How the Mighty Fall: My Top 10 Quotes

Posted on January 31, 2013


I recently finished Jim Collin’s How the Mighty Fall and found it, true to form, a book full of insight for business and organizational leaders. In this book, Collins shares the five stages of decline an organization may pass through on its way to oblivion. While detailing these stages, he seeks to provide answers to the questions: How do the mighty organizations fall? Can decline be detected early enough to be avoided? How can organizations prevent ultimate failure? How can a declining organization turn around and move toward effective growth and success.

I highly recommend How the Mighty Fall. To whet your appetite here are my top 10 quotes from Collins in the book.

  1. I’ve come to see institutional decline like a staged disease: harder to detect but easier to cure in the early stages, easier to detect but harder to cure in the later stages. Page 5
  2. Truly great [leaders], no matter how successful they become, maintain a learning curve as steep as when they first began their HowMightyFallcareers. Page 4
  3. Reorganizations and restructurings can create a false sense that you’re actually doing something productive. Page 80
  4. [One of the behaviors leaders exemplify in Stage 4 of decline is to] sell people on the promises of a brighter future to compensate for poor results. Page 9
  5. Those who fail to acknowledge the role luck may have played in their success—and thereby overestimate their own merit and capabilities—have succumbed to hubris. Page 21
  6. We can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can’t hire salespeople and teach them to be nice. Page 174
  7. Companies already in the stages of decline are extremely vulnerable to turbulence. Page 147
  8. If you have the right people, who accept responsibility, you don’t need to have a lot of senseless rules and mindless bureaucracy in the first place! Page 56
  9. The greatest danger comes not from ignoring clear and unassailable facts, but in misinterpreting ambiguous data in situations when you face severe or catastrophic consequences if the ambiguity resolves itself in a way that’s not in your favor. Page 70
  10. To use the organization primarily as a vehicle to increase your own personal success—more wealth, more fame, more power—at the expense of [the organization’s] long-term success is undisciplined. Page 55

Additional quotes worth mentioning:

  • There is no law of nature that the most powerful will inevitably remain at the top. Page 8
  • There are more ways to fall than to become great. Page 19
  • In Stage 3 [of decline] leaders discount negative data, amplify positive data, and put a positive spend on ambiguous data. Page 22
  • We do ourselves a disservice by studying only success. Page 24
  • To remain successful in any given area of activity, you have to keep pushing with as much intensity as when you first began building… Page 32
  • While no leader can single-handedly build an enduring great company, the wrong leader vested with power can almost single-handedly bring a company down. Page 62
  • Over 90 percent of CEOs that led companies from good to great came from inside. Page 95
  • You can be profitable and bankrupt. Page 104
  • The right leaders feel a sense of urgency in good times and bad, whether facing threat or opportunity, no matter what. Page 117


See also: My Favorite Books for Business and Great Leaders Navigate by Facilitating the Ideas of Others.

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