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Built to Last
By Michael Angier

I’m studying the book, BUILT TO LAST by James Collins and Jerry Porras. It was a highly popular business book in ’94 and ’95 (18 months on the Business Week Bestseller List). I meant to read it when it was first published but never did. Now I wish I had.

The book explores the successful habits of 18 visionary companies—companies that have withstood the test of time and are respected and admired for their success and longevity. All of them are at least 50 years old and many over 100.

The authors were looking for common denominators that separated these select companies from the average. They found that these great companies were successful because of their ideals, their values and their purpose.


“Profitability is a necessary condition for existence and a means to more important ends, but it is not the end in itself for many visionary companies. Profit is like oxygen, food, water and blood for the body; they are not the POINT of life, but without them there is no life."

James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras

It reminded me of my own 25-plus years of research (although mine’s been nowhere near as scientific) of why and how PEOPLE succeed. It’s always been fascinating to me how some people seem to achieve extraordinary success while other seemingly talented, intelligent and hardworking people languished in mediocrity or even failure.

The results of over six years of extensive research are revealed in BUILT TO LAST. What the authors discovered defied many popular business school teachings and debunked a number of myths about what makes a company great. I’d like to focus on one of them.

The common wisdom has been that companies succeed because they have a great idea or an exceptional product (build a better mousetrap thinking). Collins and Porras were surprised to find just the opposite. They had to shift from seeing the company as a vehicle for the products, to seeing the products as a vehicle for the company.

Only a handful of the visionary companies started with either a great idea or a unique/timely product. Outstanding ideas and exceptional products were, in fact, the RESULT of building a solid company.

It’s probably why so many of the dot-coms failed in 2000 and 2001. Most were built around a product or technology. Few were founded on principles, ideals and ethics that could endure.

So what’s this got to do with us? How can we benefit from this research if we don’t own our own business or plan to start one?

I submit that we’re each very much like a corporation. By building a strong self, with solid character, we position ourselves for producing successful products and service over the many years of our career. By getting clear on and being true to our values and our purpose, we develop integrity. In the process, we become a visionary.

And visionaries don’t act like the hare in Aesop’s fable. They don’t chase after the latest product and the hottest opportunity. Their primary quest is on what the company stands for—their reason for existing. Like the tortoise, moving forward steadily with purpose and determination will usually win the race.


"I've come to believe that all my past failure and frustration were actually laying the foundation for the understandings that have created the new level of living I now enjoy".

Anthony Robbins

When you build a better you, your success is assured. As the business climate changes, as skills become obsolete, as our culture evolves, you’ll be poised to take advantage of opportunities as they arise—and even create your own—because you’re a visionary.

I highly recommend BUILT TO LAST. It shows how ideology and pragmatism can and should coexist. We don’t have to choose one or the other. It gave solid evidence and support to some things I’ve felt for a long time about what the authors would call “corporate existentialism”.

I found BUILT TO LAST even more stimulating than IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE because it dug deeper and answered the questions it raised. Read it and you’ll find a cornucopia of ideas and insights to help you build a better organization—AND A BETTER YOU.

Order BUILT TO LAST by clicking here .

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