A Culture of Discipline – Good to Great Revisited

Once the “one thing” (Hedgehog Principle) is discovered, according to Collins’ research, the good-to-great companies became almost fanatical in their discipline to remain focused on it compared to the also-rans who flitted from one thing to another and turned innovation into a fetish. Squirrel! Shiny object!

Collins contrasts the three types of organizations he discovered. The chaotic, entrepreneurial mess. The staid, “we’ve always done it that way” dinosaur. And the disciplined company that managed to balance creativity with organization. He referred to Disciplined People, Disciplined Thought and Disciplined Action.

Taken from another angle (Collins does not go here), a “Culture of Discipline” reflects an intuitive understanding of complexity theory. Complexity theory is the idea that healthy organizations tend to be “highly adaptive and self-organizing” almost as if they were alive IF certain conditions exist. These certain conditions are called minimum specifications (or min specs).

If a system or organization or company has too many rules, regulations, chain of commands, approval processes, etc. it will tend to operate in what is called stasis. Status quo. In other words, the company will do essentially what it always has even while expecting a different result and it will attract and retain employees who value that kind of slow, steady, predictable security. Tom Watson, Sr. almost scuttled IBM when he declared, in a static sort of way, “There may be a market for 1000 or so personal computers in the world.”

The other extreme, chaos, occurs in an organization without enough rules or structure. Anything goes. All initiatives are good because they are new or different. If one goal is good then ten must be better. Direction and priorities are unclear and ever changing. Not much is ever finished. This kind of company attracts employees who “thrive on chaos” and who enjoy the mess. Unfortunately, such companies often implode under the weight of their own creativity and lack of discipline.

The truly healthy company finds the zone of complexity where creation and innovation and execution and achievement exist in a sort of harmony. This is the organization with just the right amount of rules—not too many and not too few. Just right. All life happens in this state. It’s not predictable but it’s not out of control either. It’s exciting. It’s fun. It’s disciplined and yet forward moving. This is what the great companies in Collins’ studies discovered, most likely by accident.

So where is your company? Static? Chaotic? Complex and alive? What are your min specs? Are there too many? Too few? Just right?

Mike Baer

Mike Baer was one of the early leaders in the modern Business as Mission (BAM) movement. He is the Chief Development Officer of EmployBridge, a $3.2 billion employment company based in the US. Mike is the Co-Founder of ThirdPath, a global company that helps Christians become entrepreneurs. He has written 3 books on BAM: Business as Mission, BAM for the Rest of US, and Gospel Entrepreneur. Today Mike and his wife reside in the mountains of North Carolina where they enjoy their 5 grandchildren.


  1. Edenfantasys on June 9, 2019 at 1:17 am

    Competing priorities will plague a change effort from beginning to end. Without disciplined people acting in a disciplined manner that aligns with the vision, the mission fails every time. Discipline and consistency are the path to greatness. Any time I talk to senior executives who complain that their teams are falling short of meeting specific goals, I ask them what they feel the root causes are. Lack of accountability, trust and collaboration are typical answers. But when you dive deeper you typically see that these behaviors aren’t being exhibited at the top. How can any organization expect to have a culture of discipline when it doesn’t exist among senior leaders?

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