"Good to Great" and Circuit City, Take Two

Last Updated Nov 26, 2008 2:07 PM EST

A few days ago, I posted an item about business writer Jim Collins' best-selling book "Good to Great." I am surprised at the passionate responses I have gotten since I had no idea there were so many Collins fans out there.

That said, I have a few more thoughts to share with my respected critics. First, I admit I misspelled the proper name of the drug store firm Walgreen Co. Secondly, I never intended to put down or be personally critical of Collins or his methodology.

As one person pointed out, Collins did say that if certain regimes were not followed, then the 11 companies he deemed having gone to "great" from "good" would lose that status. There is no question that Circuit City, one of the 11, did not follow the points that had made it so strong in the 1980s and 1990s. For more, read this piece.
I was also critical of the business of selling business books in general and I make no apologies for that. While I have never written such a book I have known a number of people who have and have seen firsthand that the selling process to a publishers is long, grueling and often infects the content with disease.

Another point is that like the generals always fighting the last war, the business book business is often looking in the rear view mirror. The stats Collins notes for Circuit City end about 1999, I believe. So, that makes the effort a good history and case study, but not especially relevant today.

It reminds me of the U.S. government circa the late 1980s and mid 1990s. I was in Moscow witnessing the death throes of Communism. Matters on the street, in new stores and companies, and among the new and super-rich oligarchs, were far beyond the comprehension of many Soviet experts in Washington. They were so focused on counting nuclear warheads and musical chairs in the Politburo that they had no idea that the changes of those years could happen with such incredible speed.

One year ago, few would have thought that such venerable names as Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, WaMu, Lehman Brothers, American International Group and Wachovia would be bought or out ouf business. Today's crisis is happening at incredible speed, showing that comprehending business and economics is still very much an art, not a science.