Jim Collins on The Value of Small Gestures, Unseen Sources of Power, and More (#483)

Illustration via 99designs

The most treasured gifts in the world are kind words spontaneously tendered.

— Dean Fred Hargadon

Jim Collins (jimcollins.com) is a student and teacher of what makes great companies tick and a Socratic advisor to leaders in the business and social sectors. Having invested more than a quarter-century in rigorous research, he has authored or co-authored six books that have sold in total more than 10 million copies worldwide. They include Good to Great, the #1 bestseller that examines why some companies make the leap to superior results, and its companion work Good to Great and the Social Sectors; the enduring classic Built to Last, which explores how some leaders build companies that remain visionary for generations; How the Mighty Fall, which delves into how once-great companies can self-destruct; and Great by Choice, which is about thriving in chaos—why some do and others don’t.

And now he’s updating his debut book, Beyond Entrepreneurship, for the twenty-first century. Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0: Turning Your Business into an Enduring Great Company is now available.

Please enjoy this round two with Jim Collins! (And if you haven’t already, make sure to check out round one here.)

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

Brought to you by GiveWell.org, producers of the world’s top research on charities and effective giving, Tonal smart home gym, and Wealthfront automated investing. More on all three below.

The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#483: Jim Collins — The Return of a Reclusive Polymath

This episode is brought to you by Tonal! Tonal is the world’s most intelligent home gym and personal trainer. It is precision engineered and designed to be the most advanced strength studio on the market today. Tonal uses breakthrough technology—like adaptive digital weights and AI learning—together with the best experts in resistance training so you get stronger, faster. Every program is personalized to your body using AI, and smart features check your form in real time, just like a personal trainer.

Try Tonal, the world’s smartest home gym, for 30 days in your home, and if you don’t love it, you can return it for a full refund. Visit Tonal.com for $100 off their smart accessories when you use promo code TIM100 at checkout.

This episode is brought to you by  GiveWell.org ! For over ten years,  GiveWell.org  has helped donors find the charities and projects that save and improve lives most per dollar. GiveWell spends over 30,000 hours each year researching charitable organizations and only recommends a few of the highest-impact, evidence-backed charities they’ve found. In total, more than 100,000 people have used GiveWell to donate as effectively as possible.

This year, support the charities that save and improve lives most, with GiveWellAny of my listeners who become new GiveWell donors will have their first donation matched up to $100 when you go to GiveWell.org and select “PODCAST” and “Tim Ferriss” at checkout.

This episode is brought to you by Wealthfront! Wealthfront is an app that helps you save and invest your money. Right now, you can earn 4.80% APY—that’s the Annual Percentage Yield—with the Wealthfront Cash Account. That’s more than eleven times more interest than if you left your money in a savings account at the average bank, according to FDIC.gov. 

It takes just a few minutes to sign up, and then you’ll immediately start earning 4.8% interest on your savings. And when you open an account today, you’ll get an extra fifty-dollar bonus with a deposit of five hundred dollars or more. Visit Wealthfront.com/Tim to get started.

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear Jim’s first appearance on this show? Check out our conversation in which we discuss genuine humility versus false humility, discipline in service of creativity, maximizing those hours of creativity with a spreadsheet, the cognitive benefits of a well-timed nap, “who luck,” doom loops and flywheels, and much more.

#361: Jim Collins — A Rare Interview with a Reclusive Polymath


  • Connect with Jim Collins:

Website | Twitter | Facebook


  • Jim is well-known for asking good questions, so he was wondering: in what ways has my former entrepreneurship professor Ed Zschau been such a major influence in my life, and what has his colorful story taught me about the potential to really accelerate after age 60? [08:45]
  • After recently re-reading The 4-Hour Workweek, Jim wonders what keeps me going these days, and what’s changed for me in the 15 years since that book was written? [14:35]
  • What’s the point allocation between dark force motivations and light force motivations? [23:22]
  • Since Jim and I were both admitted into college by Dean Fred Hargadon, why does he think I got into Princeton, and what nuggets of wisdom did Dean Fred impart to him? [27:24]
  • Why you should never hesitate to reach out to mentors and people who have been instrumental in shaping your life. [32:28]
  • As someone who grew up with a fondness for biographies, which ones have been particularly influential to Jim — as examples of paths to follow as well as avoid? What does he find compelling about arcs that go in either direction? [38:08]
  • As someone I consider to be a craftsman of questions, what type of questions has Jim found to be effective at pulling their weight, and how does he arrive at them? Perhaps most important: how does he set the conditions to ensure their lessons stick? [51:15]
  • Who is Bill Lazier, and why is he worth having a conversation about? What life lessons has Jim taken away from his time with Bill — particularly regarding trust and, of all things, enjoying the butter on your waffles even if it kills you? [1:00:58]
  • Comparing and contrasting West Point Cadets with MBA students. [1:23:00]
  • What is the Stockdale Paradox, and how did it come about? [1:31:42]
  • We revisit Jim’s creativity-tracking spreadsheet from our last conversation and examine the role volatility plays in the daily figures, along with the patterns that can be discerned from these figures over time. [1:39:27]
  • As mere mortals, most of us all fall into the trap of comparing our own processes and accomplishments with those of others. But to whom do people as unique as Jim and one of his mentors — Stanford professor Michael Ray — compare themselves, and how do they break free from this counterproductive practice? [1:44:19]
  • What is the 20-Minute Rule? [1:48:47]
  • What Jim’s preparation mode looks like in practice, and how he keeps tabs on his to-dos, stop-dos, and prep-dos without overly complicating the process. [1:49:45]
  • What does Jim’s stop-do list look like? [1:55:13]
  • How and why Jim compiled 30 years of work into a consolidated map of concepts. [1:57:54]
  • To Jim, are there any companies that exemplify these concepts in action? [2:05:41]
  • The value of clock building over time telling. [2:11:58]
  • Will the entrepreneur become the builder? Jim’s thoughts on an important choice all successful founders will eventually have to make. [2:15:55]
  • Jim talks about his first encounter with Rochelle Myers, who he thinks of as “a cross between Socrates and Yoda,” and the important questions she taught him to ask himself. [2:18:01]
  • What would you stop doing if you only had a short time to live? [2:21:12]
  • What would Jim’s billboard say? [2:25:56]
  • Parting thoughts on mentors, John McPhee’s Old Man Project, and Jim’s next big question. [2:27:29]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Leave a Reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

8 Replies to “Jim Collins on The Value of Small Gestures, Unseen Sources of Power, and More (#483)”

  1. Tim- I’d like to personally thank you for encouraging everyone to produce a podcast and go through the entire experience of creating, editing, and publishing. I’ve been a huge fan of yours for years and after being diagnosed with COVID back in March, I heeded your advice and produced seven podcasts by retelling some children stories that I had shared with my children years ago. I absolutely fell in love with the entire process- writing, recording, editing, adding sound effects, and then getting positive feedback from those who listened. As I produced the stories, a more substantive, inspiring theme emerged about humanity, community, and unity. I decided to take a step back from the podcasts and turn it into a book. I then used a professional recording studio and narrated the book. I’m excited to share that the audiobook (which includes originally written music, sound effects, and even recipes on my website) is now live. I am absolutely thrilled with how it turned out and I just wanted to say ‘thank you’. In many ways, this wouldn’t have happened had I not received your encouragement to come out with a podcast. Had I sought out to write a book initially, that would have been WAY too daunting. But after I produced my first podcast, I thought “This isn’t so hard, I’m going to produce a few more.” And after I produced a few more I said, “I think I can write a book and turn it into an audiobook.” And along the way I also wrote and sang three songs to be included in the book because music is an important part as well. After I finished the book, I decided it would be fun to put together an activity/game booklet for listeners to fill out while they listened. And I also added to my website recipes so that listeners can enjoy making some of the key meals from the book. Once again, had I set out to do this all at once, it would have been completely intimidated, but first doing those podcasts helped open the door to creativity that I hadn’t experienced since I was a kid.

    My apologies on the longwinded comment but I wanted to send a genuine and sincere ‘thank you’. I also wanted you to know that I applied something you recommended and found tremendous satisfaction:) Happy holidays, Aaron

    1. Agreed! I’ve marked the time(s) in the podcast on a note pad to return to these points and note them in my journal.

  2. Seeing this in my email was the best news this week. Can’t wait to listen to it. Thank you for somehow making Jim return. I can’t be easy! Thank you!

  3. Tim, awesome interview, as always!! So many tidbits to chew on. Jim Collins remains a great teacher for all of us. So glad you two “had fun”.

    However, had to laugh at end of interview when you brought up “cliff-hanger”. Was excited to hear the answer to the question that was not asked……

    How did Jim do on his quest to make the time of a 22 year old on the IOCT? Thought for sure that would be asked by the end of interview. if it was and i missed it, my apologies!!

    Have a super holiday season!!

  4. Absolutely love the interviews with Jim Collins. His focus on getting to great by elimination and reflection is a breath of fresh air. I am working to take a school from good to great through this same process—eliminate low returns and focus on what works. I am simultaneously planning a mini-retirement while downsizing my own work hours. I have been a fan of your podcasts for several years now after being gifted Tools of Titans. I picked up the 4 Hour Workweek and loved the anecdote on your early school experiences. I often tell frustrated parents that the qualities that frustrate parents and make school difficult for children are the exact traits that will make your child a wonderful human and successful adult. I work with my staff to understand that we all tick a little differently and educators must dig to find how to wind the spring in each child. I was also delighted to see that you donate regularly to donors choose. Thank you.

    So following your advice and setting fear aside, I am asking you to consider a donation to my school to help us expand our music and arts program.

  5. Thanks for a great interview. Suggestion for Round 3: After he contrasted West Point cadets with Stanford MBA students, I wish you had asked him how he might design the MBA or the college experience to foster the same sense of responsibility and service that he found in the cadets. Thanks.