What Jim Collins Says About Building A Culture of Discipline

"Entrepreneurial success is fueled by creativity, imagination, bold moves into uncharted waters, and visionary zeal," Jim Collins said in his book The Culture of Discipline.

"As a company grows and becomes more complex, it begins to trip over its own success—too many new people, too many new customers, too many new orders, too many new products. What was once great fun becomes an unwieldy ball of disorganized stuff. Lack of planning, lack of accounting, lack of systems, and lack of hiring constraints create friction. Problems surface—with customers, with cash flow, with schedules."

And to continue with a paraphrase: But then, out of a need for organization and to rein in the mess, a new wave of playmakers are brought in to bring order to the chaos, to help the organization grow into its next level of maturity. 

With them comes necessary procedure and process and structure. But if not implemented with intention, they risk killing the entrepreneurial spirit and slowly suffocating the egalitarian environment.

As I’ve noted before the purpose of any policy or procedure is to seek the highest good (for the individual and the organization).

As Jim Collins notes, veterans begin to get disenchanted that these forms and processes and procedures are slowing down the ability they once had to GTD, and the “creative magic” begins to slip away. What was once an innovative entrepreneurial culture is replaced by hierarchy and bureaucracy and mediocrity.

So how do we guard against this from happening? 

How do we stay organized and efficient, but also continue to push the boundaries, innovate, and be massively effective? 

Here’s what Jim Collins continues with:

"The purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline—a problem that largely goes away if you have the right people in the first place. [Yet] an alternative exists: Avoid bureaucracy and hierarchy and instead create a culture of discipline. When you put these two complementary forces together—a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship—you get a magical alchemy of superior performance and sustained results."

How do we make this happen? Here are four ideas that can help:

  1. Focus on the right people (not everyone, necessarily).
  2. Focus on building a culture where your a-team can flourish and perpetuate their 'a-team-ness'.
  3. Build a culture you're proud of — one that naturally expels the cancers, and attracts the playmakers.
  4. Give your team freedom to navigate their way into the right positions to best serve your organization.