I’ve had the Jim Collins business classic “Good to Great” on my to-read list for a few years now, so when I heard Collins and co-author, Morten T. Hansen, came out with a sequel I read it instead. “Great by Choice” was both inspiring and surprising…with applicable lessons for marketers.


The book illustrates how companies can achieve lasting success in an environment of change, uncertainty and chaos. It summarizes nine years of research following companies that achieved outstanding results for at least 15 years during unstable times and compares them to less successful counterparts. The successful companies are called 10Xers because they provided shareholder returns 10 times great than others in their industry.

One of the most intriguing takeaways was that innovation was not a key factor in the success of 10Xers. The companies needed to maintain a baseline of innovation but more important factors were discipline, controlled growth and continuous learning and adjustment. The 10Xers followed a “20 Mile March” philosophy whereby they have concrete, clear, intelligent and rigorously pursued performance mechanisms to follow and keep them on track. This creates two types of discomfort: 1) the discomfort of unwavering commitment to high performance in difficult conditions, and 2) the discomfort of holding back in good conditions.

In addition, the successful companies gradually introduced changes using lots of smaller scale tests first, and then if they achieve positive results, quickly capitalizing on a larger scale. Collins uses more engaging metaphors to illustrate: “Fire enough bullets … and once you have empirical validation convert the bullets into cannonballs.”

As I was thinking about how to apply the book’s broader business lessons to marketing, I realized two of them parallel our philosophies at Responsory.

  1. In the marketing world, conducting a 20 Mile March is like creating and following a marketing plan with measurable objectives. That means using discipline to adhere to executing the plan even when distractions interrupt. Our founder, Grant Johnson, will tell you we’ve been advocating the importance of strong planning and careful execution since the agency opened its doors.
  2. Firing bullets is akin to testing, whether it’s channels, marketing strategies, creative executions, offers or something else. Testing enables you to continually improve by measuring results and making ongoing adjustments. This is key to a process we’ve developed called Direct Branding℠.

These two lessons are just a taste of the nuggets “Great by Choice” offers. So if you’re looking for thought-provoking book, pick up a copy of this quick and entertaining read.