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Build Your Own Flywheel - The Jim Collins Concept Supercharging Companies

Ahead of October Good to Great event – learn Jim's famous Flywheel framework


"Never underestimate the power of a great flywheel.." - Jim Collins

In his book "Good to Great," Jim Collins introduced the concept of the Flywheel, a powerful metaphor for achieving sustained success in business.

Collins's flywheel idea gained even more traction after a meeting with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who famously embraced it as a guiding principle for his company's growth.

Ahead of our Good to Great® Full-Day Immersion Workshop with Jim Collins for CEOs and executive teams in Chicago U.S. in October 2024, let’s look at Jim’s flywheel and how you can build your own.

The Flywheel Effect Transforms Amazon

In 2001, Jim Collins was invited to Amazon's headquarters to discuss his research on great companies. It was in the middle of the dot-com bust and investors were concerned about Amazon’s future.

Writing about the story in his monograph “Turning the Flywheel,“ Jim recounts what he taught Jeff Bezos's team about the “flywheel effect” uncovered in his team’s research.

“In creating a good-to-great transformation,” he told them, “there’s no single defining action, no grand program, no single killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment.

“Rather, it feels like turning a giant, heavy flywheel. Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward…..with persistent effort you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn.

“You don’t stop. You keep pushing.”

“At some point, breakthrough!”

This resonated deeply with Bezos, who developed the Amazon flywheel. Jim calls it “a powerful animating force” at Amazon. Others have called it “the secret sauce.”

Flywheel Gets Easier Over Time

While it takes tremendous effort to get a flywheel moving, a good flywheel eventually builds momentum and becomes easier to push over time.

Bezos instantly recognised the flywheel as critical to Amazon's long-term strategy, and the concept became ingrained in the company's culture.

In his monograph, Jim describes the flywheel as: Increase customer visits – attract third-party sellers – expand the store, extend distribution – grow revenues per fixed costs – lower prices on more offerings – Increase customer visits….etc. 


Building Your Organisation's Flywheel

Business leaders can apply the flywheel concept to their own organisations by following these steps:

  1. Identify the key factors that drive growth: These could include elements like product innovation, customer experience, operational efficiency, or brand reputation.
  2. Align all activities around these drivers: Every decision, process, and initiative should contribute to turning the flywheel in a unified direction.
  3. Focus on compounding effects: Understand that small, incremental improvements can accumulate into massive momentum over time.
  4. Maintain discipline and consistency: Stick to your flywheel strategy, even when facing short-term pressures or setbacks.
  5. Measure progress and adjust: Continuously monitor the flywheel's momentum and make adjustments as needed to keep it spinning.

Why the Flywheel Might Stall

Despite implementing a flywheel strategy, some organisations may find that their flywheel isn't gaining traction as expected.

Here are a few reasons why this might occur:

  1. Misaligned drivers: If the identified growth drivers are not truly interdependent or coherent, they may work against each other rather than building momentum.
  2. Lack of follow-through: Inconsistent execution or a failure to maintain discipline in aligning activities around the flywheel can prevent it from gaining speed.
  3. External disruptions: Unforeseen market shifts, regulatory changes, or competitive threats can disrupt the flywheel's momentum.
  4. Internal resistance: Organisational silos, conflicting priorities, or a lack of buy-in from key stakeholders can hinder the flywheel's progress.
  5. Impatience: Expecting immediate results can lead to abandoning the flywheel strategy before it has a chance to build sustainable momentum.

The flywheel concept, while simple in principle, requires unwavering commitment, alignment, and patience to harness its power.

By consistently pushing in the right direction, leaders can unlock the potential for extraordinary, sustained growth in their organisations.

Bring Your Team Before Jim Collins

CEOs and executive teams have the opportunity to learn direct from Jim Collins, at a rare and invaluable Good to Great® Full-Day Immersion Workshop with Jim Collins in October 2024.

As was experienced at the successful 2023 event, this year's (2024) event will again see Jim Collins himself taking CEOs and executive teams through the characteristics of Level 5 leadership essential for taking a company from good to great and his roadmap for applying his famous concepts.

Jim's global bestseller Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't is one of most cited and successful management books of all time. 

Photo by Andrew Draper on Unsplash


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