Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
Author: Jim Collins
Publisher: Harper Business
Published: 11/2/2004
"This is not a book about charismatic visionary leaders. It is not about visionary product concepts or visionary products or visionary market insights. Nor is it about just having a corporate vision. This is a book about something far more important, enduring, and substantial. This is a book about visionary companies." So write Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in this groundbreaking book to those who would like to build landmark companies that stand the test…

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

While we might believe that the success of a company is dependent on them having great ideas, this is not always the case, at least not at the start. In many cases, the most successful businesses chose to brainstorm after they had already formed their company.

In Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras discuss the ways different companies and leaders have been able to not only achieve success but also continue being successful. And while you may think you do know what makes a company or a leader successful, you may be surprised by the reality of what it takes to last in business.

From Hewlett Packard to Sony, some of the most successful companies did not start with a great idea but rather tried different ideas until coming up with something innovative and different.

And while you may think that the company leader needs to be a visionary with a high-profile, this is not necessary either. In many cases, these leaders were more down-to-Earth and modest.

So the question becomes, how did these companies continue to succeed and grow when other companies did not?

  • How companies are built to last

In order to be a successful company that lasts, it is important not to focus on a single person, idea, or product. To become an “outstanding organization,” it is all about building yourself up and constantly producing new ideas that are great, and new leaders.

The founders of some of the greatest companies did not build their organization off of a great idea, but rather they created a company that was able to achieve greatness. By continuing to move forward without focusing on any one product or person, the great companies were able to remain successful.

Rather than just producing a great idea/product or leader, successful companies are able to do both. This allows them to work like a well-oiled machine.

Key Points

  • Successful companies with a vision are driven by a core ideology that allows them to prosper without a focus on profits

For a company to truly be successful, it must have a higher purpose than just looking for profit. By having a core set of values that guide their decisions, these companies are able to endure difficulties that might crumble another business.

However, just because a company is principled, that does not mean that they are unable to profit. In many cases, even though profit was not the primary goal for a company, they were able to make pragmatic decisions about the business that still allowed them to make money without wavering from their core values.

By having a core ideology, when a business faces difficulties, it allows them to stop and clarify what they need to do in order to stand by their convictions.

An example used in the book comes from Ford and the issues they faced in the 1980s. As the authors pointed out, rather than just fighting fires, the company’s leaders took the time to have a discussion about the ideology of their founder, Henry Ford. They chose to clarify what their business needed to be in order to remain true to its ideals, rather than just make changes that went against their ideologies.

While all successful businesses have a core ideology, that does not mean that they will all be the same. Instead, it is all about knowing that they have values that they choose to live up to and respect, no matter what situation arises.

  • It is important to preserve a business’ core values, even as you continue to stimulate growth and improvement

To truly be a successful company, it is important to protect the core values upon which the business is built. But, at the same time, remember that how you manifest those values may change over time in an effort to continue growing and progressing as a company.

In order to grow, a company must be flexible. Successful companies are willing to both develop and experiment. Instead of being fixed on one outcome or another, these businesses choose a more flexible approach to decision making.

With their core values as a guiding force, successful companies continually work towards the improvement of everything from their overall organization to the products they offer.

Ultimately, it is about never being willing to settle, while also not getting complacent with your position in the business. When a business is committed to progress, while also staying true to its core values, it helps to encourage the people within the company to always improve.

  • Creating overly bold goals that seem over the top is the way to promote actual progress

In order to move forward as a company, it is important to set goals that are so big and bold that outsiders might consider them ridiculous. And when setting these goals, the company must be completely committed to making it happen.

However, no matter how bold these goals may seem, they are actually something tangible that can truly be achieved by the company as a whole. They may be bold, but these goals are still quite clear.

Over time, these bold goals seem to take on a life of their own, continually pushing the company forward. Even as new leaders assume their roles, the company continues pushing towards the goals. Once a major goal has been achieved, the company picks a new big and bold goal to set its sights on, while still remaining true to the core values that have helped build their success.

  • Corporate culture in a truly successful business is almost like being part of a cult, as there is a single-minded focus on the core values

For successful companies that we consider to be visionaries in their field, the pursuit of goals while sticking to the core values of the company can come off as being cult-like. There is a single-minded focus for the people who work for these businesses, as they typically socialize primarily with other people within the company. And oftentimes, there is a sense of secrecy that revolves around the work and what is being achieved.

In many cases, new employees find themselves either fitting in and thriving or immediately exiting the company. When it comes to employees that do not match the high standards and expectations that these businesses have, there is simply no room for them in the corporate culture.

While this may seem limiting as there is little room for compromise, if you are a person who can adhere to the corporate values that the company stands by, there is room for experimenting. It is this confidence in the core values of the company that gives these experiments a chance of stimulating the progress needed for the business to move forward. And this is how these businesses avoid the actual group-think of a true cult.

It is important to note that the cult-like mentality specifically revolves around the core values of the company and not one of its leaders. This is what allows the business to continue to thrive when new leaders step in.

  • These visionary companies are all about creating new leaders of a higher-caliber

In order to be a successful company, it is important to have a leader who is considered high-quality. However, it is just as necessary for these businesses to continue producing leaders who are of a high-caliber.

These companies work to cultivate their talent into leaders who can step up when needed. It is important to plan ahead for if something were to happen, which means being prepared with someone who can take on a leadership role at a moment’s notice.

Success is about continuity. And by preparing future leaders, a business is making sure that transitions in leadership are as smooth as possible, while also making sure the next person who takes control is just as committed to the company’s core values as the people who came before them.

Simply put, cultivating leadership and being able to hire from within is the way to keep a successful company moving forward.

  • Experimentation is the key to a company’s evolution

Much like Darwin’s theory of evolution, any successful company understands that experimenting is the key to evolving in business.

Employees at visionary companies are encouraged to experiment with the different products, practices, and ideas that they offered up. Little tweaks here and there can make a big difference in the way a company can evolve over time.

While experimentation might be the key to a company evolving, it is also important to remember that it is okay to fail. In fact, most experiments are likely to be a failure, but by continually trying new things, one is able to evolve.

Failure is the price any business has to pay to move forward, and if one were to be punished for failing, it might discourage people from wanting to try new things and experimenting. Without experimentation, there is no room for growth.

  • Visionary companies take the necessary actions needed to implement their core goals

Companies that fail may talk about values and experimentation or change, but never seem to put these things into practice. However, visionary companies are the ones that are willing to take action to achieve their goals and live up to their core values.

For successful businesses, it is about creating mechanisms that make an actual difference in the lives of their employees and the decisions that they make.

Rather than just talk about what a company wanted to improve, visionary companies take the steps necessary to make the changes needed to move forward and get better.

On top of the short term actions, visionary companies also choose to make long-term decisions that will promote continued growth. From investing in new projects and training programs to supporting development and research, successful companies are willing to go the extra mile to achieve success.


Studying visionary companies who have endured lasting success is a chance to learn from their ability to succeed and continually grow.

In order to achieve success, visionary companies create core values for themselves that they stay true to, even as they pursue new goals. However, it is not just about values, it is also an ideology that includes its purpose as a company, which is simply the reason the business exists.

Visionary companies do not just exist for profit, but by continuing to grow while staying true to their ideologies, they will ultimately find a way to make money.

These companies are all about creating big goals, stimulating growth, and developing strong leaders who are able to take on leadership roles as needed.


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