Jim Collins and his team of researchers set out to find the top turnaround companies that made the leap from good to great. Good to Great is the result of that massive research project. The team started with 1,435 good companies and narrowed them down to 11 that became great, based on their performance over the last 40 years. Jim wrote an article for FastCompany on Good to Great back in September of 2001 which gives a really good overview of the Good to Great principles.
One of my favorite principles that Jim outlines in this book is the principle of the Flywheel. When companies make the leap from good to great, analysts and newspapers go crazy and wonder what big thing that they did to make their company great. The reality is that it took a lot of work and buildup over time.
All of the good to great companies had level 5 leadership, and had done things right. They had the right people on board, and had confronted the brutal facts. They had found the one thing that they could be the best at, that they were passionate about, and that drove their economic engine. In other words they had embraced the hedgehog concept. They had a culture of discipline, and used technology to accelerate their business, although technology wasn’t their driving force. All of these elements together were the constant pushes that they made the flywheel turn.
In his book, Jim describes the flywheel as a “massive metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle, about 30 feet in diameter, 2 feet thick, and weighing about 5,000 pounds.” He says that it’s your job to turn this wheel and get it going as fast and long as possible. Turning this flywheel is like moving a company in a way that it will begin to produce results.
Here is my Flash animation that illustrates this concept:
It’s been almost a year since I did any kind of drawing/animation with Flash, and this took way too long to do, but I think it makes for a good visual of the flywheel concept.