Please enjoy this transcript of my second interview with Jim Collins (jimcollins.com), 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.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
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This interview was transcribed by Rev.com.
Tim Ferriss: Jim, welcome back to the show, it is such a pleasure to have you, again.
Jim Collins: It is really a joy to be back with you. And for all of those people who may not have heard the first session we did together, you did such a marvelous job of extracting my particular approaches to self-management that I hope some people will go back and find that previous one, and then we can build upon it from here. And in the spirit of conversation, you and I love conversation, we love ideas, I’d love to begin with maybe turning the tables a little and just asking you some questions. And I was re-reading The 4-Hour Workweek and just kind of getting myself into your head about—you wrote that about 15 years ago, was that right? Approximately?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, 2007, so about 15 years ago.
Jim Collins: About 15 years ago. And so the first thing that just struck me is I noted in there that you had really been affected by Ed Zschau, and I’m curious if you’re still in touch and also what you really learned from him?
Tim Ferriss: Ed Zschau yes, we’re still in touch. Professor Ed Zschau, spelled Z-S-C-H-A-U for people interested. He’s also appeared on the podcast not too long ago, I would say a year and a half or two years ago, and we’re still in touch. And Ed had a tremendous impact on me on multiple levels. And I was first exposed to him when I was a student in his class called high-tech entrepreneurship, ELE 491, so it was a cross-disciplinary class, it spanned a few different departments, electrical engineering, operations, research, finance. And Ed appealed to me. And I think appealed to a lot of people because for those who don’t have any context, he is a true polymath and a very curious character. So he had been a competitive figure skater, he’d taken a few companies public.
He was one of the first computer science instructors at Stanford. And if my memory serves me correctly, he became that because the person who had been appointed to teach didn’t show up and he just raised his hand and so became one of the first computer science teachers. He was a congressman and is really the consummate teacher in my mind and encourages all of his students to do it their own way, to live life their own way, to not depend on a predetermined path. And we are still in touch, we are still in touch. And I’m still in touch with most of the most impactful mentors from my life story.
Jim Collins: And he’s getting up there in years in chronological age but sure it strikes me as quite intensely young. And what do you think his arc teaches about really accelerating after 60?
Tim Ferriss: Well, I think that not to invoke the cliche, but some things are cliches for good reasons that youth is in the heart or youth is in the mind. I think that that Ed has made a life of exposing himself to new ideas, new technologies, young blood in the form of vibrant, young energized students and entrepreneurs, founders full of peace and vinegar, so I think that has an osmotic carry-over effect into his own life, which I believe he is extremely aware of. Those would be a few of the things that come to mind. He is constantly challenging his own understanding of the world and possibilities via proactively exposing himself to new things and new people.
Jim Collins: So I’d love to bridge from that to a question that’s been just a really simmering in my head all weekend. So you have this wonderful course, and he has this kind of you really don’t have to force yourself into a box of what a whole bunch of other people want you to do or how you should live, or how you should expand your life and your talents, there’s only one you better use it well, and it goes by really fast. And then if I sort of understand the story, you kind of went out and hit the soul-crushing day-to-day experience of this thing that you and I are both constitutionally incapable of enjoying called the job and sort of about there are a lot of for better or worse, we are constitutionally unemployable.
And then sort of from there to, if I understand the arc of the 4-Hour Workweek argument, it was essentially, look, if you want to have a life of experiences and meaningful experiences and freedom of choices and how you’ve lived that by very creative and disciplined approaches, you could kind of squeeze down the amount of energy that’s needed to earn the cash flow needed to be able to have the experiences and a great life and that there was a lot of both tips and overall principles for doing that. Have I got it kind of essentially right?
Tim Ferriss: You did, I think that is essentially right. I would say that creative and disciplined could also just as easily be replaced with creative and experimental. I think the experimental component is a large piece of the puzzle, but yes you did nail the essence.
Jim Collins: So now here’s the question that’s been on my mind, and I’m really curious to hear how you’ve evolved on this. So at that time, and if I also heard it right, you didn’t come from a wealthy family?
Tim Ferriss: I did not.
Jim Collins: You had something about your parents combined earned something like $50,000 a year or something like that but basically it came from look, it’s not a big safety net, it’s not “Hey, I can just go do anything.” People support it, you have the reality of the world. And yet you weren’t going to bow to the strictures of the way regular work would happen. And so you share a lot of your wisdom from your own experimentation with that. Now what’s interesting is that was really focused off to me anyways, it was you were really focused at that point on, “I can get the work part down so I can really do this life thing.”
Your life is different now, your life is different in that question of “What’s my minimum monthly cashflow I need to be able to fund great experiences?” is actually no longer a relevant question for you. So my question for you at this stage is what keeps Tim Ferriss going? What is it that drives you in your work? Because the option of just experiences is fully available, so what is it that’s changed for you? That’s now the inner motor that keeps Tim Ferriss going and going?
Tim Ferriss: That is an excellent question; I’ll try to not give a terrible answer. A few things popped to mind for me, and the first is an appreciation for and a search for beauty. I think that the search for beauty and elegance which are similar in my mind, but not identical has become the fuel for the seeker, if that makes any sense. And I find that in my own personal experience that when I search for beauty, which seems like it is absurdly too high on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to be relevant to anyone perhaps, it sounds very abstract that I tend to find more truth than that when I purely try to deduce truth intellectually in a very prefrontal way.
And that the, to use a crass term, the return on investment of finding those examples of beauty far surpass a lot of what I had white-knuckled to achieve through crunching numbers and digesting spreadsheets, not to say there isn’t a value to that, I think it is necessary, but I have found it insufficient if you want to experience what we might call some semblance of grace, I know we’re getting out into maybe the deep waters here a bit.
Jim Collins: What’s an example for you of, so it’s interesting, actually, I really resonate with this idea of the exquisite, right? And the word that they have often and even when I’m engaged with profit-making companies or whatever, at some point there’s just something that’s making something exquisite, making something excellent, because it can be is not a means to an end, it is an end in itself. And I always think about that wonderful parable of the, I think it was one that I heard from Drucker actually about the sculptor who made these statutes that the city fathers had asked to make these statutes and the statutes were to be up in the town square. And he put in all this extra effort and took this extra time to make the backs of the statues as beautiful as the front of the statues and the city fathers are, “Well, why did you do that? Nobody will ever see the backs of the statues.” And his answer is, “Ah, but the gods can see it and I know it’s there.” Right?
And that notion of or making a sentence just right or the simple cadence of where you place a comma, right? The person we both admire in writing John McPhee, his sense of the exquisite single sentence I really relate to this. And I’m curious for you what’s an example, how wide of a range does exquisite or beauty go for you? Is it exquisite experience, exquisite painting, the exquisite goosebumps of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, movement number two, when it goes into the funeral march, I mean, what is it?
Tim Ferriss: It is all-encompassing in a sense. And I would also rewind to a bit earlier when you asked me the question that has been on your mind over the weekend, and I can’t remember the exact wording, but it was something like what drives you or what compels you?
Jim Collins: What keeps Tim Ferriss going?
Tim Ferriss: Right, what keeps me going? So I think that if we look at keeping someone going, there are different ways to keep someone going. And you can feel driven, we use that word in English a lot. I think that for some that if we were to unpack it has some level of being whipped forward in terms of sentiment, there is something we are running away from as opposed to running towards, if that makes any sense? There’s some type of pain or dysfunction or wounds next to our strength that is driving us forward. And then there’s a very distinct feeling, which is that of being pulled towards something.
And I have found it more sustainable, enjoyable, and ultimately more aligned in recent years to seek those things that pull me forward, and beauty is one of those indicators, it’s kind of the light at the lighthouse. And Tim O’Reilly is one of my favorite thinkers, fantastic person, a technologist, a well-known publisher, and he and I have had a number of conversations. And one of his practices, at least at the time that we were speaking last, was to take a photograph of one flower each day, and that is a practice of recognizing beauty. It’s not that beauty is hard to find, it’s that it is easy to overlook. So cultivating the eye and the awareness to spot beauty whether that’s in a flower or quite frankly in something that would normally be found repulsive like decay of some type is endlessly interesting to me.
And I do find that when I am tuned to that, the simplicity of that in the same way that Mary Oliver might simplify the approach to prayer if someone were to want to explore that practice as an example, and even in a very secular way which might sound like an oxymoron, but I’ll try not to drown us in the deep waters too much at this point in the conversation. I do think that a lot of it is driven to or not driven to, I would say based in reactivating instincts that have been not forgotten but just in some fashion laid dormant, right? So there’s a quote from D.H. Lawrence that I liked a lot which is, it’s very simple: “Be a good animal, true to your [animal] instincts.” That’s it.
And I’ve operated very much from a metaphorically speaking left-brain analytical perspective for decades, and there are tremendous benefits and applications for that. And I’m trying to in recent years pay equal attention to the millions of years of evolution that preceded language that have as an end product in some fashion, a whole spectrum of what we might call instincts that I believe to be deeply intelligent and powerful as guiding forces. I’m not sure if that answers the question about the—
Jim Collins: No, no it’s very interesting. And I asked the question for sort of two levels about what keeps you going. I’m genuinely curious, because you were at a different stage in your life and you wrote that and people who still resonate with it today very much may also be back where you were when you were doing that they’re facing different constraints in life and wanting to create their freedom with that, and it gives them a toolkit for that, a very useful toolkit. And one observation and then just something that I found for myself as how I think about this, is that my sense in reading The 4-Hour Workweek was that it was in many ways kind of reacting to the order in which you were placed, the sort of how I reject this, I’m going to do a different and did, right? And it’s kind of like moving away from, I don’t want that. And the way you describe it now is it’s a moving toward?
Tim Ferriss: That’s right.
Jim Collins: Right. It’s a moving toward beauty, towards exquisite, towards exploration as opposed to reacting from it and it’s very striking in the tone different. As I’ve thought about this for myself, because I have like you didn’t have much of a safety net we talked about that in our last episode and taking big entrepreneurial or the big bet that Joanne and I took, and it was very scary and so forth, still wanting to go forward and do it and had these different sort of drives early. And I’ve thought of it as kind of what’s the point allocation? I always tend to go to point allocations and numbers and so forth, but what’s the point allocation between dark force motivations and light force motivations?
And dark force motivations for me have always been the things like anger, rage, channeled rage, insecurity, need for attention, just accomplishment to show others I’m capable, right? Those things that I felt very much when I was young. And then there’s light force points, which are I just love the work, I just love the work or I love the people I’m doing it with, or the sheer curiosity of the question, or I know I can make this better even if no one else notices. So therefore I want to make it better, right? And the sheer joy of seeing something come out on the page it’s like that’s a neat sentence or whatever, and the drive for contribution being useful as we talked about last time versus being successful and so forth.
And so what I have found is that for me it’s trying to be moving, decreasing the points out of 100 that are dark force motivations, which I would say when I was younger were 80/20. And I wasn’t afraid to let go of those because I felt that if I let go of the emptiness in my stomach because my dad didn’t pay attention to me, I’ll lose my drive, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, “Lose your edge” is a common phrase.
Jim Collins: I’ll lose my edge, I need that, I need that, that’s the fuel, that’s the kindling, that’s the explosive power within what if I lost that? Right? And the sense of fear that what if that went away? And then gradually realizing that actually if I replaced that with the others, right? That point allocations go from 80/20 dark force and they flipped to, and I don’t think I’ll ever get to a 100/0, I really don’t, I’m way too human for that. But if I can get to 80/20 light force, right? It’s constantly generating, it doesn’t ever have an end and you can let the others sort of go, and it is a moving toward versus a reacting to, it’s very interesting to hear that.
Let me just ask you just in terms of beauty, I just one of the thing, and then I’ll put myself in your hands. Somebody said to me, “Are you ever going to do a podcast?” I said, “Well, I’ll sometimes be on one, but if I get a marvelous podcaster, then I can just be the questioner, so…”
Tim Ferriss: I’m game!
Jim Collins: So anyways, I think you and Joanne and I all share something in common, which is we are all Dean Fred Hargadon admits, is that right?
Tim Ferriss: That’s right, that’s right.
Jim Collins: Okay, we are. And we were both admitted by Dean Fred at Stanford, you were admitted by Dean Fred at Princeton. And I noticed in your book, you said, “And I’m not sure why they’d let me in because I was sort of off the sort of normal mode when you think of all the straight A, double 1600 SAT, wiz brain. You could fill the whole class and still have like 200 percent left over. With people like that, why’d they let me in?” And so I got to share with you this story, did you ever meet Dean Fred?
Tim Ferriss: I did, I did.
Jim Collins: Okay. So I’ve got to share with you this story but it ties into the idea of creating something beautiful. And so for my 25th college reunion, I was asked to go and be on our class panel. And after the class panel was a presentation and an interaction with us by Dean Fred he’d come back, he was at Princeton then as Dean of Admissions, but he came back to talk to a bunch of us who he had admitted. And we got to chatting afterwards, he came over and found Joanne and me, it turns out that he was a real fan of Good to Great, and he also had a framed picture of Joanne in his house, I think at the bottom of the stairs in her cycling outfit from the years that she was on the Iron Man back then, one of her sports endorsement posters.
And so it was kind of, it was sort of fun sort of coming full circle that he was still following us in some way. But in that conversation, one, I asked him how long does it take you to make a really great admissions decision? He said, “30 years and 30 minutes,” it’s just a great example of cumulative pattern recognition, right? And then he had shared with—I can’t remember whether it was just us personally or the whole group, but he said, “What I’ve really learned is that you have to put the extra little splash in things that isn’t just like every kid looks like every other kid.
“So let me tell you this story about this young woman who applied. She came from a school in Eastern Oregon, and there were eight kids in the school or something and her advocation of choice was demolition derby. And I decided Princeton needs her, right? So what a great—”Princeton needs her,” not “She gets to go to Princeton.” Princeton needs her, right? So when I heard your story about that, I thought maybe he had one of these moments, right? Princeton needs Tim. But here’s the end of the story. And I was thinking afterwards though, because that it really went into my head about creations of things and how you could look at it is that, well, if you’re Dean of Admissions at Princeton, you could just take a whole bunch of the kids that look the best and throw a dart and you can have a really good class.
You might not get the demolition derby, you might not get the Tim, right? But you’d have a really good class and I thought there’s something artistic about that. And so I had this note to myself, send a letter to Dean Fred, send a letter to Dean Fred. And it was kind of SAT there like these things like I should get around to doing. And so I decided to, I decided to send in this letter. And in this letter, I wrote a little paragraph that essentially says as followups, and this gets to the notion of exquisite and then I want to put one coat on it.
Some would say that the Dean of Admissions at Stanford and Princeton cannot fail given that the ratio of talented applicants to seats. “That may be true for creating a good class but it seems to me that a great undergraduate class requires the hand of a master sculptor, the details at the margins, the choices about what not to include, the stroke of genius to include something just awful enough to be perfect like a demolition derby player from a small town in Eastern Oregon. If each class is a work of art then you have sculpted a series of masterpieces.”
And so I sent him this letter and shortly after, this was 2008, shortly after a few months later, I got a letter back from him. And I think this is something that I’m going to try to remember for the rest of my life, he has a very nice letter, very, very thoughtfully composed. And he says this thing, he says, “Your taking the time to send such a thoughtful note happens to be a perfect example of what I had in mind of my baccalaureate address the class of 2003. I encouraged them not to underestimate the value of small gestures and provided examples from my own experience. When asked to summarize my comments in a few words enough to be inscribed on a carved plaque for a new dorm classroom building dedicated last fall as Hargadon Hall, I wrote, “The most treasured gifts in the world are kind words spontaneously tendered.”
And now I mean, I’m sure many people have wonderful words to him, I’m not trying to take extra credit for words to him, but what if I’d never got around to sending the letter before he passed away? And I try to remember that because we have these people in our lives and in a time like this that we’re living through with the pandemic too, I mean, you never know when the people, you might want to say something to might disappear, any number of things can happen: accident, disease, life just expires. And I hope that I take in this idea that if you have it to say, don’t wait too long.
Tim Ferriss: I second that. And I have been personally too late in a number of cases and truthfully passing the midpoint on average of lifespans on my paternal and maternal sides, so on the male side of the ledger if we look at the average age of death across both sides in my family it’s 85. I turned 43 last time I had a birthday and I was like, okay, I’ve passed the 50 percent points assuming that we don’t have some singularity that allows me to become a cyborg with immortality. I’ve kind of passed the outer edge and I’m on the return path with the boomerang. So that reminder to me, at least that stark reminder of mortality led me just in the last I would say three to five years especially the last three years to reach out to many of my mentors who are older.
And that has been what has galvanized the rediscovery and the reaching out that you mentioned having done yourself.
So I would like to ask you, because we’re talking about influences and mentors, and we’re going to spend quite a bit of time I think discussing this. I want to discuss father figures, but I want to do it in a somewhat roundabout fashion or an oblique fashion. And going back to our first conversation and I have to just as a slice of life for people listening tell you meaning the listeners and also you, Jim, why I love you so much just as one example, and that, and I’m going to read, since you read a paragraph, I’m going to read a paragraph, which is from you.
“For Tim. Greetings from the creative monk mode cave.” This is a letter that I’m holding in front of me that I printed out. “I’m really looking forward to our conversation. I went back to the transcript of our previous conversation and systematically analyzed it to call out what we did not talk about. I thought that might help us to create a part two conversation that is distinct from our first. Here are some topics we did not discuss in our last conversation, or that we only briefly mentioned that might be possibilities to consider for this conversation. Most important, Tim, let’s have fun.”
And you provided me with the most immaculate and diverse and tantalizing outline a producer could ever want. So thank you first and foremost for that. And as luck would have it, I did a bit of prep myself also, and what I do at the end of my interviews, and I did this at the end of ours, is I circled certain things we didn’t get to notes I took with highlighter and put our two next to them which meant in the case that we ever have around two, these are some of the things I would like to explore. And from that first interview, there’s a quote in the transcript, which is of course from spoken word so it’s not intended for publication, but here’s the line: “And so I kind of decided I would create my own father by reading biographies of people I really looked up to.” And so I’m wondering if there are any particular biographies that have impacted or influenced you along those lines in seeking to sort of create your own father by reading these biographies?
Jim Collins: Yeah, so when I set out on that was, there were sort of two parts of creating my own father, one was biographies, and the other was mentors. And the biographies were relatively wide-ranging and they kind of fall into both the memoir autobiography category and then the full biography by someone else category. And I’m still a voracious learner from biographies, I think the arc of entire lives is one of the greatest sources of wisdom to really understand the arc of a life. And one of the things you find when you do that is that I don’t care how remarkable the person is, they all have their mistakes, their setbacks, their wandering periods, their whatever. And it’s kind of encouraging. This is going to sound like a strange one, but it had an utterly profound impact on how I view the world.
And that was early on, one of the early ones I read was Winston Churchill’s 4,996-page memoirs of The Second World War. And I read it, all six volumes, including I’ll still never forget reading these tables shipping tonnage loss, North Sea, March, 1942. I mean this is really detailed stuff, but you get a map and you follow the war. But here’s the thing you’re going through The Second World War in Winston Churchill’s head and there was no kind of better way of sort of thinking about what coming at the world is, and crisis and leadership and everything else than just go through all those years in his head. And that was one that I still I think feel that it had massive shaping impact on me. And then of course, the later Churchill biographies by William Manchester who I think is one of the great biographers, The Last Lion series one and series two. And then of course his own memoir Goodbye, Darkness, which had a real impact on me it was where he turned his own lens upon himself as one of the great biographers. And he said, “What I’m going to do is I’m going to unravel a mystery. And that mystery is why I, as a Marine, went back to my unit in Okinawa when I already had a million-dollar wound to go home and nearly get killed,” and had this recurring nightmare of himself arguing with a younger self about this decision and trying to understand it.
He went back and wrote a memoir of his years as a young Marine, a memoir on himself as a middle-aged man going over the same terrain, in all the islands, and then the story of the Pacific war all wrapped into one. And it had a huge impact on me because it’s really ultimately about love and that you do the most—whether one ever does anything heroic, it’s an act of love.
And then, but not all the biographies are ones that sometimes are what I would describe as negative and/or just instructive. So for example, I think Robert Caro’s work is extraordinary. I love his—I mean, I relate to his desire to spend months and months just immersed in information and detail, and getting everything and make sure you read all the files and so forth. I personally relate to that.
But his book, The Power Broker, which I think you know—
Tim Ferriss: I do.
Jim Collins: —is one of the great biographies. Now, what’s great about it is that it shows actually the reverse. And then we’re talking earlier about light force, dark force. I think his dark force motivations increased over time and that old adage, “Power corrupts,” from Lord Acton. “Absolute power corrupts, absolutely.” And then I think the last part of that is, “Very few great men are good men.” What Caro does so unbelievably well in that is he takes one person and shows that happening.
Tim Ferriss: Could you give a little more context on perhaps Robert Moses? Not that we have to go too deep into it, but just so people know who the subject is.
Jim Collins: It’s another one of those things where it’s a book that somewhere along the way it’s really worth getting to, because if I remember it right, it was quite a number of years ago when I read it. If I remember it right, the essence of it is you had this person who had a really peculiar genius and his peculiar genius was the ability to find sources of power, to be able to get things done that were often unseen by other people.
And he started out as somebody in New York who didn’t have any obvious formalized sources of power. Then he went parks originally, and he ended up playing this massive role over the course of his life with the shaping of New York. And it’s almost impossible to look at the way New York is the way New York works without thinking about the imprint of Robert Moses upon that for better and worse, and how he got that done and how he got the beaches done when there were lots of powerful forces allied against, and his ability to find pockets and pools of power, to be able to harness to get these things done without any formal power to do it.
And then what Caro, if I recall correctly, does so well is he shows how it gradually grows from power to get things done to power because you can. And he does it in 1,200 pages or something. And it’s like you see it step. And it’s sort of a counter, like it’s really fascinating like you talked about a bug book. This was the ultimate bug book on power in Robert Moses.
Well, it’s sort of like your examples of what you don’t want to be are also important in your biographies. His biography of Lyndon Johnson, extraordinary. The one that just still stuns me to this day and actually a great takeaway from it is Master of the Senate.
And you can watch Caro start off almost like, “I don’t like Johnson.” He sort of doesn’t, but he grows to appreciate his skill. And when he becomes Master of the Senate, his ability to get things done, that politics is the art of the possible, like this was Michelangelo at work, whether you agreed or disagreed, his ability to do it.
Again, I always distrust my own memory, but if I got it right, right at the end of the book as he’s leaving the Senate to go become Vice President, Caro writes something along the lines of, “He did not know it at the time, but in leaving the Senate, he was leaving the only home he ever really had,” at least that’s how I remember it.
And the takeaway I got from that was: never let your ambition confuse you about what you really are. So he always wanted to be President, but what he was made for was Master of the Senate. And of course, his presidency ends, he doesn’t seek a second term. And so he achieved his ambition, but lost his home.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I think that’s easy to do.
Jim Collins: We could have the Tim and Jim conversation for biography after biography.
Tim Ferriss: Maybe that’s an easy way for you to do a podcast, we’ll just have the Tim and Jim Hour. Now, I know you are a fan, if I’m getting my homework done properly, of Ron Chernow’s biography of George Washington. George Washington is fascinating on so many levels, in part, because he has this Cincinnatus-like quality of being the reluctant ideal leader. The perfect candidate is very seldom the one who wants to run for office.
And as I know you’ve publicly discussed the impact of that biography, and you brought it up of your own volition. I was going to lead from that the question of, what you can learn from not the Jedi, not the white knights of the leadership canon, so to speak, but from the Sith Lords, those who have for, not to push the Sith use too far, but who are masters of power but with some shadow elements.
And I’d be very curious to know, we spoke of one, Robert Moses, who also is portrayed, I think, very well in the film adaptation of Motherless Brooklyn by Edward Norton, played by Alec Baldwin. Robert Moses was perfectly cast. What are some of the lessons that you have been able to retain from some of these darker leadership icons or icons of power, and have you been able to use or absorb these things without being infected by some of the other components of their personas? Because it strikes me as very difficult to emulate only a tiny percentage of someone, if you’re not careful at least.
Jim Collins: It’s an interesting question because it is interesting how I went to Moses and to the Johnson biographies, the Caro books, because they really do—there are things there that’s like, “Hmm, that’s where I would want to be.” And as you know, I’m a big consumer of this thing called The Great Courses series where you basically go out and they found the best university professors for the quality of their teaching.
And I’m doing a whole course right now on how the brain works, and the professor is from Vanderbilt. She’s wonderful. Just her sheer joy. “And this is how light comes in. And actually, your brain then creates an image, and isn’t that wonderful?” It just leaves you with this incredible sense of awe and how everything works.
And there was a course on philosophy and I feel bad that I don’t remember the name of the professor. It might come to me towards the end of our conversation, but I think it’s called Question of Value or Question of Values. And in that course, the professor makes this wonderful distinction. He says, “You might want to think about whether you want a life to envy or a life to admire.”
Tim Ferriss: That’s great.
Jim Collins: Isn’t that? And so, you take Lincoln. It is not a life to envy. He struggled with depression. He had a tumultuous set of relationships. He had personal tragedy in his life, and then the hand he gets dealt as President too. I mean, imagine sitting there getting the battle reports from Antietam. And then he finally gets through it and then he gets his life taken away. It is not a life you would choose, but it’s absolutely a life to admire.
Tim Ferriss: Is it Professor Patrick Grim?
Jim Collins: That might be. Yeah, that might be it. It’s called Question or Questions of Value or Values?
Tim Ferriss: Questions of Value.
Jim Collins: And I was so struck and I think what I’m really interested in is the people who maybe ultimately make—they transition. They don’t become one or the other. They grow over the course of their lives. And I’m almost more interested in the growth cases than in the kind of the static cases. And what’s fascinating with Moses is he sort of grew in the other direction, but kind of the arc of change of people’s lives. I find it really, really interesting.
And even Washington is an example of that. Early in Washington’s—Chernow. By the way, have you had Chernow on?
Tim Ferriss: I have not yet.
Jim Collins: That would be wonderful. Chernow would be able to speak to this far better than I could, but early in Washington’s life, very, very—really just incredibly ambitious. And he has some setbacks. And then you see over the course of his life how his ambition gets increasingly channeled out then into the intersection of history and how that intersection of history then brings further a sense of almost historical service out of him. But the Washington of his later years is a much more evolved Washington than the Washington of early years. And I think that’s what’s interesting, because I think this question of, we are not fixed. We’re not static.
When you chat a little bit later about there wasn’t Steve Jobs. There was Steve Jobs 1.0, and Steve Jobs 2.0. I mean, it’s the arc. It’s the growth. That’s what’s interesting to me.
Tim Ferriss: Well, let me give you just a map of the territory, actually, just leading to the horizon. I like to give people an idea of what’s coming. So we are going to talk not just about books, but we’re going to talk about mentors, since that was the second component that you mentioned. And we’re going to talk about Bill Lazier specifically, but before we get to Bill Lazier because you brought up Questions of Value, I would like to ask you a question about questions, because I think many people consider you a provider of answers.
I would agree with that to some extent, but I view you more as a craftsman of questions, and the description of questions of value just as a leaping off point is, of course, for anyone who has ever felt the tug of such questions or who wants to fine tune their ability to see how deeper questions of ethics and values apply to the choices that make up their lives.
So let’s take that and jump to a New York Times piece about you, which was published in 2009. And I’m going to read this paragraph. “Mr. Collins also is quite practiced at saying no. Requests pour in every week for him to give speeches to corporations and trade associations. It could be a bustling sideline given that he commands a top tier fee of $65,000 to dispense his wisdom.”
Side note from Tim. I would say at this point in time, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were twice that amount. Back to The New York Times paragraph, “But he will give only 18 speeches this year. And about a third of them will be pro bono for nonprofit groups. Companies also ask him to consult, but he mostly declines, agreeing only if a company intrigues him, and if its executives come to Boulder to meet him.”
“Over two half-day sessions for $60,000, he will ask pointed questions and provide very few answers. ‘I am completely Socratic,’ he said, ‘and I challenge and push. They come up with their own answers. I couldn’t come up with people’s answers.’ Book tours, no. Splurging with the millions he’s earned from his books, no too.” So the part that I underlined was the over two half-day sessions, you will ask pointed questions and provide very few answers.
What types of questions—or could you give any examples of questions that you have found over the years of experimentation and refinement to really more than pull their weight? And as a side note, I will say, I know some people who have flown out with their leadership teams to meet with you. And two or three years later, they’re still talking about some of these conversations. So could you give any examples of questions that you like to use?
Jim Collins: Yeah. So first of all, I’m so pleased that you see me as more about the questions than about the answers, and I genuinely just deeply thrive on questions. That’s why I think I—again, they go back to that course. I didn’t really take away, like these are the answers on value. I took away a question. Let me just describe a little bit how I prepare for really anything, but particularly prepare for Socratic lab. And first of all, it starts with probably something very similar to what you do because you’re Socratic, is you kind of have this big funnel of trying to gain understanding before you even enter a conversation. You read. You learn. You try to get your thoughts around what are the really critical things.
And then the next thing is to start asking the question, what are the questions? And if you can identify the questions, and I think of the questions, I think of it this way. I think of it as like preparing for, if I were an NFL coach. And you are going to go into the game with a game plan. You’ve prepared really well. You’re going in with a game plan. And when you get the ball, you’re going to know your first few plays in all likelihood unless something weird happened early. And so I’ll come in with some questions that I know. It’s a little bit like Green Bay Packers always had their first set of plays and you always knew what they were, then the game would unfold.
And so you have to be really clear what are the two or three really essential things that if they don’t walk away having wrestled with this, I have failed them. Not, these are the things I need to tell them. These are the three things they got to really wrestle with. And your task is to get to those. Now you walk in, but then it’s like the game starts. And what you have to do is, “okay, we were planning on throwing long on third down but their defense isn’t allowing for that. They’re leaving the whole middle open. So we’re going to run draw plays, right?”
And so you prepare obsessively, but then you have your questions or your plays. And so I have opening questions and the first one is always the same for an inside organization, or at least historically has been. It’s not a core value. This could change, but it works like this. So you got to picture everybody’s in the room. They’ve done homework ahead of time. They’ve had to answer a bunch of questions ahead of time, which I’ve digested all their answers.
And I walk into the room. I’m in that room right now. We set up in COVID time to use that room as kind of our little studio here. So a table we had custom-made just for this room. It’s a totally secure room. If you look at the four walls on either side, there’s no way that information could escape into the outside world, which for some people, we’ve had people send security sweeps and things like that. I mean, it’s very important that things remain in some cases, very, very confidential.
And then the session started at 8:00 a.m. Now there’s a rule with that, 8:00 a.m. doesn’t mean 8:00 a.m. and four seconds. 8:00 a.m. is eight-zero-zero-zero-zero because you have to set the tone, bang, we are going to engage here. Now people have often wondered: why do I require people come to Boulder? It’s very simple. It’s not because I don’t like to travel, although I don’t. It’s when you’re dealing with people who can buy anything and you want to have an impact on them with the limited number of chances that maybe they’ll only be able to come once or you might only have them come once.
What’s the one thing they can’t get more of? Their time. So by requiring that they all have to come here and they’re in this space, in these rules, I’ve set the conditions for full commitment. Those people still talking about it years later, it isn’t just because I ask good questions. It’s in part because the conditions were created of, you have to make a commitment to come. You have to make a commitment to be really present when it happens.
I wait until exactly eight o’clock. And on day one, I walk in the room at eight-zero-zero-zero. And I go to my chair and I say, “Good morning, take out a blank sheet of paper.” It’s not like, “How was your flight? What do you think of Boulder? Hope you had a good meal last night.” “Good morning, take out a blank sheet of paper. I feel tremendous responsibility. We have a lot to do. Write down the top five brutal facts that you face today.” We are now at eight o’clock and, what, 12 seconds? And they’re quiet, blank sheet of paper, brutal facts right out of the front.
One thing that I have found is that if you start there and then that’s the very beginning, they’d go sheet of paper, brutal facts, then we have six corners in the room, six-cornered room. And there’s a random process by which then they’re put into small and then they have to come back to the large table. And I’ll randomly pick someone and I say, “Okay, what are the top five brutal facts that you face?”
And then each of those become something to start pulling on. Why is that a brutal fact? Is that really a fact? There’s a rule, no opinions allowed, facts only. You can’t say, “I think we’re growing too fast.” That’s an opinion, facts, facts, facts.
If you begin right at the start, the conversation gets very rich very quickly because everybody knows what those facts are. But you put them on the table that quickly, you are already setting the conditions for tremendous momentum.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, the setting of conditions, how underestimated.
Jim Collins: And then from there, do you have a number of them? We do a lot with, sometimes it’s the Flywheel. Sometimes it’s the hedgehog, almost always something on people and what makes for the right people. There’s almost always something on danger signs. I really like to ask people to take the five stages of decline from How the Mighty Fall and self-diagnosed, “Where are we vulnerable here and why, and what would we need to be worried about,” and those sorts of things, and zooming out 20 years and those types of things.
But once you get into it, then there’s no script that it’s the same for everyone at that point. It’s all very conditional upon who they are but it’s always going back to the principles from our research.
Tim Ferriss: Well, people go to Boulder to learn, to be interrogated—
Jim Collins: Challenged, I think is the—
Tim Ferriss: —and challenged, challenged. Let’s introduce Bill Lazier. Who is Bill Lazier? Why is he worth having a conversation about?
Jim Collins: So kind of the spark for us doing this again is I’m re-releasing my very, very first book, which is called Beyond Entrepreneurship, bringing it out as Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0 with some upgraded material in it, new chapters and so forth. But a big part of the reason is because I wanted to honor and extend the legacy of my co-author on that book, Bill Lazier.
And first, sort of how that intersects, Bill passed away in 2004. And when I was in the memorial service, and I think there was about a thousand people there. I just had this overwhelming need to write something about Bill. And I thought, “Well, I could write an obit. I could write an article. I could write something for the alumni group.”
And then Joanne, as is often the case in my life, had this really great idea. She said, “Why don’t you create something permanent, which would be to take this book that was your first book that you and Bill did together, and bring it back to the world, but really shining a light on Bill and what he did to change your life and the role he played and what a great mentor he’s all about?” And then it’s by Bill and Jim, and it brings him out permanently, and I can share him with the world. And so that’s kind of the impetus of all of this.
And just something that was very meaningful to me, I got my first copies, was it last week? It’s either the last week or the week before, and copy 001 went to Bill’s widow, Dorothy. And I’m sort of like, no matter whatever happens from here, like that’s it, everything else from here is gravy. So Bill—
Tim Ferriss: Why was he such an important or perhaps arguably the greatest mentor?
Jim Collins: He’s the greatest mentor in my life.
So Bill, I think the best way is to just tell a story. We talked earlier about this notion of dark force and light force motivations and so forth. And I met Bill when I think I was just on the verge of turning 25, and it was complete luck.
In the last episode you and I did together, we talked about who luck a lot, the who luck of Peter Drucker, the who luck of four days to engagement with Joanne, and here we are 40 years later and so forth. But this was like luck in a real sense. I had wanted to be in a different section of a course and it so happened that I didn’t get into that one. And I got assigned to a different course and there was an unknown first time teacher of that course named Lazier, and has anybody know anything about this guy, Lazier?
Nobody knew, and so I just went and I figured I would just find out what it was like or what the course is about. And that sort of chance interaction led to Bill somehow taking an interest in me. And the image I have is that I was like this propulsion machine, this driven, creative, energetic propulsion machine. But I had no direction to it, if you will.
And Bill took this interest in me and he started inviting Joanna and me over to his house. Now, he’d been a very successful—he was an accountant and a very successful entrepreneur. And in his 50’s, he returned to Stanford to really begin teaching, kind of a renewal phase in his life. And I became like this project for him, and he just kept working on me. Just he would ask questions and he was never judgmental. He was just believing and supportive, but the key was he believed in me. He just believed in me.
And then when I was 30, I think I’d just turned 30 years thereabout, there was this moment when all of a sudden kind of like the Edge House where you were describing earlier, where there was this unexpected vacancy in the entrepreneurship and small business course at the Stanford Business School. Bill taught one of the other sections, which was the course I had taken from him years before. And the deans needed somebody to fill in for this other professor who was a star professor.
And Bill went to the deans and suggested me, and then put himself on the line. I mean, he put his sense of his own reputation on the line. He said, “I’ll try to make sure he doesn’t mess up too badly.” And because of the clock, I think more than anything else, the deans let this happen. And then Bill essentially kind of got me to see that this—it’s like that thing in Hamilton, don’t throw away your shot. This was the shot.
And the idea of being the image I’ve always had in my head is imagine you’re a pitcher way down in the minor leagues and you happen to be in Yankee stadium. And for whatever reason, all the pitchers on the bus don’t make it to Yankee stadium and the game is about to start. And somebody says, “Why don’t you go out there? Somebody has got to pitch. You, just grab a glove. Go out there and pitch.”
And Bill’s message was there come these times in life when not all time in life is equal. And the quality of your performance in that moment will have outsized effect on the rest of your life. If you throw a perfect game, you’ll get to throw again, so go throw. And that was the start of everything.
And had I not had Bill’s class, had I not had Bill believing in me—and then from there until the end of his life, shaping me, guiding me, challenging me, modeling for me, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation. Good to Great wouldn’t exist. Built to Last wouldn’t exist. How the Mighty Fall wouldn’t exist. Beyond Entrepreneurship wouldn’t exist. Great by Choice wouldn’t exist. None of that would have happened.
I have some thoughts about what I might’ve ended up doing, but this is a whole lot better. And that was Bill, and it was his caring and investment. And he put this—this is what I think made him such a great mentor. He so believed in me that it created a sense of responsibility to him, to that standard. You don’t want to fail that. You don’t want to let that down, that it acted like a magnet and it just pulled me up.
Tim Ferriss: What are some of the life lessons that you gained from Bill and that have remained highly important to you?
Jim Collins: So I put some of these in the book—
Tim Ferriss: In the notes and in the book.
Jim Collins: Yeah, exactly, because I got this whole chapter on sort of the lessons I want to share with the world from Bill. And I could pick any number of them, maybe we’ll pick one.
Tim Ferriss: I can pick one just because I’d love some clarity on it. So I’ll give people just a teaser of a few. Never stifle a generous impulse. Great life, great relationships. Trust wager, which is the one I would love to hear you expand on. Values is the hard stuff, and then put the butter on your waffles, which I also love. But maybe you could expand on just, since I’m following my own curiosity here, trust wager.
Jim Collins: Yeah. And then maybe a little bit on butter and the waffles, because I think it’s something that you may relate to. But the even though I think you’re probably more fanatic about diet than I am, but anyways the—
Tim Ferriss: I’m more fanatic about consuming copious amounts of butter than just about anything.
Jim Collins: Okay, good.
Tim Ferriss: So this is in my strike zone.
Jim Collins: Yeah. So the trust wager, after I had left Stanford and in the previous episode, we talked about that, what Joanne and I called our Thelma and Louise moment of launching out over the chasm and betting on my own entrepreneurial path to try to be an entrepreneurial professor rather than a professor of entrepreneurship. When I left the very protective walls of where I was, I started hitting other sorts of experiences including, and I won’t go into specifically who and what they were, but situations where people I trusted had abused my trust. And it really stung, I hadn’t really experienced that in life before. Then Just realizing not everybody is trustworthy and some people really not trustworthy.
And so I went to Bill, and I said, “Bill, have people ever abuse your trust? And how do you deal with this?” And he said, “Yeah, they have, but this is one of the big decisions you have to make in life. You have to decide as a basic stance. Is your opening basic assumption about people that they are trustworthy? You always start there. Your opening bit is trust and trusting them, always. And they can lose that trust if there’s incontrovertible evidence that they have abused your trust, but you always have to be clear, never attribute to malice what could simply be explained by incompetence. And the other path is to start with, you have to earn my trust. I’m not necessarily going to trust you, but through evidence and experience, you’ll earn your trust.” He said, “This is one of those big choices in life to just a basic stance.
What is your stance?” And I said, “Well, you seem to trust people.” He said, “Yes, that’s my debt.” I said, “But how do you deal with the fact that people are not always trustworthy?” And he said, “Well so long as you don’t leave yourself open to a catastrophic loss,” and he was always very clear, “I always pay attention to the cash flow.” And he described a situation where he’d lost enough money from somebody he trusted that it hurt, right? It didn’t crush him, but it hurt. And he said, “But I still come back to, ‘I would rather live with that.'” And I said, “Well, how many understand, though, the pain you have to deal with that, and the fact that people are not always trustworthy?”
And he said, “Look, Jim, think of it as upside and downside. Here’s the wager: ‘What’s the upside?’ If you—to taking the bit of mistrust, well, you’ll maybe prevent yourself from having one of those hurtful experiences. And what’s the downside? The downside is trustworthy people. You will lose them. And the upside to trusting people is when you find the trustworthy people, they will rise to it.” And he said, this was the critical thing he said to me, he said, “If you ever considered the possibility, Jim, that not everybody is one or the other, but because you trust them at that outset, they are more likely to become trustworthy because you trust them.”
And ever since then, that I try to live to that, the idea that that’s the opening bit, and just make sure you protect your flank. So it can’t be catastrophic, but that was built hard-headed, realistic, but you always start with the opening bit of trust.
Tim Ferriss: Were there any footnotes on that trust? And I guess I would love an example of what trust means in this context, if that makes sense. Because the expression that comes to mind is “Trust, but verify, right?” So if I get an email that says, “I am the widow of a Nigerian prince, and can you please wire $10 million to this falling bank account? And here’s how we’ll split the $100 million dollar proceeds.” I assume that he does not mean you wire the 10 million in a circumstance like that, right? That would be an extreme example, but you much—and we make it to this a bit later also, but I’ve read of how you think about luck is asymmetric as a causal force, right?
So bad luck can kill you, but good luck cannot make you great. It may be necessary in some circumstances, but not sufficient. Similarly, there are certain downsides that are survivable. There are certain downside risks that are easily manageable, and then there are existential or catastrophic downside risks. So how did he trust from an informed or a smart place as opposed to a reckless place? Does that make sense?
Jim Collins: Well, when it came to business dealings, Bill always, I guess, I sort of describe it and if I understand this one situation that he referred to, he always had a good awareness of the cash flow in his environment. He was just fanatic about always understand your cash flow, very practical person on that. And I remember one day he was teaching a class it was for the entrepreneurship and small business, and he was pushing the students on what are the really key issues in the case. And they’re all going off of that, our strategic positioning and, where, yeah. There’s sort of market share growth and whatever.
And finally, Bill just sort of walks over to the whiteboard and puts in about four foot high letters with the side of the chalk all the way across the board, one giant word: “Cash.” And he always tried to, particularly for people who come from earnings world, you don’t pay your bills with earnings. I mean, you pay your bills with cash. And so Bill’s practice always was to be very aware of where the flanks were and to ensure that he would never leave themselves exposed to say, having something where you would wake up and find that something had been taken that left you completely crushed, if you will, completely embezzled, or anything like that, right? He was aware of the cash flow.
But when you bring somebody in, it’d be, do you trust/not trust that they’re doing to do a great job? Do you not trust that they’re going to steward the resources of the company as if they owned it? Or are you going to basically trust that they will? He basically would always just start with, “I trust you. I trust you.” And he would never use the idea of locking a supply cabinet or anything like that. Just “I trust you.” You could lose that trust, but it’s just know where the flanks are.
And we’ll probably get to that when we get to the lock part, because I think that has a lot to do with this sort of notion of managing what’s catastrophic versus managing what’s not. And in the end, here’s the key thing. Bill was all about relationships and Bill believed that the only way to have a great life, there’s two approaches to life, to seek transactions and see life is a series of transactions, or to take life as building relationships. And the only way to have a great life in Bill’s view, was relationships. And the cornerstone of relationships is trust.
Tim Ferriss: And then you can put butter on your waffles together, presumably.
Jim Collins: Okay. So let’s talk about butter on waffles!
Tim Ferriss: I’ve been thinking about eating waffles ever since you mentioned it.
Jim Collins: Yeah. So butter on the waffles is something that, this is still something I really struggle with, but I learned from Bill. And, so we were working on Beyond Entrepreneurship. I didn’t know what I was doing as a writer. And I’m sure back when you were writing your first book, there was this incredible sense of inadequacy, right?
Tim Ferriss: Does that ever go away? Please tell me it does.
Jim Collins: What I’ve actually learned is that writing is like running. If you’re going to run your best, let’s say you can run a six-minute mile. And then now you’re a better runner and you can run a five-minute mile. If you’re going to run your best, whatever your PR is, it is always going to hurt. Writing never gets easier. You only get better. So I was going through, but I was, I don’t know, I was running maybe nine-minute miles. I mean, I was throwing all kinds of stuff in the wastebasket. I felt completely overwhelmed. There was—I truly felt inadequate and I was suffering. And so I go to Bill and we’re working on this together and I’m doing most of the trying to get the text working.
And I sit down with Bill and he can tell I’m just sort of really suffering. And I described to him how I’d spent the entire day, the day before, and it’s all in the wastebasket—whine, whine, whine. And I expected Bill to give me this, maybe this lecture on this is the time to push through. And you have to, it’s something that you have to double down. It’s like the last six miles of the marathon. You’re only at halfway at mile 20 in the last six or where everything happens. And that’s when you really have to grit it out and that’s what I expected to hear. And instead, what I got was a lecture on fun. And Bill says to me, he says, “Okay. So if you’re not having fun and we’re not having fun doing this, we should just stop.”
And he said, “If we can’t find a way to make this fun, we shouldn’t be doing this.” So the day after we turned in the manuscript, Bill had a heart attack and he had a quintuple bypass surgery. And we used to have these waffle fests at the Peninsula Creamery. And we would meet there on Saturday mornings so we’d have waffles and, a few weeks or months, I can’t remember the exact time length, we’re having one of our waffle fests after Bill had his heart attack. We sit down and just before he pulls out all this butter and he starts putting butter on his waffles and putting syrup all over the butter and creating that marvelous mixture of syrup and butter, creating that marvelous mixture of yum stuff on your waffles.
And I said, “Bill what are you doing? You had a quintuple bypass surgery. You are putting all this butter on your waffles.” And Bill just continued to pour the butter on his waffles. And then he looked up at me and he had this most marvelous expression. It was like, that was sort of a smile, but it was this. It’s hard to explain what it is. It reminds me of that line in Seneca’s, right? On the shortness of life, this is a wise person who knows how to meet death with a firm step. And Bill told me the story of going into the operating room. He said, “I bet they saw a smile on my face, because I’m going into the operating room. And I all of a sudden knew. I mean, I knew without question, that if this was the end, I’m okay with that. Dorothy and I’ve had a great run. I’ve lived my life the way I wanted to live it. I have so many people in my life who I have loved and I love.I have already had a great life, and nothing can take that away. And so I decided coming out of it, everything from here is gravy and I’m going to lead my life and I’m putting the butter on my waffles.”
Bill never confused a long life with a great life. And he died a number of years after that. Not that many years after that, maybe a decade, must’ve been maybe 12 years later, he woke up and was walking across the room and he fell dead of congestive heart failure. And Dorothy later told me that he had a smile on his face. And when I was in the Stanford chapel, and I saw all these people in there, well, two things happened. One, I cried, and it was such a different crying because when my dad died, I cried for what I never had. And when Bill died, I cried for what I have lost.
And then I look out in that Stanford chapel, and I see all these people in there. And I realize I’m not the only person whose life he had altered. There are hundreds of them. And at this image of them is vectors going out in time and space. And that if you can affect the trajectory of a vector, even a few degrees when they’re relatively young, is a huge sweep as their life unfolds. And imagine you did that for not just one vector, but just one Jim Collins, but a whole bunch of other people. And you have hundreds of those vectors going out into time and space. Then you’ve lived a really great life and you had butter on your waffles. And so, it’s interesting, you notice I put here most important to him, “Let’s have fun,” on my memo to you. I’m really trying. This is for me, the hardest of the lessons I learned from Bill. Just putting a premium on, if you can’t find a way to make it fun, you shouldn’t do it.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s see. It seems Bill was not only having fun. He was fulfilled and a beautiful fun, at least temporarily can be bought with a bottle of wine, but, fulfillment, not quite as transactionally available. And I’m going to jump around here just a little bit, but this is the next topic that popped to mind for me, which is related to this. And that’s contrasting your time with West Point cadets. Having spent time at the United States Military Academy at West Point with your time with MBA students at Stanford, because it seems that the cadets seemed happier.
And I would like to know in your mind why you think that is maybe perhaps what you know to be true about what separates those two groups. Because I think in the minds of many you are a researcher and a student of success, but you and I can both point out examples of people who are extolled or put on a pedestal as these pinnacles of success. And yet they have these Pyrrhic victories. They go home, they have terrible relationships with their kids, with their spouses, et cetera. So this is deeply interesting to me, the contrast: cadets versus MBA students.
Jim Collins: Yeah. So it was a really marvelous experience. So back in 2012 and 2013, I had this real honor to serve a two year appointment as the class of 1951 chair for the study of leadership at the United States Military Academy at West Point. First of all just personally, it was a just incredible experience to go and be invited in, and especially in a special role like that, to really get a feel for how does a place like West Point one of the great Leadership Development Institutions in the world, probably in history do its thing, with young people who come in, and what’s their approach to things. And it had a profound impact on me on many ways. And I went there theoretically to teach something to the cadets, but really I ended up as is often the case being the student.
And I used to have these marvelous dinners where I had this big round table. And I would invite about 12 cadets. And it just start off with a simple question beginning to ask them questions about their lives, but how did you end up here? Where did you grow up? Why did you choose this versus something else? And just getting to know each cadet and why they would choose this path, marvelous journey? Well, anyways, the more I got to know the cadets, and the more I engaged with them. The more I was struck at by-and-large, how happy they seemed, now you got to try to understand what life as a West Point cadet is like, I didn’t go to West Point. I went and studied math on the West coast. They have not just their hefty academic load, we’ve got your history and philosophy and engineering and all of these things.
You also have your leadership training, you have your physical training, you have your military training, right? And you don’t have a whole lot of free time. This is an intense place. And I’m finding myself thinking, what is it? And there’s this sense of them being on the balls of their feet and the sense of energy. And I’ll never forget when I had the joy. That’s the only word I can use. The sheer joy of being able to close out my session with the West Point cadets with a one-hour presentation to 5,000 cadets all in their camels, in Eisenhower Hall for an hour. And at the end of it the eruption, the roar from them that just sort of conveyed the sense of sharing joy. If you will. I was like, wow, this is a really interesting place, the energy.
If you could just bottle that, what is that? How does that happen? What’s working here? And so I puzzled a lot because what really struck me is they did seem happier; I can’t measure that. I can’t prove that they’re happier, but they sure felt happier to me then my Stanford students, when I taught in the business school. And so I came away with a couple of key thoughts on maybe three that go together. The first begins with, I just have to lead into it with a little bit of a story. I always like to do something physically demanding or challenging in some form for my fives. So for my 55th birthday, which was when I was there, I decided that I wanted to do this thing called the IOCT, the Indoor Obstacle Course Test. Because I kept asking the cadets, “What’s hard about being here?” and they kept seconding this thing called the IOCT.
“What’s the IOCT?” “Sorry, you don’t want to know. We all hate the IOCT.” “Well, what is it?” “It’s the Indoor Obstacle Course Test. This is a place called Hayes Gym. And the idea being that you have to leap over things, and mantle up on a shelf, and go across these sideways bars, and cross a balance beam, and over walls and hand over hand across bars, and then upper rope, and then run around the track with the medicine ball. But here’s the key, there’s a graduation time. You actually have to hit a time. And I said, “Well, I think I’m going to try to do the IOCT in 22-year-old cadet graduation times at 55 years old.” And I was having trouble with this because it was actually quite hard. It’s not a good idea, by the way. And I was over there training and the cadets were wonderful, because they’d be coming along. And say, “Sir, don’t do it like that. You look like an old man, sir.”
I’m like, “Well, I am an old man.” So anyways, I’m working on the IOCT, and I’m training one day and all of a sudden I stand back and I look around. And I noticed something, there are groups of cadets who are clearly not having any trouble accomplishing the IOCT, they’ll hit their time easily, who are in there taking out time out of a life where they don’t have extra time to help their classmates who are struggling with the IOCT to ensure that they get through. All of a sudden, it just parted for me, I realized what’s happening here is the entire culture is built on the idea that you are not alone. And that your response to “This sucks” is “How can I help you?” And the idea being that the thing you have to learn is we will take care of each other.
And I began to think about this notion of success is communal. It’s never alone. It’s never solo. And there are people that are going to help you. And then your responsibility is to help someone else. If you have trouble with the IOCT and somebody helps you, but you might be good at math, and you’re going to help them. And that was very different than what I saw in other environments. That’s so very different from what I see often in corporate America. And if you could grab that idea that you are never alone, and your first responsibility is to help someone else versus advance yourself and you make that systemic built in cultural. The other part is the ethic of service.
And we talk a lot about service, and kids should do things for service. There’s another thing when every kid that is there knows that either they, or somebody close to them, or somebody in their unit, may well die in the rendering of that service, And so that creates a context of meaning. That is, I think, very hard to find other places. So you have the service, what you are in service to, what you are willing to sacrifice for, what you might even die for, and those around you and take care of each other. And the acts of love that is I think, a very special and very powerful concoction. And I think it explains a lot of why, at least, I don’t know if it was happier, more meaningful, more, but it was this extra X factor that is palpable.
Tim Ferriss: So I want to make a military leap too. And I am making a bit of a guess, but I think I may be right here. So after 30 years of working research, you have a single map of concepts and a framework now. And if you die tomorrow, that is what you would want people to have and follow. One of the bullets in this consolidated map of concepts is the Stockdale Paradox. Is this Stockdale, the POW?
Jim Collins: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: —versus a different Stockdale. We don’t have to necessarily start with Stockdale because you mentioned Seneca earlier, my historic reading and leanings, I’m fascinated by Stockdale. So let’s approach this any way you like, we could dive into Stockdale Paradox, or we could begin just by taking a step back and looking at the macro of what is meant by having a single map of concepts after 30 years of work and research.
Jim Collins: Yeah. So here’s what I’d love to do with that. Tim is I actually would love to pick up on just the previous part of our conversation and go into Stockdale. It’s one of the key principles in the map. And I feel in today’s world, by the time people hear this, we’re really in a Stockdale moment. And so I would love for people to hear from me the Stockdale Paradox, if that’s all right with you, it involves a story yeah. So for people who don’t know, Admiral Jim Stockdale was the highest-ranking Naval officer, a military officer in the Hanoi Hilton prisoner of war camp and in North Vietnam. He was shot down in the late 1960s. And he spent seven years in the camp.
And I had the great privilege to be able to get to know Admiral Stockdale a bit, when he was studying stock philosophy across the street at the Hoover Institute, when I was teaching my small business and entrepreneurship class over at the Stanford business school. And in preparation for this walk across campus and lunch that we were going to have, I sat down and read his book In Love And War, which is written in alternating chapters by himself and his wife about his years in the camp. And, now I want you to picture, I’m sitting there in a really nicely paneled, warm Stanford faculty office, looking out at the fog, kind of coming in over the hills and it’s this beautiful setting. And I’m in, I’m comfortable, I’m safe, I’m reading a book. And I found myself starting to feel the sense of despair and feeling depression.
Because as I read the book, I really began to realize the bleakness of the situation. But what really struck me about it is not only could they pull them out and torture him at any time, and they did that, they could keep him in leg irons for extended periods of time. And they did, right? What really struck me was the sense of you had no idea when or how it would end. So it’s not like you walk into the Hanoi Hilton and they give you a slip of paper and say “Your release date is December 31, 1972.” I mean, you have no idea. You don’t know how long you’ll be there. You don’t know what it’s going to be like all the way through it. You don’t know if you will reunite with your family again. There’s no sense of when this might come to an end or if it will come to an end.
And it was that never-ending sense. This just—that struck me as that was hard. And then it dawned on me, I’m feeling this, reading pages in a book, and I know the end of the story. I know he gets out. I know he reunites with his family. I know we’re going to go for a really nice walk on this beautiful campus in just a few days. How on earth did he live it not knowing the end of the story? How did he not capitulate to despair? So I asked him and he said, “Oh, I never capitulated to despair because I never ever wavered in my faith. Not only that I would get out, but I would turn it into the defining event of my life. That in retrospect I would not trade.” So we didn’t say anything for a while. We just walked. He was very comfortable with silence, and we walked and we walked.
Finally I said, “Admiral Stockdale, who didn’t make it out as strong as you?” “Oh, that’s easy. It was the optimists.” I’m kind of confused here. And he said, “Oh, by optimists. I mean, those who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas,’ and Christmas would come and it would go, and ‘We’re going to be out by Easter, and it’s going to come,’ and it would go, and ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas,’ and it would come and it would go. And they suffered from a broken heart.’ And this is what I learned from Admiral Stockdale. This idea you must never, ever confuse the need on the one hand for an unwavering faith that you can, and you will prevail in the end with at the same time and at the same time, the discipline to confront the most brutal facts as they actually are today. And I always had this image of Admiral Stockdale saying, “We’re not going to be out of here by Christmas; deal with it.”
Years later, I was working on the research for what became Good to Great. And I kept noticing those level five leaders we talked about in the last episode, they haven’t had to lead their companies through, often, maybe years of desperate experiences to get to the other side. And they all seem to have that strange duality, this sort of unwavering faith, they would get there in this incredible stoicism to confront the brutal facts. And one day I shared the Stockdale story with the research team and everybody jumped in saying essentially, that’s it. That’s exactly what we’re seeing with these people. And we ended up calling it the Stockdale Paradox. I find whether it’s this COVID time people hopefully, maybe listening to this after COVID time, because I certainly anticipate there will be one.
But we go through Stockdale moments, whether it be like we’re doing on a global basis right now, we are in a Stockdale moment, companies and leaders and entrepreneurs go through Stockdale moments times in our lives that you go through Stockdale moments. Remember, last time we talked about the spreadsheet I keep, where I do the plus one, plus two, zero minus one, minus two calculation of the days, and how you get a minus two day. You can feel like you’re in a really dark hole. Everything is colored by that or part of coming up with that is the idea to basically lend faith that when you look at the data, you see a lot of ones and twos that you can’t see clearly when you’re in the minus two. It was sort of an actualization of living the Stockdale Paradox. You’ve got to confront the fact the day sucked, or this is hard, or I am feeling really down or whatever. And there’s unwavering faith that the plus twos will return.
Tim Ferriss: May I ask you a question about your scoring book?
Jim Collins: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Your spreadsheet? Because I don’t think I asked this last time and that is well as a lead in there are many different ways to get to the same average and one approach, let’s just say, and I’m not saying this is the objective, but your goal were to hit a certain average. One way to get there would be to have a consistently plus one, negative one, plus one, negative one, zero, zero, plus one, negative one. Another way to get there would be plus two, negative two, plus two, negative two, zero, and so on. Which of those do you prefer if either, more or less volatility, but if you choose less volatility, you’re getting lower amplitude on the positive days?
Jim Collins: Yeah. That’s a great question. Let me think about that for a minute because I find they come in strings. Okay. There’s a couple of things I’ve observed. For those who didn’t hear that episode, the essence of it is I score this, I track two numbers every day. I track the number of creative hours I got for the day and they have to sum up over a 365-day period. Always have to be above 1,000 creative hours and my self-imposed march is that it has to stay above 1,000 creative hours, every 365 days, every day of the year, for 50 years. Right. That’s the march on the creative side.
Then there’s this other part which is tracking, how did the day feel? Was it a plus two day, plus one, zero, minus one, minus two, and the reason that that’s very important to put it in at the end of the day is, the next day you might feel different. So you got to put it down that day and then start looking for correlations about what correlates with twos and ones and minuses and so forth and I do this every single day.
But as I begin to go back and look at patterns, I find a couple of things. The first is sometimes there are strengths. You might go through two, three weeks that are a lot of plus one plus twos. And the averages are starting to be above one, which is really good by the way. To be above one means there’s twos and ones and not a lot of negatives. And then you might get a string of a week that’s just for whatever reason. And often it’s just, you wake up in the morning and you have that sense of dread and anxiety and you can’t shake it. And it sort of colors everything. I’ve learned how to deal with it by basically preparing for the things in the future.
But you begin to see those and you begin to see that they come in strings. And so, what do I prefer? I just prefer a lot of ones and twos accepting the brutal fact that there are minus ones and minus two. So the reality of life is not a lot of plus twos and not a ton of minus twos, which is why the average is sort of just a little more consistent, but I really love the plus twos. And so if you gave me a choice, would I rather have minus twos and plus twos? Well, that’s really hard to answer. That’s really hard to answer.
One thing I have noticed though, this is just myself. I mean, I’m my own weird idiosyncratic case. So in studying myself, one of the things I’ve noticed is and this is part of what is great about life and self-observation. I can find that I can have minus twos and plus twos right next to each other. It is astounding, sometimes their strengths, right. But sometimes it’s just astounding how you can go have one day where you’re just like, man, if my life was going to be all these minus twos, it’s just not a life I want.
And then the very next day something changes and it’s a plus two and you try to figure out what that is. I can’t always explain it, but it’s incredible. And it’s that notion also, sometimes I’ve even noticed that something starts off feeling like it’s going to be a minus two and you observe that like, man, it’s going to be a minus two a day. No, the day’s not done. The day’s not written. The day’s not over. I have choices I can make. So can I turn this? What’s looking like a minus two a day into at least a plus one or plus two, the day is not written. And I found that you can begin to start changing them.
I’ve learned some of the triggers that cause the negatives. I think comparison. One of my mentors, Michael Ray, had a wonderful line, which is: comparison is the primary stint of modern life. And I find that anytime I find myself in comparison to others as opposed to, “Hey, am I making the backs of the statues as beautiful as I can?” That tends to correlate with minus twos much more. I find that I’m also very sensitive to how other people around me are feeling. And if other people are having minus twos, I might be more likely to have a minus two.
Tim Ferriss: If you don’t mind me digging into the comparison, because I think a lot of people will resonate with comparison, if not as the primary sin of modern life as a—
Jim Collins: That’s Michael Ray’s statement, that’s a good one.
Tim Ferriss: Right. As a predictor or a harbinger of negative two days. Let me ask you first. I mean, the question that I have is, would you be willing to give some examples of how that shows up for you? How are you comparing yourself to other people? Because you strike me as such a unique snowflake, I don’t know who you would compare yourself to exactly. I mean, I’m sure we can always find people. Maybe it’s some incredible 5.14 rock climber. I don’t know. But how does it most often show up for you, comparison, this seduction or this kind of moth to the flame of comparison? And how did it show up for Michael Ray, if you have any idea?
Jim Collins: Michael Ray was a very evolved specimen. I mean, he was an academic professor, professor of marketing, then taught creativity in business class. And I think that in the world of academia with peer review and with the kind of the tenure ladder and all of that, it kind of breeds a sense of comparison.
Tim Ferriss: Totally.
Jim Collins: And where your office is and a whole bunch of other things in a way it’s kind of—and then Silicon Valley. I mean, if there is Sin City, it’s Silicon Valley in terms of comparison is the primary sin of modern life, right? And Michael dealt with it by very, very deep spiritual practice. That was the way he dealt with it.
Tim Ferriss: What was his spiritual practice?
Jim Collins: He was involved very deeply in a very extensive meditation and studying under, I believe, maybe more than one guru. And he dedicated his life to his own evolution to find what he always described as to get in touch with his real inner essence, as opposed to his external forms. And his life was very guided in that direction.
And I think that for me, sometimes it’s changed over the years. I think when I was younger, it would be these sort of more surface level comparisons. It’s never been like, “Gee, how am I comparing financially? Or how am I comparing…” I actually would rather compare with people being maybe surprised and say, “Oh, you don’t have X and Y and Z.” I kind of like that. “You don’t have windows in your office.” I kind of like those sorts of comparisons. They feel a lot different. Why don’t you have the corner office with all the windows? Exactly. Because there’ll be windows, it’ll be distracting.
We were talking earlier in our earlier one about John McPhee, you can read a John McPhee paragraph and go, “I don’t know if I could ever do that paragraph.”
Tim Ferriss: That’s a really optimistic stance. I just say, “Goddamn, I can’t even imagine ever producing a paragraph like that.”
Jim Collins: Exactly. I think sometimes it’s just these standards that, and then I see people who embody them and you feel inadequate to those. And that’s where some of the comparison comes in. And climbing, that’s great as you get to be 62 or 63, you’re going to lose a comparison with anybody who’s 25, so.
Tim Ferriss: Right, right. Not on the table. What do you do if Michael Ray had his spiritual practice to act as a countervailing force or counterbalance to the very human, I should say, instinct, reflex, evolutionary pre-program tendency to compare? What do you have? What is your pattern interrupt or sort of method for mitigating the tailspin or possibility of that negative two due to comparison?
Jim Collins: Yeah. I’ve learned some very specific things that, again, I’m idiosyncratic to myself, everybody probably has to find their own patterns. And I certainly am not one to prescribe that other people, although after our last session, I guess a bunch of people started spreadsheets and good. I hope they’re helpful to them, but people have to sort of find their own recipe. And that’s what the bug book’s about, right? To begin to observe for yourself as you study yourself like a bug what really works.
For me, I’ve learned a couple of things. The critical thing is to find something very tangible that pivots me to the future and what’s coming next. And so, for example, I’ve learned that if I wake up at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, and I know I’m hitting the 20-Minute Rule, and I’m not going to get back to sleep and I can feel those—
Tim Ferriss: What is the 20-Minute Rule?
Jim Collins: 20-Minute Rule basically says, if you wake up in the middle of the night and you’re not back to sleep by 20 minutes, you get up and get going.
Tim Ferriss: Get moving.
Jim Collins: And so I follow the 20-Minute Rule and I hit the 20-Minute Rule. I’m like, “There’s no way I’m getting back to sleep. So get up and get going.” But in that 20 minutes, there’s something weird about laying there in bed in the darkness. You can feel those, it’s like a black mist sort of coming in, and all of a sudden, you’re thinking about something that’s whether it’s comparison or comparison to something to a standard, you could have done better or whatever.
Here’s what I’ve learned. Just even this last weekend, as I was preparing for our conversation, I have found that one of the best things to do is to throw myself into creative preparation for something that’s coming up and to go into the preparation bubble. And the reason for that is simple. There’s nothing to compare to at all. There’s nothing to be judgmental of. They haven’t happened yet, right. They’re all in the future. And all your energy goes from looking backward or looking to the side or any of that and all of that just all of a sudden becomes this energy. You roll out of bed, go right to the desk and then immediately pop up and say, “What have I got coming up I need to prepare for?”
So, “Hey, I’m going to be talking with Tim. I better be thinking about what did we talk about last time? What could be different this time? Man, I should probably go back and revisit The 4-Hour Workweek.” All of a sudden, this generation of I’m preparing, I’m preparing, I’m looking forward. I’m on the balls of my feet. I’m creating. It all goes away.
And I have a little thing on my iPhone, which because I have my to-dos like everybody else, and I also have my stop-dos online, I have a thing called prep, and prep is always in bold. And so whenever I’m in that point, I immediately go to the bold line that’s called prep. And I say, “What can I prepare for?” That also applies if I go into my research. But, again, that’s for ideas that have yet to happen. I can’t judge the ideas. They’re not there yet.
Tim Ferriss: What do you use to contain your to-dos, stop-dos, and prep-dos notes? Do you use a different application? Where do those things live?
Jim Collins: I am a, and people in our little system here know this, I’m a fanatic for simplicity. I’m not always so good at it, but I’m a fanatic for simplicity. I don’t like really complicated—I’m sorry to app makers and all that. I apologize to you. So how do I keep my to-dos? I use the Notes app on my iPhone and which also carries over to my iPad. And I have two versions of it. There’s the beginning of every year you sit down and you do your sets of threes, right? Top three things to get done this year, write them down. Top three things to stop doing or reduce significantly this year. it has to balance. Three for three. And if you have more than three in your top set, you don’t have any priorities. Truly.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Jim Collins: And then you go down to top three, what I call supporting objectives. So for example, I might have a top objective, redesign the Socratic Process. I might have a supporting objective, which is create a new table for the space, right? Something that’s supportive, but again, only three and they’re supporting the big ones. But they have to be in support of. And then there’ll be other threes. I actually have one, top three fun, right. I’m really trying on that, right. It’s one of the hard ones for me. So you do that. And so I have those over there on one thing and you go back and you constantly, and at the end of the year, you grade yourself, right. And you don’t grade yourself. You don’t get to change it. You have to grade yourself on every one of those at the end of the year. A, B, C, D, E, F, you can use minuses and pluses if you want. And you grade yourself relative to exactly what you said you were going to focus on for the year.
Now, something may happen. You might get sick and have to deal with that or whatever, but you grade yourself. And you go to that and it’s on a simple note, it’s just a simple white little memo pad, right. And then you have your, what’s sort of going on, which is the long list. Every time you think of something you need to do, you just add it to, it’s a memo note. That’s all it is. But the critical step and you wrote about this. You’re really good at this, Tim.
When you sit down, you do the very thing that you wrote about or think in The 4-Hour Workweek. And I found it very, very helpful. Sit down and you just look at that list and you say, “Okay, what are the two, maybe three things today that…” And maybe either one of them, right.
This is today. And sometimes it can be simply as today is a day that if I didn’t have fun, it’s a failure, right, because it’s going to be a fun day or whatever. But then here’s the little trick I’ve learned. There’s all the other to-dos and they might go on for hundreds of things, just so someday you don’t always forget about them. I like to hit return enough times that when you open the memo, which you always have key so it can open up instantaneously. When you open the memo, all the ones below those top three are off the screen. And they’re there, right, but they’re purposely hidden. And it’s simple. It’s just simple. For date things, I use the thing on the iPhone which is they’re simple reminders saying, “We could have all these powerful apps for tracking contacts and stuff like that or things that we have to prepare for.” I’m like, “Why don’t we just use an Excel spreadsheet or a Word document?” I just think the critical thing is if you don’t have the discipline, no app is going to make you disciplined.
Tim Ferriss: Speaking of discipline, what are some examples of things on your stop-do list?
Jim Collins: Well, I think one of the biggest ones on my stop-do list and I give myself so far, used to be you always want to grade your arising. One is, don’t hit send.
Tim Ferriss: What does that mean?
Jim Collins: One of the things I learned from another wonderful mentor, a fellow named Irv Grousbeck. You can always say something you haven’t said. You can never unsay something you’ve said. It’s very simple thing, but I never draft an email response in an email app. I never draft an important text in the text app because you might hit send. And sometimes it’s a matter of when you hit send. So I thought about the shock that hits my system. If I’m up at 4:00 in the morning and something occurs to me and I text and email people on my team at 4:00 in the morning. First of all, they don’t need to know about it at 4:00 in the morning. At 8:00, I might not even think it’s that important because it just was according to me at 4:00 in the morning. And I’ve shocked their life. This is completely unhelpful. I don’t put it in an app, I just type it out. And I would say about somewhere between a half and two thirds of my correspondence, I never sent.
Tim Ferriss: Wow. That’s amazing.
Jim Collins: Partly because I like a conversation if I can have that. And one thing I’ve really observed with really effective people, like I’ll never forget I would every once in a while in a couple of the conversations that—well, I’ve actually had this with multiple people, really remarkable people. I’ve noticed that they often see the purpose of email is to trigger a conversation by voice. Dear Jim, can we chat?
Tim Ferriss: How do you feel about that?
Jim Collins: Oh, about “Dear Jim, can we chat”?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Jim Collins: Well, I’m reclusive so often, that’s—but if it’s the right person, I mean, there are things that can happen by voice and conversation that can never happen. Imagine having this conversation by email.
Tim Ferriss: Right. Harder.
Jim Collins: It’d be really, really hard to do. So another thing is I have travel is at least on a scholarly. Right now, I would have stopped doing, but I ideally would love it to be almost permanently stop doing. Travel for other than fun. Those are some that are really I’m still very much working on. But when in doubt, don’t hit send.
Tim Ferriss: If we return to the consolidated map of concepts, this map of concepts and a framework after 30 years, there are many that we could talk about and you can feel free to go off menu with what I’m going to mention. But I would love to hear more about the genius of the AND or clock building, not time telling.
Jim Collins: Okay, great.
Tim Ferriss: But you can choose option C if there’s another one you think would be more fun to explore.
Jim Collins: Right. So, let me zoom out for a moment about this map. And then I’ll pop into a couple of comments about that. So first of all, what is the map?
Starting way back when I first started teaching the entrepreneurship and small business class. And just as an aside, by the way, a lot of people think that my work has been about big companies because the companies that were in the research were huge companies by the time we pick them up to study them. And that’s where the data was because they were publicly traded companies. But we always studied them back to when they were startups.
So I was interested in Disney when Disney was doing a first cartoon. I was interested in how Amgen went from a startup into finally stumbling upon what would become EPO. I was interested in Intel when it had three people and Southwest Airlines when it had three airplanes then. For me, I’ve always had my main interest and passion has been ultimately for the entrepreneur and the entrepreneur who I would like to challenge with beyond part of the entrepreneurship part, which is to basically take the idea of, okay, now that you have a successful business, can you make the journey from there to build, turn it into a truly enduring great company?
I mean, if you’re going to do it, why don’t you try to create one of the companies that can last, that’s worthy of lasting, that can change the world, that can go on and continue to do that for generations and can serve as a role model for others. If you can do that, why don’t you do that, right? Or at least why don’t you think about doing that? That was always sort of the frame and you get companies when they’re young and when they’re small because it’s like getting them when they’re really, really still in the early parenting stage. And it’s easier to turn a small business or an entrepreneurial company into a great company than it is to try to change a giant mediocrity down the road into a great company. So get it right early.
That’s where all this work began. And I started thinking about how would we do that? And that’s what led to the research. And last time we talked about the research method, comparative analysis and historical analysis, and all the things that we do that go back to how I learned how to do this research with Jerry Porras. And we applied it first in Built to Last, and it wasn’t about big. It was about how the small became the lasting and visionary. The others did not. And each study was, I kind of think of it as it wasn’t a series of four books.
It wasn’t like the Built to Last and then Good to Great and then How the Mighty Fall and then Great by Choice. It was actually one giant study that came out in installment. And each study was looking at the question of what it takes to build a truly great company, superior results, distinctive impact, lasting endurance, a truly great company. And after 30 years, I thought to myself, now that I’m moving on to new questions, right.
After this conversation, Tim, I’m going to be heading off and do—the next time we talk, hopefully, I’ll be emerging from the cave with perspectives on these new questions. At midpoint of my career, at 62 as I think of it, moving on to new stuff, I wanted to consolidate all of our work into something that could fit on a single whiteboard, 30 years of research on a single whiteboard. And so I thought I’m going to give people a map. If you did 30 years of research, rigorously figuring out what makes great companies tick and you wanted to hand it to an entrepreneur and say, “Follow this. Here’s the map.” What would it look like? Hence the map and then Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0, I’ve written a whole chapter on what the map is, consolidates all that work.
It unfolds in these stages of—stage one’s about disciplined people. So your level five leaders, right, people on the bus, all those, and stage two’s about disciplined thought, the genius of the AND and the Stockdale Paradox, which we talked about earlier. The Hedgehog Concept, which we talked about in the previous session together. Stage three is all about disciplined action, which begins with the Flywheel, which we spent a lot of time on the last episode on. And then executing on the Flywheel with the fanatic 20-mile march minus my thousand creative hours but companies can have them too.
And then renewing and extending that Flywheel with firing bullets then cannonballs to get calibration and then placing very calibrated big bets that extend that Flywheel. Leading to stage four, which is building greatness to last, which is Productive Paranoia. You’ve got to stay alive and stay out of the stages of decline. Shift from being a time teller to a clock builder, because if you’re just a time teller, everything falls apart when you go away, so you’ve got to build a clock. And then finally, the real deep secret of Preserve the Core/Stimulate Progress, allowing you to achieve BHAG after BHAG after BHAG. Those are all the inputs.
Tim Ferriss: BHAG, for people that don’t know being big, hairy, audacious goals.
Jim Collins: Big, hairy, audacious goals. And it’s funny, there’s a long story about how that came about. We eventually embraced the big and the hairy and the audacious just a way to stimulate progress and great companies in history, many of them, have used BHAGs very artfully to stimulate progress. And then there’s finally in the map, one principle that multiplies all the others, which is the principle of return on luck. And that was the piece of analysis that Morten Hansen and I did that I’m very, very proud of because we’re able to define and quantify the variable of luck and then to ask rigorously systematically, what role does it play, what role does it not play, and how should you think about it when you really look at the long course of things.
You add all those principles up, they can fit on a single whiteboard. They’re the inputs. They unfold in those sequence. If I disappeared tomorrow, I would love to be able to say to anybody who’s started a company or a business say, I want it to be a great company, take the map, follow the map. I’m gone but the map is here. And that’s what that’s all about.
In terms of the genius at the and, one of the things we found is that those who really build enduring great companies, and may be great companies even that just for a period of time, but get these extraordinary things going, they reject the tyranny of the or and they embrace the genius at the and. And so we found this real ability to live with both sides of ands all the time. When somebody says creativity or discipline, they say and, innovation or execution, they say and. They say values or results, they say and. And one of the big ones is purpose and profit.
We live in this time whenever—it’s like we’ve discovered purpose again, as if this is a new discovery. But Jerry and I found in our research 25 years ago, one of the main findings of Built to Last was that the visionary companies have always been more driven by purpose than their mediocre also runs in our comparative analysis. And they were more successful as businesses. So this notion of purpose over profits isn’t quite right.
Tim Ferriss: Could you give an example of a paragon in your mind, a company that really exemplifies that combination?
Tim Ferriss: How about one that is lesser known or that might not be recognizable to everyone listening?
Jim Collins: Well, I think one that people would maybe really identify with is Patagonia and Yvon Chouinard. So people would know it, but the great story of how Yvon Chouinard grew up in rock climbing and mountaineering, and he had this belief that a company should be a tool for changing people’s behavior that would have a positive impact. And I remember back in 1972-ish, I got the Chouinard catalog and it was a manifesto for clean climbing. And back then we used to bash pitons into the rock. And Yvon comes along and says, “If we keep bashing pitons into the rock as more and more people climb, we’re going to just leave these ugly scars.” And he had a picture in there, if I remember right, of a thing called Serenity Crack in Yosemite, which basically used to be this beautiful thin seam that was just marred and mangled with piton holes. And Yvon said, “This is wrong.”
So his purpose was he was going to change the climbing community, to be that role model and tool for social change, which is really kind of the purpose, right. Change the climbing community. Make it more sustainable of what we were doing. And he was going to issue a manifesto to that effect and the catalog was a manifesto. I still have it. I still have that manifesto catalog.
Tim Ferriss: No kidding.
Jim Collins: Yup. And then he put that out to the world to educate us about what we were doing, trying to get us to change our behavior. And you got to remember when a piton feels really secure and you’re saying, take this little tiny piece of aluminum that I’ve attached to this webbing and slide in and it’s dead. And you’re thinking, “Man, I don’t want to hit a ledge.” It’s like, “No, we have to do this. These will be safe. Let me show you.”
He then provided the solution and basically said, “I’m going to give you the answers. I’m going to give you the eccentrics and the stoppers and all the products that we could use and trust,” and then made them. Said, “Don’t buy the old products, buy these new ones because they will be better.” And essentially led us through with his company as the catalyst for doing it into a revolution with other climbers who were calling for this too. But he provided this great solution to be a role model for and a tool for social change in the climbing community, which then later has become larger for them in the way that they do all of the things that they do. And the power of it is Patagonia is an incredibly successful business. And its purpose all the way along and profit. And this goes back decades and is alive today. And Kristine McDivitt who built the company with him, that was the whole thing, we have to do the and. We have to do the and. We have to do the and.
Tim Ferriss: I’m so glad that you brought up Patagonia. I have traveled with Yvon Chouinard’s book Let My People Go Surfing since it was initially published. I’ve had a copy of that book that has traveled with me for however long it’s been, 20 years, 20 plus years, and they just do a phenomenal job. I actually have literally a Spanish Paprika Mackerel from Patagonia Provisions in front of me. And I become fascinated with the work that they’re doing from a sort of biological/ecological perspective on sustainability, sustainable agriculture and utilizing what we might consider bait, utilizing what we might consider the precursors of food like seeds in a really thoughtful and intelligent way, which exemplifies the and, like you said.
Jim Collins: And what I think is really the thing I would really emphasize is there’s nothing trendy about this. So Jerry and I found way back in Built to Last, going way back to companies, some of them founded back in the 1800s that this notion of we have a reason for existence that is not defined in terms of maximizing wealth for the owners. And we have incredible discipline to be an incredibly profitable, successful, growing, sustainable business. And we found that in our research and then you see a company like Patagonia, there’s nothing about it that is new. There’s new ways of doing it, but it’s been there since the beginning. And this idea that somehow companies should go out and like, you don’t bolt on a purpose. You don’t say, “You know I read we should have a purpose, so I guess let’s go get one.” It doesn’t work like that. It has to be this inner purpose that you have always had. And it’s far better to never say you have a purpose if you don’t than to inauthentically proclaim one.
Tim Ferriss: So I still have 7,000 pages of notes and prompts and questions that we could spend another seven hours on. I think we should probably bring round two to a close and put a bow on it in about, say 15 to 20 minutes.
Jim Collins: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: What do you think would be fun or important or fun and important to cover? I mean, I have questions about, of course, the clock building, not time telling. I have questions about other mentors of yours. I don’t know if this is a single named person like Madonna, I’m probably missing that one, Rochelle, if you had 10 years to live, what would you stop doing? There’s so many things that we could talk about. What would you like to talk about or what do you think would make sense?
Jim Collins: Oh, it’s funny, Tim. I was really a little bit worried and hesitant about doing another conversation with you because you did such a great job last time and we covered so much material I thought we’re going to have nothing to talk about.
Tim Ferriss: Surprise.
Jim Collins: If I think about a few things that might be really fun and or maybe useful to people, but fun. Maybe if you and I have fun, that’s where we’ll have the best use of our time here.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s do it.
Jim Collins: Let me ask you, what would you go to for fun? I have a couple of thoughts. I’m trying to think what would be really, maybe people would be “Oh, I haven’t heard Tim talk about that much before,” or, “That’s interesting.” What [crosstalk 02:18:31]?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I mean what I’m being pulled to particularly given some experiences in the last few weeks, is a tremendous pull towards simplification. And I think that is why the thought exercise of asking the question, “If you had 10 years to live, what would you stop doing?” is pulling my eye. My eye keeps getting pulled to that. Maybe that’s my version of fun. I’m not sure if that would be—
Jim Collins: [crosstalk 02:19:02] the clock-building and time-telling.
Tim Ferriss: I am.
Jim Collins: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Jim Collins: So I think we could easily do both of those if you’d like.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s do it.
Jim Collins: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Let’s tackle it.
Jim Collins: So we talked earlier about you’ve got the map, the stages, and then you get to the fourth stage about building greatness to last. And in that, it’s one of a key idea that, again, it was Jerry Porras and myself together working on what became Built to Last where this idea came out.
And so first of all, just kind of picture that there’s a town square and there’s this amazing time teller, right? They could come in at any time of day or night and look up at the stars and the moon and the sky and go tell you exactly what time it is. They could tell you it’s 12:13 and 22 seconds in the morning on such and such a date. I mean, they’re an incredible time teller and you don’t need a clock because you got the time teller. And one day that time teller goes away. The time teller dies, or the time teller decides to move to another town or whatever. Now, all of a sudden, no one knows what time it is.
And what we found is when we go back to the early stages. Now, this is very much about the entrepreneurial side of things. Go back to the very early stages of companies that became the enduring great companies. So Disney is an entrepreneur, David Packard is an entrepreneur, Tom Watson, Sr. is an entrepreneur, George Rathmann is an entrepreneur, Herb Kelleher is an entrepreneur, right? You go back to, we could just go through the long list of them. R. W. Johnson, J. Willard Marriott, Paul Galvin. They were all entrepreneurs, right, at some point. What happens?
Well, at some point, they, very early in their journey or relatively early in the journey, they said, “I don’t want to be a time teller, that everything depends upon me to tell the time. I don’t want to be that visionary founder that everything depends upon me. I want to build a clock that could tell the time even if I’m not here. And I’m going to start the process of thinking about that relatively early, whether that be there’s a whole bunch of different things that one could put in the clock.”
But I think that it was a temperament that they had, that they understood that they had to make a shift away from doing more time telling. And most entrepreneurs are good time tellers, right? They recognize it’s time for X.
But to shift to building a company means I’ve got to become the clock builder and that involves all the things we write about: picking your people and building your systems and nurturing your culture and building great mechanisms and a whole bunch of other things like that. You build the clock.
And sometimes it’s better to start clock building when it’s relatively early. Anne Bakar, who’s just one of the great leaders I’ve gotten to know at Telecare. When she took over her father’s company, he had died of an adverse medical event and she all of a sudden had the company on her shoulders. One of the first things she did was to sit down and say, “What are the basic things we’re going to build this on so that instead of really relying upon my father anymore to be here, we as a company can carry on what he was all about? And that means I have to really build the clock.” And of course, that’s when the company really began to take off and for the next 30 years it’s been an incredible run.
So I encourage all entrepreneurs. Now, there’s one thing I want to highlight here. There’s this, maybe it’s not as much of a myth today, I don’t know. You would know better than I do. But there’s this myth that there are these things called entrepreneurs that have kind of an entrepreneurial temperament, and they’re really good for starting companies. And they’re really good at like they’re kind of these, not necessarily even crazy people. They can be very disciplined people, but they are the starters and their natural temperament is that they should be starting things.
And then you have a different temperament, almost like a different species, which are those who built the company. And at some times for some of these entrepreneurs, and some of you might be listening to this right now, people around you like your board or folks around you say, “The company’s outgrowing you. It’s now time for you to think about maybe you should really hand this off to somebody who could take it to a different level.”
And I encourage in the strongest possible terms that any entrepreneur that faces that conversation to look in the mirror and ask yourself the question, “What choice do I want to make?” Because what you find in the research is that almost all of the great entrepreneurs we studied became the great builders of their companies. Disney built Disney. David Packard and Bill Hewlett built HP. Jeff Bezos is building Amazon. Bill Gates built Microsoft, right? The entrepreneur becomes the builder. The average tenure in harness of the founding shapers of the companies that became the great companies is about 36 years.
Tim Ferriss: Hmm. Wow.
Jim Collins: Now you might choose that you just want to go start something else. That’s fine, but don’t ever let anybody tell you you can’t choose to be the other. So, Rochelle.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Who is Rochelle?
Jim Collins: I got to share with you this story and this image of Rochelle. I met Rochelle in 1982, and Michael Rays, we talked about him earlier, Michael Ray’s course on Creativity In Business. And she co-taught the course with him. Now you’ve got to imagine you could meet somebody that is a cross between Socrates and Yoda.
Tim Ferriss: Handsome. Good looking.
Jim Collins: And Rochelle. Rochelle was just, she was just this really wise and she was all about five foot. And so we all come into the class the first day, and we’re sitting there. We’re buzzing after the summer and what we did or whatever and there was this five foot tall, very serene looking woman in this flowing, muumuu thing, standing in front of the class. She just stood there and just waited for us to quiet down. And eventually we realized we should be quiet. And all of a sudden, Rochelle says in this very quiet voice, “You are about to embark on a 10 week journey to discover your deepest inner essence.”
At which point I began thinking about what corporate finance class I could take instead. So I’m thinking, “Man, I don’t know about this.” You have to remember, I’m a math guy. I love stats. I love quantifying things, all this stuff. So I go home and Joanne says to me, “So how are your classes?” And talk about this one Jim Van Horne finance class and whatever. I said, “But I have this other thing. I think I’m going to drop it.” I told her this story and Joanne looks at me and she says, “Oh, this would be really good for you.”
So I stayed in the class and Rochelle became one of the great guides in my life. And she’s the one who I think taught me about questions because I used to go and meet with Rochelle and she would sit and she would always begin with the same question every time. She has a little whiteboard and she would write on the whiteboard the date, and she would say, “It is November 23rd, 2020. What would you like to get clear about today?” And then she went through a series of questions. You realized that you’d ask her a question to try to get clear on, but what she was trying to do is to get you clear on you, who you are, what you are, what’s inside you, not like what you should do for a job choice, right? And she just knew how to ask the right questions, right? That was the power of her questions.
Tim Ferriss: Is her last name Myers?
Jim Collins: Myers.
Tim Ferriss: Myers.
Jim Collins: Rochelle Myers. And at one point she gave me a question which was, I can’t remember if this was five years or 10. I think 10’s a little more useful of a number, but it could work with five. Essentially, along the lines of if you woke up tomorrow morning and you discovered absolutely you have only 10 years to live, what would you stop doing? First thing is I went home, I wrote down “Quit my job.” This was before I was teaching at Stanford. I was like, “I don’t want to do this. I’m not cut out to be in a regular job.”
And what Rochelle taught me with that question is someday that 10 years or five years is going to be true. You just don’t know when. I might already be in the 10. Hopefully not. I’m hoping I’m midway in my career, but you never know. And she said, “You should be asking yourself all the time, ‘Hey, if you knew you only had 10 years or you knew you only had five years, now what would you do? First, what would you stop doing?'”
And I started using that as like a little guidance mechanism. She was also the one that taught me about bug books and stuff like that. And you just start going through every day like, “If I have 10 years, would I do this? If I had five years, would I do this?” Because the truth is it’s all short. That’s just one of the lessons of Bill’s life, right? It’s short, goes by in a vanish; any sense of historical perspective and it accelerates.
And I used to walk into my class at Stanford influenced by Rochelle to my students. And one day I would walk in, I would just say, “Everybody take out a blank sheet of paper.” And I’d say, “I want you to write down what would you stop doing if you discovered you only have a short time to live?” So everybody’s writing their notes down. And this, before I went to the numbers board. I love the numbers board. So it was one day before the numbers board. And then I didn’t comment on it other than to say one thing before we went into the numbers board. I said, “Oh, and now for all of us, that’s true. We all have only a short time to live.”
Tim Ferriss: Did you personally still revisit that question, or do you feel like you’ve already culled the herd of activities to the point where you’re doing exactly what you would like to be doing? Are there things that would still be on your stop doing list if you went through that exercise?
Jim Collins: I continue to, I wish I could pull out my, I left my phone in the other room so it wouldn’t ding on us. I’m pretty sure that my theme, I usually do a theme for every year at the top of that list of the threes, three primaries, three stop doings, et cetera. I’m pretty sure I set for the theme for this year because it comes back periodically, only 10 years to live. And I try to go back to it because the truth is you get pulled in lots of different directions. I can say with complete equanimity, Tim, that if I knew I only had 10 years to live, we would be having this conversation.
And I don’t know. I think when you start getting into one to two years, things change because you got to tie a lot of life. But if you can basically get to the end of every week and say, “If I had 10 years to live, it’s still pretty good choices in my life.” My life is composed of things. There’s not a lot on the stop doing list. There are some things that you can’t stop doing because it’s reality.
Tim Ferriss: Flossing.
Jim Collins: Right.
Tim Ferriss: Flossing.
Jim Collins: But flossing is better if you have a really, really good course on how the brain works to watch.
Tim Ferriss: That’s true.
Jim Collins: [inaudible 02:32:23] I was standing there flossing while watching this course on how the brain works and I couldn’t help myself thinking, “I wonder what my brain is doing with this.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, that’s a really, really valuable prompt. And I think COVID has really brought that to the fore the fragility, the fragility and impermanence of life. And I’ve had some people close to me, I’ve had relatives, close immediate relatives of my girlfriend pass from COVID-related complications. It’s been a good reminder to revisit mortality or at least the awareness that time is limited. And I, too, would be having this conversation.
And you alluded to a question very early on that I like to ask, which was on my list of unasked for round two, which was the billboard.
Jim Collins: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: And so here we go, metaphorically speaking, you have a billboard to get a message, a quote, a question, anything you like to billions of people. Let’s just assume they all are able to speak the same language, understand the same language. What might you put on that billboard? Doesn’t have to be one thing, but what might you put on it?
Jim Collins: How have you changed the lives of others?
Tim Ferriss: Hmm.
Jim Collins: And I come back to Bill. We could talk about all of his accomplishments and his board seats and how he became a chaired professor at the law school. And he was the first ever holder of the Charles and Nancy Munger chair. First studied business and law at Stanford Law School, an incredibly accomplished career.
But what is really great about Bill is he changed the lives of others. And I think that’s a really good measure. It doesn’t have to be a lot of people. It doesn’t have to be that you change millions of lives. I don’t think of it that way. It’s not scale. Bill did change a lot of lives. But are some people’s lives that are different because you were here?
Tim Ferriss: I think that is an excellent question to let linger, to end on. I think that is an excellent place to stop.
Jim Collins: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Jim, people can find you at jimcollins.com. The new book, which I encourage people to check out is Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0, subtitled Turning Your Business Into An Enduring Great Company, which certainly expands upon a lot of the things that we’ve discussed.
I find you always to be a skilled and enjoyable, conversational tennis partner or dance partner if jazz improv. It’s always so much fun. And is there anything else that you would like to say, suggest, request, put out into the ether for listeners? Anything at all that you’d like to share before we come to a close?
Jim Collins: Well, I’m just looking here at our list and I just am so tickled at how we did have a lot beyond part one to, of course, flip out and I truly was worried as like, what are we going to talk about? That was so rich last time.
Tim Ferriss: We have enough left in front of me to do a round three easily.
Jim Collins: No, I think as always, we went through in a, it seems circuitous, but actually the linear line has been the curiosity in the conversation. And I love that there are some questions where I still want to think about my answers. I’m not a hundred percent like which do I prefer? That’s a great question actually. I’m going to [inaudible 02:36:45] my spreadsheet. Which do I prefer? I just prefer a lot of plus twos. I would really like that.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah.
Jim Collins: For me, I guess here’s what I would leave for people is if I have a hope for a lot of you, I’m sure I hope some of you start to build great companies and that’s a great use of a life. I think it’s a very noble thing to build a great company. I think it’s as noble as anything else you can do in life. It really contributes and adds not only economic wealth, but it changes people’s lives and provides a great place for people and so forth. I think that is noble. I hope some of you will take up on doing that.
But whatever you do in your life, if I could wish something for all of you, it’s that you would find people like Rochelle Myers, Bill Lazier, Peter Drucker, Jim Stockdale, Ed Zschau, the people who can shape you. And when you find those mentors, make good on it. And then do it for others. But I feel such deep, deep gratitude for what they have done for me. And I truly wish that everybody got the benefit of that abundance and generosity that a great mentor does for you. It would be very impoverished to not have that.
Tim Ferriss: And the mentors are out there.
Jim Collins: They are.
Tim Ferriss: They’re constitutionally predisposed to look for that energetic exchange or the circulating of the gift, if that makes any sense, right?
Jim Collins: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: I mean, they are hardwired just as any other organism might be for something to sort of serve that incredible function of mentor. So they are out there.
Jim Collins: They are out there. But make sure that you have the privilege of having a great mentor. It’s a relationship. It’s not a transaction. They’re not there to open doors or any of that. They’re there to mentor.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And show up at 8:00, not 8:00 and four seconds. So Jim, one last cliffhanger request if you would indulge me and maybe we can keep this short. I know you don’t yet have answers to share, but can you share the next big question that you’re working on?
Jim Collins: Yeah. I’m really puzzling out how I want to share it exactly. I don’t know the answers. I’m about five years into the research and the signature of it will be the research because that’s all I have to offer ultimately is something that’s research-based if I do it right. John Gardner, another one of my mentors, I didn’t get to spend enough time with him, but he’s the one that had this marvelous belief that not to try to be interesting, you should seek to be interested. And John wrote a marvelous book in 1962 by the title of Self-Renewal. And I went down the hall to John and I said, “I’d like to do research on this,” because John believed one of the greatest costs to the world is the failure to self-renew. The failure of nations to self-renew, the failure of societies, failure of organizations and institutions and companies, and ultimately the failure of individuals to self-renew.
And I had said I wanted to do research on it and he kindly gave me a lot of time. I still have all my notes from that, but he suggested I wait because it will take decades to do my great companies work. I was probably not old enough to understand it. And so I waited and about five years ago, I started a project and I finally figured out how to do it. And it asks a very simple question which is what’s going to ultimately be the map. I just was going to take a long time to get to what the map is of what is the map to self-renewal and not as episodes, but over the arc of an entire life.
And why do some people remain so spectacularly renewed over the long course of a life that maybe in others might not. And what are the real ingredients in that? And I’m taking a very research-based approach to it. I can’t share what the method is. It’s kind of like the Coke recipe, so it’s the most exciting stuff I’ve worked on in a really, really long time.
I will share with you one question, though, and I’ll leave all of your listeners with this question because I do know one question. It’s like it’s so far I have questions more than answers but I know one of the questions. One of the key questions about renewal is ultimately going to be, are you going to be the kind of person who renews within a primary form, a primary art form in your life? Whether that be business or writing or music or theater or whatever it is that is your art form, politics, right? Or are you going to be somebody that is going to renew as your primary mechanism all the course of a life by changing your art forms?
So, if you take John McPhee. I just heard that wonderful interview with him. I think it was on NPR called the Old Man Project and he’s in this race to get as many of his ideas out as he can. He’s just renewed his effort, right? But he is renewal within a single art form. And it’s a spectacular path of renewal that started early and ran forever. But you could take other people who renew by changing their art forms sometimes because it’s imposed upon them. Katharine Graham, one of the great heroes in my mind. Being a CEO wasn’t her art form, but because of the way The Post unfolded and the suicide of her husband, she had it on her shoulders and she chose to renew into a different art form to become a great CEO.
And I think one of the great questions all of us have to wrestle with because we’re different bugs if you will. But one of the great wisdom questions is to remain renewed over the entire arc of a life, I mean, like until you’re out and done. Are you going to be variations on a theme or are you going to be different themes? And that was one of the crux questions.
I will have answers for how you think about that. I don’t know yet. And I can’t wait. I have to go in the cave once I get BE 2.0 out so I can help Bill come to the world. I’m going to be in the cave. Think of me happily without windows, figuring this out. So, how’s that for…?
Tim Ferriss: I love that question. I love that question. Variations on a theme or different games altogether. It makes me think of being Mario Andretti and lane shifting or being a shapeshifter, right?
Jim Collins: Yep, yep. And I think it’s one of the wisdom questions, because it’s not like there are smart answers to this. There are wise answers. And I am trying to and I’m going to really want to understand, and this is the beauty of looking over the entire arc of people’s lives done in a rigorously selected set to try to unpack this. And it is the most fun and interesting, engaging and exhausting piece of research I’ve been in for a long, long time. I really, really hope, if I have only 10 years, I hope I can get it done. If I really have enough time to get it done.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I mean, if The Power Broker can get written, if the Lyndon B. Johnson volumes can be compiled, I have great confidence in you. And Jim, this is always so much fun. Perhaps we’ll have a round three at some point. We certainly have no lack of material.
Jim Collins: And by then, I might have material on renewal to say. But anyway, I’m just looking at the notes here and it says most important, Tim, let’s have fun. Have we accomplished said goal? Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Yes. At least I can speak for myself. I had fun.
Jim Collins: Absolutely, me, too.
Tim Ferriss: And what a joy to be able to spend time together again. I really appreciate you making the time. And I really look forward to seeing what Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0 does in the world and the extension of your mentor’s legacy and to see the ripple effects that that will have as it’s transmitted in written form to probably millions more by extension. And congratulations.
Jim Collins: Thank you.
Tim Ferriss: It’s very exciting.
Jim Collins: In the end, it’s about Bill. So, that’s what I am very excited about. I appreciate you helping me bring Bill to the world. So Tim, you go and put some butter on something. I don’t really feel I can do a lot of it. I will do the same.
Tim Ferriss: That is on my top three to-dos for 2021 is put butter on everything. The theme is fun and self-renewal. And Jim, well thank you so much for spending so much time today. And for everyone listening, as usual, you can find links to everything that has been mentioned from the Old Man Project, which was dropped as a gem at the end, a little Easter egg, to the new book, to everything in between in the show notes at tim.blog/podcast, just search Jim Collins and it will pop right up. And until next time—
Jim Collins: Until next time, my friend, take care.
Tim Ferriss: Put some butter on some waffles.
Jim Collins: All right.
Tim Ferriss: Thanks for listening.
Jim Collins: Bye-bye.
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