Jim Collins — The Return of a Reclusive Polymath (#483)

Illustration via 99designs

The most treasured gifts in the world are kind words spontaneously tendered.

— Jim Collins

Jim Collins (jimcollins.com) 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 co-authored six books that have sold in total more than 10 million copies worldwide. They include Good to Great, the #1 bestseller that examines why some companies make the leap to superior results, and its companion work Good to Great and the Social Sectors; the enduring classic Built to Last, which explores how some leaders build companies that remain visionary for generations; How the Mighty Fall, which delves into how once-great companies can self-destruct; and Great by Choice, which is about thriving in chaos—why some do and others don’t.

And now he’s updating his debut book, Beyond Entrepreneurship, for the 21st century. Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0: Turning Your Business into an Enduring Great Company is now available.

Please enjoy this round two with Jim Collins! (And if you haven’t already, make sure to check out round one here.)

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

Brought to you by GiveWell.org world’s top research on charities and effective giving, Tonal smart home gym, and Wealthfront automated investing. More on all three below.

#483: Jim Collins — The Return of a Reclusive Polymath


This episode is brought to you by Tonal! Tonal is the world’s most intelligent home gym and personal trainer. It is precision engineered and designed to be the world’s most advanced strength studio. Tonal uses breakthrough technology—like adaptive digital weights and A.I. learning—together with the best experts in resistance training so you get stronger, faster. Every program is personalized to your body using A.I., and smart features check your form in real time, just like a personal trainer.

Try Tonal, the world’s smartest home gym, for 30 days in your home, and if you don’t love it, you can return it for a full refund. For a limited time, visit Tonal.com for $250 off your Tonal purchase!

This episode is brought to you by GiveWell.org! For over ten years GiveWell.org has helped donors find the charities and projects that save and improve lives most per dollar. Here’s how: GiveWell dedicates over twenty thousand hours a year to researching charitable organizations and hand-picks a few of the highest-impact, evidence-backed charities. Since 2010, GiveWell has helped over 50,000 donors direct over 500 million dollars to the most effective charities. Most importantly, these donations will save over 75,000 lives and improve the lives of millions more.

This year, support the charities that save and improve lives most, with GiveWell. Any of my listeners who become new GiveWell donors will have their first donation matched up to $250 when you go to GiveWell dot org/Tim and select “PODCAST” and “Tim Ferriss” at checkout.

This episode is brought to you by WealthfrontWealthfront pioneered the automated investing movement, sometimes referred to as ‘robo-advising,’ and they currently oversee $20 billion of assets for their clients. It takes about three minutes to sign up, and then Wealthfront will build you a globally diversified portfolio of ETFs based on your risk appetite and manage it for you at an incredibly low cost. 

Smart investing should not feel like a rollercoaster ride. Let the professionals do the work for you. Go to Wealthfront.com/Tim and open a Wealthfront account today, and you’ll get your first $5,000 managed for free, for life. Wealthfront will automate your investments for the long term. Get started today at Wealthfront.com/Tim.

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear Jim’s first appearance on this show? Check out our conversation in which we discuss genuine humility versus false humility, discipline in service of creativity, maximizing those hours of creativity with a spreadsheet, the cognitive benefits of a well-timed nap, “who luck,” doom loops and flywheels, and much more.

#361: Jim Collins — A Rare Interview with a Reclusive Polymath



  • Connect with Jim Collins:

Website | Twitter | Facebook


Note from the editor: Timestamps will be added shortly.

  • Jim is well-known for asking good questions, so he was wondering: in what ways has my former entrepreneurship professor Ed Zschau been such a major influence in my life, and what has his colorful story taught me about the potential to really accelerate after age 60?
  • After recently re-reading The 4-Hour Workweek, Jim wonders what keeps me going these days, and what’s changed for me in the 15 years since that book was written?
  • What’s the point allocation between dark force motivations and light force motivations?
  • Since Jim and I were both admitted into college by Dean Fred Hargadon, why does he think I got into Princeton, and what nuggets of wisdom did Dean Fred impart to him?
  • Why you should never hesitate to reach out to mentors and people who have been instrumental in shaping your life.
  • As someone who grew up with a fondness for biographies, which ones have been particularly influential to Jim–as examples of paths to follow as well as avoid? What does he find compelling about arcs that go in either direction?
  • As someone I consider to be a craftsman of questions, what type of questions has Jim found to be effective at pulling their weight, and how does he arrive at them? Perhaps most important: how does he set the conditions to ensure their lessons stick?
  • Who is Bill Lazier, and why is he worth having a conversation about? What life lessons has Jim taken away from his time with Bill–particularly regarding trust and, of all things, enjoying the butter on your waffles even if it kills you?
  • Comparing and contrasting West Point Cadets with MBA students.
  • What is the Stockdale Paradox, and how did it come about?
  • We revisit Jim’s creativity-tracking spreadsheet from our last conversation and examine the role volatility plays in the daily figures, along with the patterns that can be discerned from these figures over time.
  • As mere mortals, most of us all fall into the trap of comparing our own processes and accomplishments with those of others. But to whom do people as unique as Jim and one of his mentors–Stanford professor Michael Ray–compare themselves, and how do they break free from this counterproductive practice?
  • What is the 20-Minute Rule?
  • What Jim’s preparation mode looks like in practice, and how he keeps tabs on his to-dos, stop-dos, and prep-dos without overly complicating the process.
  • What does Jim’s stop-do list look like?
  • How and why Jim compiled 30 years of work into a consolidated map of concepts.
  • To Jim, are there any companies that exemplify these concepts in action?
  • The value of clock building over time telling.
  • Will the entrepreneur become the builder? Jim’s thoughts on an important choice all successful founders will eventually have to make.
  • Jim talks about his first encounter with Rochelle Myers, who he thinks of as “a cross between Socrates and Yoda,” and the important questions she taught him to ask himself.
  • What would you stop doing if you only had a short time to live?
  • What would Jim’s billboard say?
  • Parting thoughts on mentors, John McPhee’s Old Man Project, and Jim’s next big question.