Look at the damn squiggly things!

The book Good to Great by Jim Collins is one of my favorites, a classic in business and management which is highly recommended by all sorts of executives including Jeff Bezos. To me though, the most impactful idea or more precisely, powerful image in the book does not come from Collins himself but from an executive named Fred Purdue. It is the image of squiggly things under a rock. Eww! I know right?

The full quote reads: “When you turn over rocks and look at all the squiggly things underneath, you can either put the rock down or you can say ‘my job is to turn over rocks and look at the squiggly things’ even if what you see scares the hell out of you.” This quote and the whole book actually, talk about management and how to run (or how NOT to run) companies, but I like to take away lessons about self-managing from it. I am not running any company right now, the only thing I run is my own life. Now before going any further, I have to admit I realllllyyyy dislike squiggly things, so that might be the 1st reason why this quote resonates with me. More importantly though, it relates to the way I have (more often than I wanted to) dealt with things in life. I know when things are not going well, and I know where the problem may be: It’s underneath that rock. But too often I turn over the rock, get scared by the squiggly things and put the rock back down.  I try to convince myself that it would still be okay with them being down there, hidden, out of sight out of mind. Or worse still, I don’t even dare to turn the rock over, fearing the sight of what I might see. Coward, I know.

My biggest problem is that I know I have problems but don’t do much to fix them. This is a bad trait that I really want to shake off. They are like those squiggly things whose sheer grotesqueness puts me off so strongly that I would keep them hidden while deceiving myself that they aren’t really there, rather than getting rid of them and being SURE that they really aren’t there. The few times that I’ve managed to do away with them, it was actually not that hard once I got over the initial fear. Why can’t I do this more often then?

The number one reason I can think of is the lack of desire for greatness. It is not complacency in the sense that “Oh I’m so good already I don’t have to try that hard”, it is more like I know I’m not that great but I really don’t want to be great that badly. You must want to be great in order to be great. This desire alone can change the game and strengthen your determination to get rid of the ugly stuff and reach for bigger and better things. It helps you keep your discipline. This is another big theme in Good to Great: Collins really stresses that great companies have a culture of discipline. And I look at myself and the way I run my self-company, and realize that doing things haphazardly plays a big role in getting me stuck where I am.

I am at a turning point in life where I have a make a big leap. I want go from good to great (yes that’s me declaring that I’m already good), and I need to learn my lesson and face my problems head on: turn over rocks, and then not only look at the squiggly things but eliminate them, and I have to do that with discipline. When you think about companies, there are many people involved, both inside and outside, and management has a hard time imposing a plan of being more than good. Compared to that, each one of us is the only worker/manager in our self-companies, we have far greater control over our pathway to greatness. Well, even if you’re not aiming for greatness, please still get rid of the squiggly things, they’re gross.

End words: Good to Great is a fantastic book, check it out if you haven’t already! Find it on Amazon.

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