The book compares a set of 17 companies which are considered visionary with similar 17 companies of lesser stature [I am avoiding gory details of their methodology here].

With the aim of deriving theory from practice, the book aims at debunking common myths about visionary companies.

Myths

  1. It takes a great idea to start a company.
    Fact: A lot of visionary companies like Sony and HP had no idea what to do even after months of starting. [at Sony employees use to have meetings to decide what can be done]. Similarly, 3M suffered pretty badly since its initial idea never worked out.
  2. Visionary companies require great and charismatic visionary leaders.
    Fact: They have clock-builders instead of time-tellers as CEOs who [instead of keeping full control of company] aim for developing a culture which lasts even after their departure.
  3. The most successful companies exist first and foremost to maximize profits.
    Fact: They seek profit but are guided by core ideology [a set of core values and sense of purpose]
  4. Visionary companies share a common subset of “correct” core values.
    Fact: There is no “right” set of core values. What’s important is the set of values but how deeply employees believe in it.
    Even companies like Philip Morris [maker of Marlboro] is visionary because its employees believes in its ideology [of giving full choice to customer]
  5. The only constant is change
    Fact: They religiously preserve their core while stimulating progress by allowing everything outside to change.
  6. Blue chip companies play it safe.
    Fact: They pursue BHAG [Big Hairy Audacious Goals] like Boeing 747. As soon as one BHAG is attained, they start aiming for the next one.
  7. Visionary companies are great place to work for everyone.
    Fact: Only those who fit well in the core ideology and demanding standards can survive and flourish, others are ejected out. They are more like cults either a person fits in or not. They allow mistakes which are not breach of core ideology but severely punish employees for breaching ideology. Apart from sticking to ideology, employees are given high autonomy to work.
  8. Visionary companies make their best moves by brilliant and complex strategic planning.
    Fact: They make their move by trial and error, they try a lot of things and keep what works. They follow evolution as opposed to creationism.
    Example: Post-It notes from 3M.
  9. Companies should hire outside CEOs to simulate fundamental change.
    Fact: Visionary companies rarely hire outside CEOs. Homegrown management is the norm. Their CEOs being clock-builder, continuously nourish managers and prepare them for leading the company.
  10. The most successful visionary companies focus primarily on beating the competition.
    Fact: They set their on BHAGs and tries to achieve them. They primarily focus on beating themselves.
  11. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
    Fact: They reject choices like stability or growth, conservative policies vs BHAG, they pursue a strategy of AND and try to attain paradoxical views at the same time.
  12. Companies become visionary primarily through “vision statements”.
    Fact: Creating visionary statements is helpful as a step but its should not be seen as end goal. A set of core values [which employees believe in] , core purpose [for which company stands for], vision for future [which company wish to attain] and “vivid” BHAG.