How the mighty fall

Raj Gupta

Jim Collins is an author whose books 'Good to Great' and 'Built to Last', though originally written for the corporate sector, have proven to be quite useful for the non-profit sector.

In fact these books proved so popular among organisations like churches that Collins wrote a “Social Sector” supplement to help people adapt his principles.

In 2009, Collins released a new offering: How the Mighty Fall. He flipped his research and looked at companies that failed, and then looked for common characteristics.

The common pattern he articulated should be equally fascinating for churches.

Stage 1 is 'Hubris born of success'. An organisation's success is the foundation for unhelpful patterns, where hard questions are not asked and a tone of arrogance leads to neglect. You kind of convince yourself that 'it could never happen to you' and assume that you will always have the success that you have had in the past. The rhetoric of success sets in and your approach lacks the vigour it once had.

Stage 2 flows from the first stage: an 'Undisciplined Pursuit of More'. Interesting, Collins suggests that it is not so much complacency that sets in, as an overreaching: you try to do too much too quickly, and without an underlying discipline. Among others, poor succession planning is one of the characteristics he identifies as often marking this stage.

Stage 3 involves a 'Denial of risk and peril'. You have warning signs, but ignore them. In other words, you ignore the facts. In an extreme, you don't even want to know the facts. You think things look good on the outside - at least that is what the anecdotes tell you. A common characteristic is when you blame 'other people or external factors'. Another is to 'amplify the positive, [and] discount the negative.'

Stage 4 is called 'Grasping for Salvation', and Collins does not mean Jesus! This is searching for the silver bullet, once things start to decline. Sometimes it is finding the visionary leader. Sometimes it involves creating hype about the future. It is much easier than working on the fundamentals, but Collins argues that working on the fundamentals is exactly what one must do to avoid the last stage.

Stage 5 is 'Capitulation to irrelevance or death.'

A very interesting read, indeed.

Again Collins has a corporate context primarily in mind. But, nevertheless, I wonder if this pattern might apply to churches and Christian organisations. Thoughts?