How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In

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Overview

Decline can be avoided.

Decline can be detected.

Decline can be reversed.

Amidst the desolate landscape of fallen great companies, Jim Collins began to wonder: How do the mighty fall? Can decline be detected early and avoided? How far can a company fall before the path toward doom becomes inevitable and unshakable? How can companies reverse course?

In How the Mighty Fall, Collins confronts these questions, offering leaders the well-founded hope that they can learn how to stave off decline and, if they find themselves falling, reverse their course. Collins' research project—more than four years in duration—uncovered five step-wise stages of decline:

Stage 1: Hubris Born of Success

Stage 2: Undisciplined Pursuit of More

Stage 3: Denial of Risk and Peril

Stage 4: Grasping for Salvation

Stage 5: Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death

By understanding these stages of decline, leaders can substantially reduce their chances of falling all the way to the bottom.

Great companies can stumble, badly, and recover.

Every institution, no matter how great, is vulnerable to decline. There is no law of nature that the most powerful will inevitably remain at the top. Anyone can fall and most eventually do. But, as Collins' research emphasizes, some companies do indeed recover—in some cases, coming back even stronger—even after having crashed into the depths of Stage 4.

Decline, it turns out, is largely self-inflicted, and the path to recovery lies largely within our own hands. We are not imprisoned by our circumstances, our history, or even our staggering defeats along the way. As long as we never get entirely knocked out of the game, hope always remains. The mighty can fall, but they can often rise again.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Consider this book Jim Collins's stand-alone trilogy topper to his resilient Good to Great and Built to Last. In How the Mighty Fall, he states what every successful CEO fears: That even the best-built institutions are vulnerable to decline. The good news is that company leaders and even middle managers can identify the "silent creep of impending doom" and systematically set a viable correction course. In these troubled times, when every business might strengthen its framework, this book provides tools to get through and thrive. Powerful remedies; convincing presentation.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780977326419
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/19/2009
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 79,955
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Jim Collins

Jim Collins is author or coauthor of six books that have sold in total more than ten million copies worldwide, including the bestsellers Good to Great, Built to Last, and How the Mighty Fall. Jim began his research and teaching career on the faculty at Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he received the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1992. He now operates a management laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, where he conducts research, teaches, and consults with executives from the corporate and social sectors.

Good To Know

Collins says he finds the writing process a difficult one. "I can average no more than a page a day of high quality output – and those are long days!" he said in our interview. "If I produce a 30 page chapter, it will take me 30 days of work. I like what Michener said: 'I am not a master writer. I am a master rewriter."'

Collins has been married to wife Joanne for 22 years; the pair got engaged four days after their first date. When I finished Good to Great, Joanne said, “It’s nice to have you back” -- even though I’d been sitting just 20 feet away in the Morris chair for all those months of writing. That’s just the nature of writing a book; it requires a degree of obsession and productive neurosis.

A passionate rock climber, Collins likes to work early in the morning and then take a break to go climbing on the cliffs of Boulder or Eldorado Canyon. "No matter how wrapped up I am in a piece of work," he says, "it all melts away when I’m focused on the next ten feet of rock. I like to return in the afternoon for a good nap of 30 minutes to two hours, followed by a late afternoon creative work session before spending the evening with Joanne."

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    1. Hometown:
      Boulder, Colorado
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 25, 1958
    2. Place of Birth:
      Aurora, Colorado
    1. Education:
      B.S. in mathematical sciences, Stanford University, 1980; M.B.A., Stanford University, 1983
    2. Website:

Table of Contents

The Silent Creep of Impending Doom 1

Five Stages of Decline 13

Stage 1 Hubris Born of Success 27

Stage 2 Undisciplined Pursuit of More 45

Stage 3 Denial of Risk and Peril 65

Stage 4 Grasping for Salvation 83

Stage 5 Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death 103

Well-Founded Hope 113

Appendices and Notes 125

Index 213

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 40 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 40 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Relevant Work

    Collin's previous book Good to Great has become a classic in managerial literature. This new book is actually a continuation of Good to Great in that it focuses on what happens to companies that doesn't heed the advice in G to G.

    As I read the book, I found myself contemplating how one could turn this tome into a leadership course because at its essence that is what it is. I have personally been involved in companies that have failed due to Hubris at the Top. We have all been adequately advised against this foreshadow of doom yet we continue to close our eyes and pretend it's only the wind.

    Certainly once great companies have fallen and I do agree with the book's premise that most could have been avoided. However, I am aware of a few recent failures that due to the severe recession, failure in certain sectors and geographic locations was a foregone conclusion. Nevertheless, this does not and should not distract from the lessons in this book. However, I would rewrite the mantra of this book as:

    1. Decline can "sometimes" be avoided.
    2. Decline can be detected.
    3. Decline can "often"be reversed.

    Collins wisely includes the five stages of impending doom. By grasping these passages of decline, business leaders can significantly reduce their limit their chances of a total crash.

    Stage 1: Hubris Born of Success
    Stage 2: Undisciplined Pursuit of More
    Stage 3: Denial of Risk and Peril
    Stage 4: Grasping for Salvation
    Stage 5: Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death

    The ability to actually have a significant impact in any of these stages is far outside the pay scale of most readers. Therefore I am not sure that this book will "save" American industries and service companies. Still, it is a good bedtime read providing a glimpse into the inner workings, that is, miscues, incompetence, blinders, etc., of the companies that we rely on for our paycheck.

    I hope you find this review helpful.

    Michael L. Gooch, SPHR

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 9, 2013

    How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In by Jim

    How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In by Jim Collins examines the reasons great and good companies slip into decline, the five phases of decline, and the questions company leaders can ask to identify if their organization is declining or at risk of doing so. Consistent with his past work, Jim Collins's conclusions of why organizations fall into decline is founded on rigorous examination of imperial evidence and the book filled with highly illustrative examples.

    I like How The Mighty Fall because of the unique perspective Jim Collins provides on organizational decline founded on imperial research. I believe it is important for business leaders to remain ever watchful for indicators of declining performance and to this end, Jim Collins provides an insightful list of decline indicating markers. If I had one criticism of How The Mighty Fall it would be that Collins omits any thoughts as to how and with what periodicity a leader or an organization might systematically examine itself for the existence of one or more markers of decline.

    How The Mighty Fall keeps with the StrategyDriven philosophy of self evaluation; giving readers insight to the warning flags of organizational decline and demise and making How The Mighty Fall a StrategyDriven recommended read.

    All the Best,
    Nathan Ives
    StrategyDriven Principal

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2012

    Good book for any CEO to read.

    I think Collins is right on with his research and conclusions. A great read with practical perspectives for any size companies.

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  • Posted April 7, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Good book for executives and business owners, Not Collins' best work

    Some of the things I found interesting in the book was the fact that companies previously discussed in Good to Great and Built to Last, such as Merck and Zenith, also found themselves in How the Mighty Fall. This proves that all companies are susceptible to decline if they are not constantly maintained and looked after properly.

    I was not impressed with the book's ending. I found that the book ended on a weak note without providing any sort of real conclusion. Collins could have added more to the ending and talked about possible turnaround strategies for getting an organization out of trouble.

    Despite the weak ending, I would recommend this book to business executives and anyone who runs their own company. Collins does a good job of compiling all of the warning signs concisely into the five stages of decline; therefore, the book provides information on what to look out to see if your organization is in trouble.

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  • Posted March 26, 2010

    Found "How the Might Fall" to be an overall good synopsis of the rise and fall of corporate world

    I slightly disagree with JanB-Capstone's comment that the pre-requisite for reading and understanding the content of this book is reading his previous books. I haven't had the opportunity to read Collins prior two books but am now intrigued to do so if they are better and more insightful then "How the Mighty Fall". I found it to be an easy read and his suggestions for avoiding failure though some are predictable and obvious are applicable to many situations that companies encounter. Having worked in an industry that has seen its rise and fall over the last 20 yrs I wonder how the corporate big wigs allowed these things to happen. Then again like Collins mentioned it stems from "ignorance, arrogance, shifting blame and skewing data that is in front of them". Maybe they should have read Collins book or consulted with him.

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  • Posted March 24, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    How The Mighty Fall by Jim Collins is not as dynamic as Good to Great and Built to Last. Not recommended unless you have read those two books and found them useful and interesting!

    This book is written assuming you have read the author's previous 2 related books. You must be familiar with "Built to Last" and "Good to Great" to fully appreciate the concepts of "How the Mighty Fall". The author gives guidance on the recovery necessary for companies who detect decline fast enough to be able to avoid and reverse it. His position is that the mighty can fall but they can often rise again and come back even stronger. He gives the effective examples of strategies employed to do this by IBM, Nucor and Nordstrom. This book does not have the meat and substance of his previous work. It may have been better as a professional journal article. He expands on his research by classifying the decline of companies into five stages which are insightful but predictable: Stage 1, Hubris Born of Success; Stage 2, Undisciplined Pursuit of More; Stage 3, Denial of Risk and Peril; Stage 4, Grasping for Salvation and Stage 5, Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death. I feel the sampling of companies discussed could have been better chosen to be more relevant and up to date. I found another weakness to be Appendix 3 on Fannie Mae and the financial crisis of 2008. As Collins used Fannie Mae as a successful subject of his previous books, he obviously felt obligated to comment on current events. I feel his analysis on the topic is weak and incomplete in this book. I enjoyed his narrative and commentary on Winston Churchill's belief that you should never give in. A strength of the book is that it also tells the reader what a company should not do to facilitate recovery and what strategies some enterprises have tried which were failures. The book has some interesting anecdotes and is a fast read.

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  • Posted February 23, 2010

    Good insite into how companies fail

    While most business books try to always be positive, a dose of reality is a good thing. The main points are covered up front, but just as interesting are the details in the appendices. The model for failure seems to also apply to more than just business (governments, stardom, etc.)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2010

    Highly recommended for organizational leaders and professionals

    I am not a fan of most business writers with the exception of Jim Collins. His work is marked by strong research grounded in good evidence, and he has a strong sense of the nuances often found in organizational life both in the for-profit and non-profit. Collins explodes the myth that "change" always leads to progress. Instead, he demonstrates that the wrong kind of change combined with other factors can have devastating consequences in many organizations.

    This book is concise, thoughtful, and easy for busy exectives and leaders to process. I've already enjoyed several conversations with colleagues about its implications.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2010

    Whys is this book not an e-book

    It would appear to me that with all of the fanfare about the "Nook", that we would be able to purchase any book from B&N in an electronic format.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 23, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Lessons to be Learned and Embraced

    I did not read Jim Collins two prior bestsellers, Good to Great and Built to Last, and was told that they were not pre-qualifiers for Jim's newest book, How the Mighty Fall. Although, others were critical of the size, or lack of size, How the Mighty Fall, I was actually drawn to brevity of the book (since I was already overloaded with lots of reading for my graduate business class and work.)

    Based on Collins' extensive research (four plus years), he discovers that the the greatest destruction to once-great companies that stumble and fall is mainly self-inflicted and could have been avoided. Their fall is generally not the result of the unforeseeable or a series of unfortunate events. What happens in most organizations is like a major illness and goes through various distinct stages before the final stage. Collins succinctly lays out this process in a five stage process:
    1 - Hubris Born of Success
    2 - Undisciplined Pursuit of More
    3 - Denial of Risk and Peril
    4 - Grasping for Salvation
    5 - Capitulation to Irrelevance and Death

    Although, Collins focuses primarily on companies that become arrogant to a fault and lose their way, he also provides many examples of CEOs who were able to release their organization from the near grips of death such as Anne Mulcahy, former CEO, at Xerox.

    This book is a must read for anyone in a leadership or strategic role in their organization. The book will take no more than an afternoon and is well worth the time invested.

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  • Posted October 10, 2009

    Nothing New

    I was sad to find nothing new and compelling in Collin's new book. It appeared to be a rehashing of his previous work with few new concepts identified. It almost appeared as a explanation to justify the findings of prior research. From a scholarly and research perspective, I find it disheartening by perceived attempt to "milk" a new book from old concepts.

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  • Posted September 19, 2009

    "Mighty" is Jim Collin's best work to date.

    While I very much enjoyed "Good to Great" and "Built to Last", I also thought they were a bit overreaching in some of the proclamations that Jim made -- this is not to say that they weren't both great book because they definitely were in my opinion. The analyses were superb in both books and they taught us a lot. In Jim's "How the Mighty Fall", he makes his arguments and presents his facts more concisely and cleanly, without some of the broad assertions that could bring criticism to his two prior great works because his many of his "Good to Great" companies like AIG and Fannie May have failed miserably during the recent financial industry meltdown -- exhibiting some of the worst management of any companies during the crisis. In "Mighty", Jim doesn't leave himself vulnerable to any such criticism with arguments that are tight and compact, and that offer up no over-arching judgments that can swing depending upon factors outside of any author's control, like the hubris and incompetence of some top business executives. "Mighty" offers up keen insights that are grounded in both hard facts and augmented by Jim's keen insights -- and it is decidedly objective, which makes it a classic irrespective of the times. I recommend it highly -- it's his best work to date. Bravo, Jim!

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  • Posted August 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    How the Mighty Fall is a good, and timely, complement to Good to Great. The frame of the five stages is very helpful and insightful.

    How the Mighty Fall is a good, and timely, complement to Good to Great. The frame of the five stages is very helpful and insightful. The examples are very telling. Though, I think Collins pulled some punches on Motorola, it's a small complaint. The broader lesson is almost a truism for any endeavor -- public or private -- "when it stops being about the mission/outcomes and becomes about the players," fatigue and failure soon follow. Think schools, governments, political parties, corporations!

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  • Posted August 8, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    An Easy, Enjoyable Read

    This book is filled with interesting, credible research that is presented in a very understandable fashion for those who are not in business. I did not read "Good to Great" -- though I have heard much about it -- but I did not find myself in a deficit when reading this book. It is timely and the suggestions for avoiding failure are applicable to many situations.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2009

    Another outstanding book by Collins

    I thoroughly Collins' new book, How The Mighty Fall. The audio version was especially enjoyable because he reads it himself, and his passion for the work just comes screaming through. His insight into why some of the companies who went from Good to Great have now gone from Great to Gone or Going was of course supported by much research not just opinion. The accountability he places on leaders relative to selection, leveraging team strengths, and success is in perfect alignment with our business focus.

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  • Posted July 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great insight into the downward cycle businesses can face

    More an extended article than a full book. Excellent examples and articulation of the thesis by Collins. Very readable with case study examples that bring the points to light. Timely premises. Highly recommended.

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  • Posted June 30, 2009

    A compelling insight into the failure of once great firms.

    Definitely one of the best business books I've ever read. Jim Collins highlights the stages of failure with a rigorous comparative analysis contrasting companies that fail with similar companies that succeed. The book is anything but depressing, on the contrary, it is motivating in the face of peril. The insights in this book apply not only to firms seemingly at the top of their craft, but also extrapolates to personal performance both positive and negative. As a suggestion, if you are an analytical person and like to check the validity of your and others works, read the appendix section first. It provides a detailed backing of how the insights in the book were formed.

    Enjoy!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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