2018 Q1 - Good to Great, Anatomy Trains

Good to Great by Jim Collins

This is one of those books quoted repeatedly, and mentioned repeatedly in business circles. I finally decided to give it a go. FWIW, although this was written (primarily) to a business audience, it can be easily applied to a variety of organizations, sports teams, and even individuals. Here’s a bit of a deep-dive:

Good to Great is based on the following premise: “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice.”

These conscious choices were extracted out of a shrewd class of companies that survived unforgiving filters created by the book’s research team. How unforgiving were the filters? Well, phenomenal companies such as Nike, Berkshire Hathaway, Amazon, Google, and others didn’t make the cut. The reason they didn’t had to do with a couple of the filters: either they weren’t exceptional enterprises for 15+ years, or their stock market returns didn’t cut the mustard. There were also other filters that you can find in the appendices of the book.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the book was published in 2001. Here’s what that means: the Dot-com Bubble just burst, all-things-internet was the blatant craze of the decade. Additionally, some the companies mentioned went on to experience dramatic misfortunes; i.e, Circuit City, Fannie May, and Pitney Bowes.

With all that said, it’s too easy to dismiss this book as a “has-been” and miss out on the goodies.

The central metaphor of the book is a “flywheel” - a wheel that takes advantage of momentum in order to propel onward with minimal energy expenditure down the road. The Flywheel is underpinned by 3 Big Concepts in the following order: Disciplined People, Disciplined Thought, and Disciplined Action.

The thing that shocked me more than the rest of the book was right at the start: “First Who, Then What”. Really? Get the best people on the bus before deciding which direction the bus is going to go? I still have a very difficult time with this idea, but it has worked for the 11 Great Companies profiled in this book. Hewlett-Packard is the blatant example of this “Who before What” idea. The “Who” have to possess a paradoxical blend of professional will/ambition and personal humility. The deeper I dove into the “First Who” chapter, the more I came to see his POV and reached some theoretical agreement… but still! It seems so hard to put into practice!


Chapter 4 will feel quite familiar to fans of Ray Dalio. It is all about facing and working with the truth, the brutal facts. “You absolutely cannot make a series of good decisions without first confronting the brutal facts.” There are a couple more gems in here that are worth a quick read - Red Flag Mechanisms, and The Stockdale Paradox.

It also contains one of my favorite quotes from the book: “We live in an information age, when those with more and better information supposedly have an advantage. If you look across the rise and fall of organizations, however, you will rarely find companies stumbling because they lacked information.”

In case you haven’t heard of the Isaiah Berlin’s essay titled The Hedgehog and The Fox, the you can
download the pdf here, or you can check out this fine summary at Farnam Street. The basic concept is foxes know a little about a lot of things, compared to a hedgehog with knows everything about 1 thing. Collins argues that it’s better to be a hedgehog in order to grow from Good to Great. If you consider yourself an essentialist, then you’ll easily identify as a hedgehog. S/he stands at the intersection of 3 Big Questions:

  1. What are you deeply passionate about?

  2. At what can you be the best in world in?

  3. What drives your economic engine?

All business owners/managers should skim through that last section to think deeply about your “economic denominator”. Should it be just one single denominator? No, but according to the author you’re better off pushing for a single denominator. Ironic as it seems, Fannie Mae was profiled in this chapter. It went on to suffering immense loses by diversifying its risks like a Fox.

Chapter 6 contains another of my favorite quotes when Collins states “a great company is much more likely to die of indigestion from too much opportunity than starvation from too little. The challenge becomes not opportunity creation, but opportunity selection.” A little gem from this chapter: the concept of “stop doing list” versus “to do list”.

Chapter 7 is excellent. The core concept is to view Technology as an Accelerant, not a creator of momentum. Rather that allowing yourself to be seduced by the latest technologies, Collins argues that it’s better to align relevant technology with your Hedgehog Concept before taking your time to efficiently develop and deploy technological tools to the benefit of the enterprise. Don’t use technology to band-aid over deep wounds.

The rest of the book pulls together all the concepts into the larger picture by providing context and framework, as well as a nice little Q&A section. The appendices are also an excellent addition to the text.

There were a ton of very applicable concepts packed into this read. 17 years old and still worth a deep read. Jim Collins did an excellent job with this one. You can probably find a used copy for less than the cost of a couple gallons of gasoline.

Finally, I heard an excellent podcast that mirrors some of the concepts introduced in this book. Check out Masters of Scale Podcast, Episode 18 - How to build your company to last. It has a number of evergreen takeaways, and I hope you enjoy both the book & podcast at least as much as I did.


Anatomy Trains by Thomas Myers

Quick aside #1: for some strange reason the 2nd edition of this text (which happens to be the one I read) is now overpriced on Amazon at $240 (new) when you can pick up the brand new 3rd edition for $57.

Quick Aside #2: He sounds like a curious blend of The Joker (Heath Ledger) & Agent Smith from The Matrix movie series. Thomas Myers was incredibly genuine & generous in this interview: https://youtu.be/T60vzafspaY

Regardless of whether you (physical therapist, anatomy nerd, or anyone with persistent pain) will find the materials in this text intriguing, confirming, or heretical, it’s most certainly worth a deep read. I’ll divide this review into 3 parts: the good, the great, and the challenging.

The Good. Tom Myers bases the lines of fascial continuities on (mostly) consistent principles founded on anatomical findings with cadaver dissections. From a strictly anatomical perspective, it is both controversial and interesting. Muscles are traditionally viewed as having an origin and an insertion. Myers asserts that origins & insertions are a bit of an illusion, and espouses longitudinal connective-tissue fascial continuities not unlike links of sausages where the sausages are only differentiated by an anchoring of the covering on itself. It’s also an accessible review of general & specific fascial anatomy that can benefit any clinician.

The Great. The upsides of Myers’ point-of-view rest in the practicality of Anatomy Trains: it provides clinicians novels approaches to help patients/clients. His description of the fascial continuity from the adductor magnus to obturator internus to psoas has already parlayed into practical clinical application more than once for me. He does a nice job of making the anatomical discussions clinically relevant by providing various examples in each chapter to bridge theory & practice. Some of the content may also explain why certain treatments yield altered pain/kinesthetic sensations, as well as functional changes.

The Challenging. While the book is roughly 300 pages long, it is a dense 300 pages. Take your time and soak it in. Chapters 10 & 11 are especially challenging. These chapters also run the risk of overweighting the contents of this book over concepts and materials learned elsewhere - school, self-learnings, other books, mentors, etc. Although the contents are practical and stimulating, they are definitely not completely endorsed by “evidence-based” literature. The ability to effectively apply Anatomy Trains depends on more than raw knowledge; it will require the willingness to explore the theory of inter-regional dependency, the development of palpatory sensitivity, efficient practitioner/client communication, and repeated evaluated experiences. FYI, watch out for confirmation biases; you’ll experience a propensity to confirm the “it’s all connected” explanation to justify almost anything.


Favorite Articles

The Tyranny of Convenience - “We must never forget the joy of doing something slow and something difficult, the satisfaction of not doing what is easiest.” ***If you read nothing else from this quarterly, then read this***

To Handle Increased Stress, Build Your Resilience - “Shift your focus from eliminating the day-to-day pressures that you face to changing your perception of them.”

Obvious Things That Easily Escape Attention - for example, “Vital information relayed by inarticulate or seemingly unqualified people.”

Finally, one of my favorite financial writers, Howard Marks’ latest memo: Latest Thinking [pdf]. Also available are the slides from one of his recent presentations on investing.


p.s. Find me on Twitter: @37cycles.

Jason Boddu