It seems to be the fate of any successful management idea that it should be both used and abused. It happened to Clay Christensen’s hypothesis on “disruptive innovation”. It happened to Toyota’s “lean” production system. It has also happened, according to Jim Collins, to his metaphor for an endless cycle of improvement, the flywheel. The management writer and consultant launched the flywheel concept in his 2001 bestseller Good to Great, based on his team’s empirical research into successful companies. But in an interview, he tells me that while he noticed an “increasing use of the term flywheel in places like Silicon Valley and elsewhere … as I looked at what people were doing, I felt that they didn’t really understand [it]”. It is one reasons he has just published Turning the Flywheel, a monograph, barely 40 pages long, exploring further how companies have implemented the concept. Take Amazon, the first example in the new publication. The company’s lower prices increase customer vi...

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