Jim Collins’ Good to Great (2001) is a popular book within the business world that outlines research into what separates ‘great’ from ‘good’ companies. Differing from other popular bourgeois titles by its comparative qualitative approach, Good to Great is a great distance from crypto-oppressive titles by authors like Napoleon Hill, Anthony Roberts, and Rhonda Byrne. Collins is not attempting to understand or explain the systemic features and fundamental processes of capitalism. Rather, he is attempting to explain the concrete features which distinguish highly successful (‘great’) firms, rated based on the stock prices, from mediocre yet similarly situated (‘good’) competitors. By taking a comparative approach and avoiding sweeping claims about the nature of success, Good to Great avoids much proposing a grandiose pseudo-scientific view of “success” while affirming aspects of Communist organizational thought.

As a quick yet important aside, one of the primary distinctions between Marxists and Anarchists is the rejection of the primacy of pre-figurative politics. While ‘creating the new within the old’ is an important task for all times and necessarily for development of the revolution , it is revolution itself, the overthrow of one class by another, which enables the ascendancy of new, revolutionary modes of production and social relations. This rejection of the centrality of pre-figurative politics (and upholding of the central importance of class struggle) was partially implied in Marx and Engels’ critiques of ‘Utopian Socialism.’ Both then and now, the primary task of Communists is advancing revolutions. This alone defines the success or lack thereof of Communists.

According to Collins, a handful of factors separate ‘great’ from ‘good’ companies:

Level Five Leadership describes leaders who are a “paradoxical blend or personal humility and professional will,” and who combine “fanatic discipline,” “productive paranoia,” and “empirical creativity.”

Confronting the Brutal Facts, and Never Lose Fate states that a business organization must “maintain unwavering faith that it can prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time have the discipline to confront the brutal facts of the current reality.”

The Hedgehog Concept implies a company must focus on something it can be the best at.

A Culture of Discipline in which the need for bureaucracy and excessive controls is replaced by employees and managers that are positively motivated in the interest of the firm .

Technology Accelerators tend to speed up but are never the primary cause of the success or failure of a given firm.

The Flywheel Concept implies the fact that success develops over a long period of time, resembling the result of the process of relentless pushing on a heavy flywheel in one direction, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough and beyond.

Ironically, none of the principles are completely outside the scope of successful Communist practice. This should not be surprising: Communist organizations and capitalist firms both incorporate centralized structures to accomplish differing ends. Capitalist firms utilize a boards of directors, who represent stock holders and devise and implement policies to out-profit its competition. Communist parties, on the other hand, devise and implement policies to organize the cultural, social, political, and military aspects of revolution. No doubt, proletarian parties and capitalist firms that are successful (on their own terms) share some common features.

Behind all successful proletarian revolutions have been ‘level five’ Communist leadership. People like Lenin, Mao, and Che blended a deep level of personal humility and unwavering professional dedication. During the turbulent revolutions which made them famous, they themselves had no time to stroke their own egos and instead were driven by the cause of revolution.

Likewise, successful Communist organizations have both been able to confront brutal reality while daring to achieve the ‘impossible.’ No revolution comes easily. Instead, it takes organized initiatives which are both adaptable and uncompromising in commitment to developing revolution.

The hedgehog concept is more multifaceted. It implies comrades and organizations should focus on and develop their strengths. A parallel in the Maoist People’s War strategy states that revolutionary guerrilla forces should fight in ways that play to their strengths and not in ways which play into their enemy’s strengths.

A basic goal of the Communist organization is to support and lead the revolutionary movement. This is best done not through bureaucratic channels but through promoting a revolutionary culture of discipline, i.e. instilling among cadre and the masses genuine support and participation in the revolutionary movement.

Fancy gadgets, flashy websites, and well-produced videos can never, by themselves, achieve the total aim of the Communist movement. The obvious exception is organizations which serve solely to produce revolutionary media. In this case, see the hedgehog concept.

No success occurs over night. Rather, dedicated action is required to consciously produce any result. For Communists, positive results can only be achieved after years of consistent effort under a guiding strategy. Only after some period of time can a given praxis be judged for its effectiveness.

To some degree, there is no great chasm separating the elements of ‘greatness’ for Communists organizations and capitalists firms. For either, success in respective ends depends to a great degree on appropriate ‘level five’ leadership, the ability to face reality while maintaining a vision, working to be the best at what one does, developing a culture of political and practical discipline, using technology appropriately without relying on it, and applying strategic, dedicated, and consistent effort over a sustained period of time.

Nikolai Brown

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. […] their forms of organization may teach us. In the past, Anti-Imperialism.com editor Nikolai Brown has reviewed “Good to Great”, a book by Jim Collins outlining the differences between “great” firms, i.e. highly successful […]

  2. I love this review. I read this book years ago and came to the same conclusion: it wasn’t about business, it was about how to build and maintain a successful organization capable of accomplishing goals bigger than any of its members. However, I feel there is one important aspect of “Level 5 Leaders” which you missed – or rather hinted at (humility) but which I feel deserves to be expanded upon : they are not micro-managers. Collins dedicates a good portion of the book to explaining the difference between Level 4 and 5 Leaders as being one of team-building. Level 4 leaders are micro-managers, they make everything work perfectly and build a great organization, but it all flows through them. When they leave, the organization loses its keystone, and atrophies. Level 5 leaders, however, create an organization which will persist without them specifically, and work to set their successors up for success.


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