ASTD Keynote Presentation – Jim Collins

Wow! What a great presentation! This is the second time I have seen Jim Collins speak, the first time was at EduCause also in Denver. Collins is an author of a number of great books on what makes great companies great. He again delivered with this presentation. He recently put out a new book called Great by Choice. Naturally, I picked up the book.

Good is the enemy of great.

According to Collins, greatness is not a function of circumstance; it is a choice. This choice begins with people. You need to place the right people in the right places. The number one leadership skill to have is the ability to pick the right people and put them in the right places. Next you must train your people. Emergency responders and military stress that in times of chaos, they fall back on their training.

Collins then asked what was the x factor of exceptional leadership. The x factor is a combination of humility and ferocity. Using the list below, Collins explains the level 4 leaders tend to focus on themselves whereas a level 5 leader is focused on bigger things. We suffer from a level 5 leadership deficiency. Fortunately, Collins explains, Level 5 leaders can be trained.


  • Level 1 – Highly capable individual
  • Level 2 – Contributing team member
  • Level 3 – Competent manager
  • Level 4 – Effective leader
  • Level 5 – Executive

Collins looked at different leaders and companies and developed a list of diametrically opposed list of characteristics that affect Level 5 leaders. One example where these characteristics were obvious was the 1911 race to the south pole. One team was successful, and all members of the other team  perished.

Fanatic – Discipline
Creativity – Empirical
Paranoid – Productive

Collins explained his discoveries and stressed that companies must have the discipline to meet goals consistently, but not over extend. He calls this the 20-mile march. He adds that overreaching or overextending is dangerous, and can lead to failure. What is your 20-mile march? Consistency is a must!!

Collins noted that we must blend creativity and discipline. In his example of the race to the south pole, one team used empirical data and chose dogs whereas the other team chose ponies. The ponies froze to death. Lesson learned “Don’t do ponies… Use dogs.” Collins also stressed to incrementally improve a project be for investing 100%. Fire bullets first and often to see if you are hitting the mark, and then break out the cannonballs. Collins added we were creative before education beat it out of us.

Collins also talked about luck. Basically, what does luck have to do with success. Luck is an event: you did not cause it, it has consequences, and it has an element of surprise. Are great companies luckier? No, they are not luckier. But as Collins points out, it is what you do with your luck. Most important luck is who luck over what luck. It is about the relationships you make; it is about picking the right people to be in you life.

Collins left us with a to do list:

  1. Commit to building a pocket of greatness on your bus
  2. Get right people on your bus
  3. Double your questions to statement ratio. Be interested.
  4. Confront the brutal facts. Have a brutal facts meeting.
  5. Find your personal hedgehog. What are you genetically encoded for. Where can you be useful? What are you passionate about?
  6. Commit to a 20 mile march focused on your hedgehog. What is your 50-30-20 time distribution?
  7. Find your who luck.
  8. Start a stop doing list.
  9. Creates pockets of quiet time without mobile device. One day every two weeks with no devices.
  10. Core values for a lifetime.
  11. Set a big hairy audacious goal (BHAG).
  12. Determine how to be useful.
  13. Make something great…family, organization, company, etc.

Recommended books:

If you have read Great by Choice, please share your thoughts on this book. I am getting ready to read it.

3 thoughts on “ASTD Keynote Presentation – Jim Collins”

  1. Stan, thanks for your great summary on Jim Collins’ ASTD ICE presentation. I was also in attendance, but I missed a few of the items that Jim provided us on the To-Do list. Thanks for capturing all of them. I am currently working on item three.

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