheres of influence. He shares tactics for carefully choosing who you allow into your inner circle of friends, partners, and collaborators. You want responsible, passionate people who will push you to greater heights.

Equally important is shielding yourself from problematic relationships. Smith outlines common toxic personality traits and how to gracefully distance yourself while still showing compassion. Surrounding yourself with the right people accelerates growth.

Confronting your weaknesses

“Confront the Brutal Facts” is about facing harsh realities, even when they’re painful or discouraging. Coming to terms with difficulties leads to breakthroughs. Collins found the best leaders carry out autopsies without blame and use the Stockdale paradox of unwavering faith and brutal facts.

Smith believes we should conduct personal autopsies by listing out our weaknesses and fears. For instance, if you’re afraid of embarrassment from trying new things, By confronting weaknesses, you can deliberately work to overcome them.

Smith also emphasises the importance of inner confidence balanced with objective assessments. Have faith that with consistent effort you can conquer your shortcomings, but also stay grounded in brutal facts about the work required. He provides techniques to employ Stockdale paradoxes in your own life.

Focus and Freedom Through Discipline

In Collins’ companies, a culture of discipline was established by stripping away bureaucracy and instilling freedom within a framework. People were motivated and productive because they were in control within defined roles.

Similarly, Smith advocates living by strong personal values to lend a feeling of empowerment and inner freedom. For example, making health a priority provides a sense of control versus abstract goals like “losing weight”. Aligning actions with values builds the discipline muscle until it becomes automatic.

Interestingly, Smith also found the best performers establish simple routines like consistent exercise, sleep, and meal times. Simplicity enables a focus on achievement. He provides tips for identifying your core values and creating empowering routines.

Technology as an Accelerator

The final concept is that technology itself does not create transformation but instead accelerates the momentum of an organization. The best leaders view technology simply as one component of their hedgehog concept.

Individuals should have the same perspective, seeing technology like social media as a tool for connecting with others and driving ideas forward. But it should support your hedgehog concept rather than define it. Smith provides excellent examples of utilising technologies to further your personal and professional goals rather than distract from them.

Putting it All Together

While each principle on its own provides rich material for self-improvement, Smith underscores the power of applying them in concert. He provides a detailed roadmap on how to identify your core values and interests, build a team of influencers, leverage technologies, confront weaknesses, and summon intense discipline and resolve to achieve your dreams.

The comprehensive set of assessments, planning exercises, and practical advice makes this book an essential toolkit for anyone seeking to maximise their potential.


Two decades after its original publication, the insights from “Good to Great” remain as relevant as ever. While the examples draw from the corporate realm, the principles are broadly applicable.

John Smith has done a masterful job extending the concepts from Collins’ classic and making them accessible for individuals striving for self-improvement. He deftly adapts the key ideas around ambition, discipline, confronting brutal facts, and more with rich examples of how they can be applied in your personal and professional life.

“From Good to Great” deserves a place on the bookshelves of executives and entrepreneurs looking to take their organisations to the next level. But it is equally relevant for students, parents, athletes, and just about anyone aiming to enhance their capabilities and lead a richer life.

This book will be your dog-eared companion and a source of inspiration anytime you need motivation to reach higher. By internalising the principles within, you will develop the mindset and skills to fulfil your potential.


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