我非常喜欢阅读吉姆•柯林斯与莫顿•汉森合著的新作《选择卓越》（Great by Choice），这本书和柯林斯的其他重要著作一样，都以海量数据和多年分析为基础，极具说服力。
Pass the Oxygen, Please
Readers of the above headline who are in Beijing may be forgiven for thinking this post is about air pollution. It’s not.
Actually, it is about managing, rather than breathing. Although somehow related, they are different.
For one thing, we can breathe OK even when we’re not managing; but we generally cannot manage effectively unless we’re also breathing.
I enjoyed reading “Great by Choice”, the latest book by Jim Collins, and his co-author Morten T. Hansen. Like all of Collins’ major books, it is based upon a sea of data and years of analysis, which makes it persuasive.
There are also many charts illustrating the differences between the great companies they studied, and the comparison companies which strayed from the path of success over time.
The learning that sticks with me most vividly from this book, however, is embedded in the real life stories which illustrate the attitudes and behavior of the great leaders as compared to the not-so-great ones.
It’s interesting to consider which types of information people tend to digest and retain. In this respect, not all information is created equally. The really memorable stuff gets digested, and then internalized. It comes to life within your brain, and has an ongoing impact on the way you think, like a seed which has sprouted. This kind of learning helps you fine tune your judgment and navigation skills. The impact of such learning on behavior is very different from, for example, learning by rote memorization of data.
A well-told story travels unimpeded into our brains, with far more sticking power than charts, graphs, equations, flow charts or spreadsheets. A good story — especially if it’s true — is the best ambassador a writer or speaker can employ. And Collins selects and tells his stories exceptionally well.
One such story from his new book involves oxygen canisters. There were two teams of climbers planning an ascent of Mt. Everest around the same dates.
One leader assumed the best case scenario, and brought only enough oxygen canisters for one ascent. Bottled oxygen is expensive, weighs a lot, and is challenging to transport up a high mountain.
The other leader assumed a worse case scenario and planned for unexpected eventualities. His group packed enough oxygen canisters for 2 to 3 ascents, just in case they were delayed by bad weather or encountered other unforeseen setbacks.
As it turned out, the comprehensive plan of one leader saved his group’s lives, whereas the other group was struck by disaster and experienced a tragic loss of lives.
Both sets of leaders were very experienced mountaineers, so the main difference was their respective approach to risk management and related preparations in similar circumstances.
The moral of the story is of course that leaders need to plan for the worst case, and ensure they have the resources on hand to cope with unexpected setbacks, including so-called “black swan” events.
The worst thing a leader can do is to blithely assume that everything will go according to plan. The best leaders know that they cannot anticipate the nature or timing of black swan events, but they must always be prepared for them by having adequate resources on hand.
After reading this story, I found myself thinking about whether or not we have an adequate supply of oxygen canisters on hand.
As I looked out the window, through the thick smog in Beijing’s CBD, this question seemed to assume an additional level of relevance.
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