How Jim Collins Used a Crossed Out Sentence to Make Something Great

Jim Collins, author of the mega-bestseller Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t, tells the story of how a crossed out sentence changed his life. For the last twenty-five years Jim Collins has written or co-written six books that have sold more than ten million copies, become a wildly sought after speaker, and an award winning teacher. But it all began with a crossed out sentence.

Hand with pen is writing " Business Plan" on transparent white board.

In 1988 Jim Collins was asked to teach a class on entrepreneurship and small business at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He was taking over for another prof who had taught the class previously, and was looking over the former prof’s syllabus. The syllabus said:

This will be a course on the mechanics and challenges of the new business venture entrepreneur and the small business manager.

On some kind of impulse, Collins crossed out the sentence. In its place he wrote this:

This will be a course on how to turn an entrepreneurial venture or small business into an enduring, great company.

As soon as he wrote it, Jim Collins thought to himself: I don’t know anything about that! He decided he’d better figure it out so that he could teach the class. Not only did he do that, but crossing out that sentence and rewriting it began 25 years of research and six best-selling books. It all came from discovering what it takes to turn a small business into an “enduring, great company.”

It got me to wondering how a change in thinking, or a crossed out sentence, might change the way I look at things. If I’m bold enough to cross out a sentence and rewrite it, using a concept I don’t yet know anything about, it could lead me into learning and discovering new things that could change my life, my family’s life, or even the direction of the church I pastor.

For instance, my wife, Tammy, and I are in the midst of creating and writing our goals for 2016. (I know we’re almost at the end of January, but…better late than never.) What I have discovered from writing down my goals is that I have figuratively crossed off notions that I’ve had in previous years. I have discovered that I haven’t been nearly bold enough in my goal setting. I’ve crossed out the weak goals of the past and replaced them with more audacious goals. Some of the goals I’m setting are going to stretch me far beyond my comfort zone. I will be forced to learn new things. I will be stretched in directions that will probably bring growth in ways that I never expected.

I’d like to encourage you to do the same. Try this:

  1. Write down five goals for yourself. Make sure they are SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound).
  2. Now re-write them, stretching yourself just enough to make you uncomfortable. For instance, set a deadline that’s sooner than you think you’d be able to do it. Or let the measurable aspect of the goal be more than you wrote down the first time around. Or write it so that it seems just a bit, a tiny little bit, beyond attainable.
  3. Read your goals once more and discover what new things you will have to learn, what new direction you will need to take, or which free time you will have to use to accomplish them.

Jim Collins grew an entire career and venture by crossing out a sentence. It’s simply another way of looking things. Crossing out sentences could lead to great creativity in discovering and learning new things.

What sentence will you cross out today?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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