Jim Collins' bus just got bigger

First off, if you haven’t read Good to Great by Jim Collins, et al., you should. Even if you don’t like business books. It’s just an interesting read. For a business book, even. So read it, even if the term “business book” makes your skin crawl.

Or just keep coming back here and we’ll likely feed it to you in small digestible bites.

Whatever you like. Just ingest in some format or another.

So where was I? Ah yes, the Good to Great bus metaphor. This is an interesting one. The bus metaphor equates the business to a bus.

With me so far? If not, try this business. See? Let’s move on.

So, I will greatly oversimplify the concept (if you want more details on the bus, visit Jim Collins’ site), but suffice it to say that most businesses get concerned with making sure that their bus is headed somewhere and that all the seats are filled. Sometimes, overfilled. It seems to make sense. But in actuality, it is the path to mediocrity.

What great business do, Collins contends, is first get the right people on the bus (and, even more importantly, the wrong people off the bus) before figuring out where the bus is going. He puts it a little more eloquently than I as: First who, then what.

Instead of focusing on the seats and the destination, focus on who you’ve got.

It’s a great metaphor for describing his point.

But what I stumbled upon the other day is that it is also an extensible metaphor for the life cycle of the business.

For Collins, it seemed to trail off after the bus, the people, and the destination. But here’s the thing: the bus is going to make stops along the way. Every bus does.

Think of these stops as milestones. Or turning events in the company’s life cycle. First stop, start up. Second stop, VC funding. Third stop, first product. Fourth stop, maturing. And on and on.

At each stop, some people are going to want to get off and some will want to get on. Because buses are not meant to be ridden forever. They are meant to get you from point to point. Staying on a bus all day? Gets you nowhere. It just takes you around in circles.

You see, not everyone with a startup mentality is going to want to stay around for maturity. Maybe that’s not where they get their fulfillment. Maybe they like the wild west and the lack of structure. Maybe they like to be roll up their proverbial sleeves on a variety of projects. There’s a freedom there. So they’re going to get on at Bootstrap Ave and then get off at the Flirting with Profitability Transit Center.

And not every person capable of taking a company into maturity is going looking for an opportunity is going to want to bootstrap a startup. Maybe they need more money. Maybe they need more security. Maybe they need more structure to support their vision. So, they’ll likely get on at Third Round Blvd and be looking to get off at the corner of IPO and Stock Options.

Still others will want a proven company. Maybe they want a large company. Maybe they want to focus on a specific task. Maybe they need the camaraderie of a team of like-minded cohorts. Maybe the sense of security sets their creativity free. These folks are standing at 500 Fortune Avenue looking to ride the buss to the end of the line.

Different people, different stops.

But you’ll also encounter another problem. Some people won’t realize that they’ve reached their stop. Some people would very much like to ride the bus around all day. Because they like the bus. Or they like being affiliated with the bus. Or they like the people on the bus. Or they don’t want to be out looking for another bus.

And this is the real difficulty for you.

You, as an employee, need to recognize your stop. You need to understand where your sense of worth comes into play. You need to understand what kind of business you like. And, most importantly, you need to know when to get off of the bus to find another ride.

Because if you don’t get off the bus and onto a another one, you’re taking a seat from someone that actually belongs on that bus and wants to be on that bus. But you’re making them stand. And maybe they don’t like standing. So maybe they get off at the next stop and take a cab. And the company falters.

Meanwhile, you’re sitting on the bus not liking where it’s going and you’ve just missed the transit center. And realizing that, maybe just maybe, this bus will never take you where you want to go. Or that this bus ride got boring quite a while ago. And there’s a bus over there that looks like it’s going the right way, but you’ll have to try and catch it later.

Oh my. I can feel that bitterness and ennui welling up in your soul already.

But, it’s up to you. You need to figure it out. You need to take responsibility. You need to study your transit map. And you need to plan your bus route with a final destination in mind. For you. Not for a company. For you.

Because, by the time the business figures out you’re not on the right bus? It’s way too late. You’ve been forced off the bus because it hit a tree. Or it needs repairs. Or because another bus company bought it and changed the route. Or it’s at the bus shed. And you’re standing outside in the rain desperately looking for a ride. Sniff sniff.

It’s all about knowing the stops. And recognizing the landmarks. And knowing the routes that the buses take. And where you want to go. Then, it gets a great deal easier to find the buses that are going to get you there.

So, think about it. What’s the name of the stop where you get on? And what’s the stop where you get off?

About Rick Turoczy

More than mildly obsessed with the Portland startup community. Founder and editor at Silicon Florist. Cofounder and general manager at PIE. Follow me on Twitter: @turoczy
This entry was posted in Bus, Inspiration, Metaphor. Bookmark the permalink.

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