Jim Collins

“It was 1994. [My book] Built to Last had just come out. I mean, I was nobody. But a colleague knew Peter Drucker, and one day I got a message on my voicemail: ‘This is Peter Drucker. I would be very pleased to meet you for a day in Claremont [Calif., where Drucker lives].’ I call back, very nervous, and he says, ‘Speak up! I’m not young anymore!’ So I’m like, ‘PETER DRUCKER, THIS IS JIM COLLINS!’ And then he actually set aside a day. Think about the value of a day with Peter Drucker at age 85. The interesting thing is that he absolutely changed my life that day. In one day.

“The real discipline comes in saying no to the wrong opportunities.” - Author of the bestseller Good to Great - Jim Collins, 46

“I was at a point where I could have started a consulting firm, Built to Last Consulting, or something. The first thing he asked was, ‘Why are you driven to do this [start a consulting firm]?’ I said I was driven by curiosity and impact. And he says, ‘Ah, now you’re getting in the realm of the existential. You must be crassly commercial.’

“For a moment I had this image of going to Yoda for wisdom, and having him say, ‘Have a Coke!’ But he was either testing me, or it was a joke. I’m not sure which.

“The huge thing he said to me was, ‘Do you want to build ideas to last, or do you want to build an organization to last?’

“I said I wanted to build ideas to last.

“He said, ‘Then you must not build an organization.’

“His point was, the moment you have an organization, you have a beast to feed-this army of people. If you ever start developing ideas to feed the beast rather than having ideas that the beast feeds, your influence will go down, even if your commercial success goes up. Because there’s a huge difference between teaching an idea and selling an idea. In the end, what are you in a battle for? You’re battling to influence the thinking of powerful, discerning people. If you ever abuse that trust, you can lose them. So the moment that arrow changes direction, you’re dead.

“He said something else important: ‘The real discipline comes in saying no to the wrong opportunities.’ Growth is easy. Saying no is hard.

“I’ll never forget asking, ‘How can I ever pay you back?’ and his saying, ‘You’ve already paid me back. I’ve learned so much from our conversation.’ That’s when I realized where Drucker’s greatness lay, that unlike a lot of people, he was not driven to say something. He was driven to learn something.

“I feel proud that I followed the advice. It’s a huge debt. I can never pay it back. The only thing I can do is give it to others. Drucker had said, ‘Go out and make yourself useful.’ That’s how you pay Peter Drucker back. To do for other people what Peter Drucker did for me.”

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