Think About This: Jim Collins Says Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs

Jim Collins, who authored “Good to Great,” has a new book, “Turning the Flywheel.”

What Collins said in an interview with Kara Swisher that grabbed my attention was to keep the flywheel moving, fire bullets first, then cannonballs.  

I think this is particularly applicable to ag retailers who can be framed as “entrenched” or “traditional” compared with firms looking to disrupt the industry. 

Regarding business innovation, he says you don’t find that the most innovative companies always win and quotes the analysis by Golder and Tellis showing only 10% of pioneering innovators end up as winners. 

He says the question isn’t whether to innovate or not, but rather there’s a threshold of innovation necessary in any industry. And what’s most important for businesses is to be able to do is scale the right innovation. 

He gave the analogy of being on a ship with the enemy approaching and you have limited gunpowder. Instead of loading all your gunpowder behind a cannonball, firing once, and missing, you should use a small amount of gunpowder to fire a bullet. If you miss, make an adjustment, and fire again. By the third shot, you could her a “ping” meaning you struck the target. And that’s when you load the rest of your gunpowder with a cannonball and fire on the target. 

This idea provides for businesses to be able to calibrate and then place the biggest bet on proven innovations. 

And it’s the process that keeps a “good flywheel” turning for 20 or even 50 years. Here are more examples of successful flywheels from Collins.

Hearing his recent interview had me pull our copy of “Good to Great” off the bookshelf to reread Chapter 8 on “The Flywheel and the Doom Loop.”  I look forward to reading “Turning the Flywheel.”