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July 30, 2008

News & Opinion: Freakonomics' Levitt Questioning Good To Great

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 6:48 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Steven Levitt on his Freakonomics blog takes a shot at Good To Great and the recent performance of GTG standouts Fannie Mae, Circuit City, and Wells Fargo. A purchase of either Fannie Mae or Circuit City at the time of the book's publication would have netted you an 80% loss in your investment today. Not so good.

This bring ups the whole question of the author Jim Collins' suggested methodology and whether it's one business leaders should be following. There are plenty of great comments on Levitt's post to go read on this. The same criticisms are leveled against Collins' prior book Built To Last and the classic In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman. Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Fooled By Randomness and Phil Rosenwig's The Halo Effect are both cited for their critical views of predictable methodologies.

This has always been my belief: all of these books are directional correct. The principles they describe for success are all worth pursuing. We get a little stuck on the empirical side of the debate. It is true that these authors hang their hats on the research to give their findings legitimacy, but we can't completely dismiss everything they have to say every time a highlighted firm falters.


About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.