As you may know, I take the serious entrée and fun dessert course approach to reading. My latest reading meal consisted of Jim Collins’ “Great By Choice” as my main course, followed by Stephen King’s “11/22/63″ for dessert.
Let’s start with the serious book first. Like Collins’ others books, “Great By Choice” takes a data-driven approach to answering a fascinating question about what makes companies successful. This book focuses on figuring out which companies thrive, and which don’t, in an environment fraught with uncertainty and upheaval.
One of the key findings of the book is that it’s not the more innovative companies that do best in a high change milieu. Nor is it the lucky. Indeed, the old Bible quote, “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. . .but time and chance happeneth to them all” is most apt at describing which companies thrive during times of change. According to Collins, companies that institute a disciplined approach to growth and innovation lead the pack.
A memorable concept in the book that illustrates this finding is the 20-mile march. Collins and co-author Morten T. Hansen contrast two different teams that were each trying to reach Antarctica first. Roald Amundsen led the team that succeeded, and he did so by establishing a consistent goal of traveling between 15 and 20 miles per day. Meanwhile, the team that failed (led by Robert Falcon Scott) went fast when the environment was favorable and slow (or not at all) when the weather didn’t cooperate.
Alas, as the authors point out, far too many companies today fall into the same trap when focusing on quarterly earnings. In the good years, they take on too many capital projects, thinking the good times will last forever, and in the bad times, they cut when there may be the keenest need to invest. When one looks at the financial performance of the best companies, the “10Xers” in the parlance of the book, stay focused and deliver consistent results, year after year.
What works for companies also seems to ring true for investing. Most successful investors carefully balance reward and risk and would prefer to hit singles regularly over swinging between home runs and strikeouts. In short, as with all of Collins’ books, “Great By Choice” is a quick read that offers valuable lessons for both business people and investors.
Now, onto my recent “dessert:” Stephen King’s new book, “11/22/63.” First of all, it was probably a good thing that I bought the book on my iPad as that precluded me from seeing just how long it was. At 800+ pages, this is a big one. But readers, you shouldn’t be dissuaded from picking up this book because of its length. Much like he did in “The Stand,” King creates an interesting world where one fascinating concept is explored to its fullest.
In this case, the concept is time travel. One step out of an old diner puts Jake Epping back to September 9, 1958. When he steps back into the diner, no matter how long he was in the past, only two minutes have passed since he left the present. Every visit to the past is a reset. As a result, Jake has a number of opportunities to try and change the past, including most importantly what occurred on 11/22/63, the date of the Kennedy assassination. But the protagonist finds that the past is more difficult to change than it might seem. It is “obdurate.” All in all, a keenly observed world and a wonderful story make this 800+ page novel impossible to put down.