Sign up FAST! Login

The Re-Education of Jim Collins |

Stashed in: Business Advice, Military!

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

On one side of the gym, a group of cadets watched an older, gray-haired man trying to mount a shelf 8 feet above the ground. He was Jim Collins, the best-selling business-book author who was visiting West Point to hold seminars on leadership. "No, sir," a cadet said to him. "You don't want to do it like that, sir. You look like an old man, sir. You need to do it this way."

"I am an old man!" Collins murmured. Then, he tried it again.

Why was the author of such business classics as Built to Last and Good to Great competing with college students less than half his age? For one thing, Collins, 55, is an avid climber and seldom shies from a physical challenge. (For his 50th birthday, he had scaled the 2,900-foot vertical rockface known as The Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.) But what Collins really wanted was the opportunity to interact with cadets, to experience what they experience. With that in mind, he had set himself the goal of completing the course in the same time required of all male cadets before they can graduate--three and a half minutes or less. So he was grateful that West Point's rock-climbing team had turned out to coach him.

Glancing around the gym, Collins could see numerous other cadets struggling with various obstacles; some of them were not much farther along than he was. Most of them had at least one or two other cadets standing nearby, coaching, critiquing, and cheering on their compatriots.

Life and business are about overcoming obstacles, aren't they?

As the plane descended into Newark's airport, Collins took out a piece of paper and drew a triangle. One point he labeled success, another growth, and the third service. Those three corners of the triangle, he sensed, held an answer to the paradox he had observed in the culture of West Point.[...]

Through it all, Collins listened with the triangle in mind. He realized that, on one level, it was about motivation and finding "a balanced approach to life and leadership," as he later put it. Success was the obvious one. Everybody likes to win, and the thrill of victory is a heady reward in itself. But people who become the best at what they do are never content with success. Like Caldwell, they have a deep craving to get better and better, which often means repeatedly failing, although--like Caldwell--they don't necessarily experience it as failure.

It was on the point of service that the West Point cadets had really opened Collins's eyes. "I've never been in an environment with so strong an ethos of service running through it," he says. "This is not like doing volunteer work on a Saturday. It's a big signature, a big step up, and it could cost them their lives someday, which they're all well aware of. But they've made that choice."

the long grey line

You May Also Like: