In a recent conversation with a college professor friend of mine, he mentioned a growing phenomenon that occurs in most every one of his sessions with his students. He happens to teach Leadership and Organizational Development, and his classes include students in their late teens as well as adults pursuing advanced studies. At some point, in most every one of his sessions, someone will ask a question similar to this: "Why do we always hear about the same companies on TV, in business books, featured in magazines, and in the classroom?" Some examples that are usually mentioned include: Southwest, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Dell, Krispy Kreme, Enron, K-Mart, Healthsouth, eBay, Arthur Anderson, HP, Amazon, Disney, GE, Home Depot, Starbucks, Harley-Davidson, Toyota, and Worldcom.

Although he senses a degree of sincerity each time the question is asked, he feels the answer seems unbelievably obvious. As a result, he offers the same answer to each class. "These organizations are constantly analyzed, discussed, benchmarked, and debated because they are currently very successful at what they do, or they are failing with most every endeavor, or they are currently in transition from one state to another. Authors, producers, and news directors seek out and report stories which are newsworthy. To them newsworthy means attracting readers and viewers which translates into dollars. They don't choose these reports because they like or dislike a particular organization. Their decisions are bottom-line driven."

There have been a few times when he actually shared the obvious by saying: "Who do you think we should study in this program — the average, middle-of-the-pack, organization that is doing an average job? Should we review those that are not failing but that are far from successful? What would you hope to learn from such an effort?" On several occasions he has shared the fact that he is a bit surprised and puzzled that this kind of question continually comes up in his classes.

I share his frustration as I often hear those same queries during seminars or keynotes. I've told many an audience that I honestly feel I'll be talking about Southwest, Wal-Mart, and a few other obvious organizations for the rest of my career. They are that prominent and dominate in their own fields. My content may change as these giants could very well do a turn-around and head in a negative direction. It's happened many times in the past with other icons in a variety of industries. However, regardless of their current status, there is much to learn from all of the companies mentioned earlier.

I also feel and share with those who attend our seminars and keynotes the fact that many of these successful organizations also have weaknesses and often practice behaviors I wouldn't recommend to anyone striving for success. However, to ignore these companies completely would be a mistake as there is much to learn from each of them. The same concept holds true with those who have struggled and/or failed for unscrupulous behavior. Although they have done many things that have led them down their current path to destruction, there is also much to learn from each of them. We can learn what to avoid, the consequences if we don't avoid those actions, and each of those organizations has obviously done many things very well to achieve the level of success they once enjoyed. To disregard those positive areas would also be a mistake.

The obvious key in your efforts to study any organization is to duplicate what they've done well by adapting those things to your current culture while avoiding any behaviors, practices, etc. which you feel oppose your culture, mission, vision, beliefs and values. There is much to learn from any organization if we approach our analysis with an open mind and inquisitive spirit.

Author's Bio: 

Harry K. Jones is a professional speaker and consultant for AchieveMax® Inc., a firm specializing in custom-designed keynote presentations, seminars, and consulting services. Harry has made presentations ranging from leadership to employee retention and time management to stress management for a number of industries, including education, financial, government, healthcare, hospitality, and manufacturing. He can be reached at 800-886-2MAX or by visiting

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