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

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

by Jim Collins


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780977326419
Publisher: Jim Collins
Publication date: 05/19/2009
Series: Good to Great , #4
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 101,201
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Jim Collins is a student and teacher of what makes great companies tick, and a Socratic advisor to leaders in the business and social sectors. Having invested more than a quarter-century in rigorous research, he has authored or coauthored six books that have sold in total more than 10 million copies worldwide. They include Good to GreatBuilt to LastHow the Mighty Fall, and Great by Choice.

Driven by a relentless curiosity, Jim began his research and teaching career on the faculty at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he received the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1992. In 1995, he founded a management laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.

In addition to his work in the business sector, Jim has a passion for learning and teaching in the social sectors, including education, healthcare, government, faith-based organizations, social ventures, and cause-driven nonprofits.

In 2012 and 2013, he had the honor to serve a two-year appointment as the Class of 1951 Chair for the Study of Leadership at the United States Military Academy at West Point. In 2017, Forbes selected Jim as one of the 100 Greatest Living Business Minds.

Jim has been an avid rock climber for more than forty years and has completed single-day ascents of El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite Valley.

Learn more about Jim and his concepts at his website, where you’ll find articles, videos, and useful tools.


Boulder, Colorado

Date of Birth:

January 25, 1958

Place of Birth:

Aurora, Colorado


B.S. in mathematical sciences, Stanford University, 1980; M.B.A., Stanford University, 1983

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How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
M_L_Gooch_SPHR More than 1 year ago
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
dvulcano on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Collins has gone from good to great with this book. While the "scientific method" used to select the companies analyzed seems more out of convenience , the principles and disciplines necessary to prevent a downfall are practical and inspiring.
librarythingaliba on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ripped through this over the holiday weekend. Not nearly as good as Mr. Collins classic (Good to Great), it was still interesting and educational to read.
stephaniechase on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While not as compelling as "Good to Great," it is still an interesting (and quick) read. Especially useful are several of the appendices in the back.
BizCoach on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting and well written. Defines 5 stages of company decline and the culture that exists in each.
lrbhat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book for all CXOs and Corporate Executives to be forewarned about the symptoms and advance warning signs of potential failure. Having experienced slow decline from close quarters, I must admit the stages of decline described by Jim is astonishingly true without any doubt. The recent collapse of many companies has provided enough data points for Jim to fine-tune the analysis. It¿s heartening to note case studied of companies which have come out second last stage of death and become great again. The advance warnings are like the AWACS and help executives strategize and plan for corrective steps, before it¿s too late. There is a big message for the CEO ¿ not to kill the whistleblower, and continue to challenge subordinates more so if all presentations provide a very rosy picture. I would not only recommend this book, but urge readers to apply the logic on the information and signs captured in the corporate life and find out for yourself at what stage of decline if any is your division, your business unit or the company itself.
NathanIves More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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bskobo More than 1 year ago
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.
sharon43 More than 1 year ago
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.
JanB-Capstone-Spring2010 More than 1 year ago
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.
tech-diva More than 1 year ago
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.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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SHU_MBA_Grad More than 1 year ago
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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