A Conversation With Jim Collins

Type: Article
Topics: Leadership Development, School Administrator Magazine

December 01, 2019

A veteran superintendent engages the best-selling author on applying the relevant ideas in his newest work, Turning the Flywheel
Jim Collins speaking
Jim Collins found a significant application of his flywheel idea in use at an improving elementary school in Fort Riley, Kan.

Jim Collins, the best-selling author behind the landmark 2001 work on management Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don’t, has long held an affinity for the work of K-12 educators. One school leader who latched on early to the value of Collins’ ideas for his own purposes was Larry Nyland, who spent 27 years in the superintendency and 48 years as an education professional.

When Collins earlier this year published his latest work, Turning the Flywheel, as a 40-page monograph to accompany Good to Great, we turned to Nyland, who retired in 2018 after four years as superintendent in Seattle, Wash., to conduct an extended interview with the author.

What follows appears as a lightly edited version of the full conversation between the two on the application of Collins’ work but also demonstrates the latter’s genuine attempts to better understand the demands on those leading elementary and secondary education in the United States today. It took place on May 20, 2019.

Schools and Business

NYLAND: On behalf of AASA, thank you, for talking with us about your new monograph, Turning the Flywheel, and what you are learning about helping schools go from good to great.

COLLINS: Before we get started, I have a few questions to get to know you better. How many years have you been a superintendent and how did you come to do that?

NYLAND: Twenty-seven years as a school superintendent and 48 years in education, including time as an associate professor, state leader and consultant. I became a superintendent almost by chance, taking administration courses I was sure I would never need. Then, I became a principal and one year later a superintendent when Alaska created 21 new school districts. I retired in 2018 after serving as Seattle superintendent for four years — the best four years of my life. We really pulled together a lot of things that made a difference for kids.

COLLINS: Thank you. I’m very sensitive to not wanting to overstep the bounds of my expertise. I haven’t been a superintendent or run a school. I certainly haven’t been in a K-12 classroom with the great and challenging work of trying to be an outstanding teacher.

NYLAND: I appreciate that. In reading some of your earlier interviews, I notice that you do that well. You understand public education well enough to notice that there are some things that are more difficult to control.

COLLINS: Building a great school is hands down harder than building a great company, by several orders of magnitude. As we have our conversation, I’d like to share some of the things that I have learned about what makes great organizations and great enterprises, including some of the key concepts that could perhaps be harnessed in education. But, in no way wanting to be the person who says, ‘We’ve studied great companies, let us tell you how to run schools.’ That’s not the tone that I would like to bring at all. 


COLLINS: I’m curious about how you ended up writing and interviewing for others. How did that happen?

NYLAND: Although retired, I definitely want to keep contributing, just not as a full-time, 24/7 superintendent. And, this issue that you’re publishing on — systems and improvement — is so critical to improving learning, especially in the area of equity.

More than half of our kids in public schools are students of color. We’ve never served them well and, soon, they will be half of our workforce. It’s both a moral and an economic imperative. Finding our positive outliers and figuring out what that flywheel looks like for the next generation is absolutely essential.

COLLINS: I have a great passion for K-12 education. My fundamental belief is that the only acceptable end game is that a random sample of all 18-year-old kids in this country would show no statistically significant difference in outcomes by zip code. And, until you get to that point, you’re not there yet.

As a kid, you don’t get to decide where you’re born or which neighborhood you grow up in. I come at it from that starting point, that ultimate outcome.

NYLAND: Exactly.

COLLINS: And, just one other question. There’s one view that says job one is to get the kids the best education they can, even though the environment might be very difficult. The other view puts more emphasis on fixing the socioeconomic issues first. I’m curious, with all your years of experience, where you come out on that?

NYLAND: Well, fixing the societal problems first would give us a much better opportunity to impact student learning, but I’ve put my time and energy into what I can best influence, which is the K-12 environment.

In Seattle, we did win public voter support for universal preschool. Preschool is one of the great intersections between the two alternatives that you mentioned. It’s not redoing all of society, but it is paying attention to those first few years of a student’s life when the brain is most malleable and you can maybe right some of the wrongs of society by intervening early. 

Education Focus

COLLINS: So, tell me a little bit about who you’re writing for, so that I can have in mind the people that we are serving.

NYLAND: AASA, The School Superintendents Association, represents about 20,000 school district leaders across the country. Our members have a great interest in how we improve student learning. Over the past 20 years there has been a societal focus on leaving ‘No Child Left Behind.’ Schools now pay more attention to student learning and the equity gaps that we too often ignored in the past.

Are you hopeful that Turning the Flywheel will influence the current and next generation of educational leadership?

COLLINS: We [found] that a third to a half of our readers came from non-business. That was a really interesting surprise. People began to say the Good to Great principles apply outside of business. We could re-release a new edition of Good to Great with new chapters, but then everybody has to buy a new copy. Or, you could create a separate thing called the monograph, so we did that in Good to Great in the Social Sectors (2005).

NYLAND: So, the monograph idea began with the public sector and now this new monograph has some deeper roots in education?

COLLINS: [Yes,] along the way, I got involved in a study on K-12 education. As I was looking at superintendents and school principals in adverse environments, I noticed that they were, either consciously or not, building flywheels. One of the things that really stood out in that work was the idea of getting a consistent approach rather than a new silver bullet every three years. Get something that’s going to work over time and build flywheel momentum within it.

When I stand back from that K-12 study, one of the principles from Good to Great that most showed up was the flywheel effect. It was part of what [convinced me] the flywheel idea should be out there. And, maybe more schools could grab that and use it. So, I included one of the K-12 flywheels in the Turning the Flywheel monograph.

Why this new book? Why Now?

NYLAND: Your books, Good to Great and six others, have sparked tremendous interest among our K-12 leaders. Turning the Flywheel is your newest contribution. Why the focus on Turning the Flywheel and why now?

COLLINS: When you build a great enterprise, what often looks like a dramatic turnaround or breakthrough from the outside isn’t how it happened on the inside. The way it happened on the inside is the flywheel effect — building momentum, turn by turn. It is like turning a giant, heavy flywheel in a consistent direction that accumulates over time. That’s the way turnaround actually happens. It only looks like an instantaneous breakthrough.

A consistent approach that you compound and get better and better at over time is the only way a really good-to-great transition happens in our research.

NYLAND: Good to Great came out in 2001. So, you have been working for some time helping organizations apply those ideas.

COLLINS: What I learned from the engagement with Amazon was how they took the flywheel principle and made it their own. You have to get clear on how you build your own specific flywheel. When you get clear on understanding how your flywheel turns, it can be enormously powerful.

So, after a decade or so of challenging different types of organizations — both for-profit and not-for-profit — to harness the flywheel effect by crystalizing their own, people began to say to me, ‘You need to share this; it’s really been helpful to us.’ So, I eventually decided to create the flywheel monograph to do that. I wanted to deepen the understanding around that.

Some ideas should be a full book. But, others, like Thomas Paine’s, Common Sense, should only be [short]. I didn’t want to write a whole book on the flywheel. A monograph is a perfect size, and, hopefully, will be very powerful extension [of the] idea.

Speeding Up Transformation

NYLAND: Turning the Flywheel is a great book. I’ve already purchased multiple copies and given them away with great enthusiasm. I do hope you do a K-12 book with other examples. Does the flywheel principle speed up the four-year transformation process you mention in earlier books?

COLLINS: Well, Larry, it’s a perceptive question. What I found is that working on the flywheel does increase the speed at which you could potentially see what the hedgehog is

The beauty of the flywheel is that it captures the dynamic momentum of building better and better results. It’s like a puzzle. Where does the flywheel start? And, if we really did that well, what would be the next inevitable consequence? It would drive us back around to the whole loop.

If you get the flywheel turning, you might more quickly get to the inside of the hedgehog. And, they go together because, to some extent, the flywheel is a reflection of the hedgehog. Sometimes, maybe you’re not even clear what the hedgehog is. You’re just turning the flywheel, and then, later, you can see, ‘Ah, that’s the hedgehog that’s behind it.’

The hedgehog could also be something very localized. You could ask, ‘What can we do better than anyone else for serving our children in our community?’ That could include things like getting them safely to and from school across these three blocks. Whatever it happens to be, that can be very hedgehog.

Jim Nylad talking across a table
Larry Nyland has seen the impact of Jim Collins’ ideas on educators over his 27 years as a superintendent in multiple school systems.
Start with What Works

NYLAND: So, the transformation process often starts with the flywheel?

COLLINS: I think that is because the flywheel is so grounded in the idea of what really works. The flywheel is not an aspiration, it’s not a motivational tool. It’s meant to reflect a profound understanding of what the real drivers of accumulating momentum are. Why? What are the linkages? Why do certain things drive other things? By working at that level, it leads back to a deeper understanding of the hedgehog.

NYLAND: I understand that your management lab is located in the elementary school where you attended in Boulder, Colo. Based on that work, how would you help school leaders sketch out a flywheel to take their school district from good to great?

COLLINS: I think the first and most important thing about the flywheel principle is to grab the idea that is reasonably good, even if imperfect.

One of the things that we found from our look into K-12 is that people are exhausted by initiative after initiative.

Chronic inconsistency is oppressive. It makes it very hard to get any traction for two reasons. One, it takes time to build exceptional results. Two, if people think, ‘This isn’t going to last,’ then they don’t really get their shoulders behind the wheel that you’re trying to build momentum around.

So, stop doing a new initiative every three years. Far better to pick something reasonably good that’s going to work, if imperfect and then really build with it over time.

If I had a whole group of superintendents and principals who want the answer, my first answer would be, there is no one answer. Pick a good answer, and then make it a great result over time.

I’m deeply an empiricist here, really looking for what we do that actually works. The flywheel is about, ultimately, scaling and replicating and doing better at what works. 

Success at Ware Elementary

NYLAND: You provide a great education example in Turning the Flywheel. Ware Elementary School in Fort Riley, Kan., is a great success story. It improved student proficiency in reading from 35% to 96% over five years. Can you walk us through how that flywheel works?

COLLINS: You can get ideas from others about what works, but the really critical thing is when you look inside and say, based on our experience — and that’s where teachers and principals have input — what are actual successes that we can build upon? They become part of the flywheel.

Look at Deb Gustafson’s flywheel [former principal of Ware Elementary School]. Her starting point was selecting teachers infused with passion. Why? Well, her objective reality was there was a very limited pipeline of experienced teachers to draw upon at a military base in rural Kansas and they turned over a fair amount.

She did not have a huge universe of experienced teachers to draw from. She had to confront a practical reality. What did work was to say, ‘Well, I can try to accelerate their experience,’ but if they don’t have the passion to begin with, you can’t do anything.

What she learned from practical experience was a relatively young, relatively untested, but extremely passionate, collaborative teacher could very quickly integrate into her system.

If I get young, inexperienced, passionate [teachers], they’re going to want to do well. That’s going to drive to, ‘How can you help me be a better teacher? How can I learn what really works here?’ And, that leads to collaborative improvement teams.

But the collaborative improvement teams weren’t theoretical. They were practical. They worked. The point is those passionate teachers were looking for the input. Then, they built the mechanism, but, then the mechanism actually worked.

I won’t go through their whole flywheel. The beauty is you start with evidence of what actually works. Then you build upon that to accumulate results over time. That is always the starting point.

It’s very practical. You list out the things you tried, but didn’t work. Others thought we should do it. But, for us, it doesn’t apply and here’s why.

The foundation of it is actual and practical — this worked, that didn’t. And, then, doing a lot more in a very consistent way of what actually works and less of what doesn’t work in a reinforcing loop.

NYLAND: Awesome. That’s very concrete, good advice for us. Find a few things that work and keep making them better.

COLLINS: Exactly, but the next step is making the linkage between them. For each step in the flywheel, you need to really understand, why would the next step almost inevitably happen? Why would one step throw us into the next step? How do they tie together?

You don’t want to have a list of things and just draw them as a circle. That’s the big mistake people make with flywheels. They have a set of action steps or aspirations, and they draw them in a circle.

No, you only have a flywheel if each step [drives the next] so that it has inherent momentum that will throw you around a loop. Then, it becomes infectious because it’s got real momentum.

NYLAND: The example from Ware is great. Passionate teachers in collaborative groups with good assessments create better results for students, and then that positive reputation attracts more passionate teachers.

COLLINS: Exactly, and [Gustafson’s] great challenge, being where she is located, is ‘How am I going to create a reputation which will bring in more passionate teachers, feed that pipeline again, and bring us back to the top of the loop?’

For any flywheel, whether it is the Cleveland Clinic or Amazon or Ware Elementary, it’s that understanding of the linkages that create momentum. And, again, it’s, ultimately, very practical, and the best thing is to figure it out for yourself.

I will often be asked, Jim, can you do a flywheel for us? My answer is no, I can’t. You have to figure it out for yourself. You’re the only one that can really understand the essence of your flywheel. No consultant can tell you your flywheel. 

Transformational Leadership

NYLAND: That’s a great lead in to the next set of questions. How do we train leaders to build flywheels? How do we grow and equip those transformational leaders that are both humble enough to be a learner and the exceptional level five leader who can be consistent and persistent in figuring it out?

COLLINS: That’s really a crux question. I’d be happy to provide my own perspectives on this, but, if you don’t mind, let’s flip the conversation around. As a superintendent, you must have had this question constantly. You want to have the right principal, the right leader in the building. You want great results for the kids, and part of that is great teachers well-led. How have you addressed the well-led part? How did you get those great leaders in those seats? Did you build them, find them? What was the recipe that you found worked best?

NYLAND: Great question. I wish I had had the kind of flywheel you describe during my time in Seattle. It would have taken us further faster.

For teachers, we were very clear on what a high-quality teacher was, how they were hired, how they were brought on board, how we aligned all of the parts of the system to grow and develop them, and we partnered with the union on creating the system and the professional development.

For principals, we created an intentional pipeline so that, over time, most of our hires came from within. They were great teachers. There was a three-year opportunity for them to learn more about leadership and a three-year opportunity after they were hired.

All principals participated in collaborative teams — Principal Leadership Networks — similar to what Gustafson talks about for teachers. Principals had more opportunities to learn with and from each other, from principals who were the positive outliers — those who had a flywheel that worked. They had credibility with their colleagues, and they were showing colleagues how the flywheel worked. Seattle was named third in the nation for student growth. So, we had elements of the flywheel.

COLLINS: That’s interesting. I do think that people can grow into the level five leaders that can take whatever they’re leading from good to great and keep it there. Maybe not every leader, but, a large number of leaders can, and I’m quite optimistic about how much level five raw material we have.

If you are not in service of something far and beyond yourself, you probably wouldn’t end up in education in the first place. Although it comes with difficult and relentless challenges, it also comes with great personal rewards and meaning. You do this because there’s some underlying belief in equipping students to be citizens of the world. And, so, you’ve got a lot of level five raw material.

Do Something!

NYLAND: What have you learned about how best to grow transformational leaders?

COLLINS: What really separates someone like Deb Gustafson, is this sense of responsibility for what has to be done right here, right now. She’s looking at those kids [with urgency]. Parents are being deployed. If we miss them by grade three with reading, it’s really difficult for their lives. She has students right there in front of her. She has got to do something.

I can’t wait for someone else to fix it. I can’t wait for the secretary of education to figure it out. I can’t wait for the legislature to give us more money. I can’t wait. I have kids today. I have responsibilities today, and someone has to take responsibility for what must be done and get others involved.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower had this great definition of leadership. Leadership, he said, is ‘the art of getting people to want to do what needs to be done.’ It begins with having great clarity, saying ‘This has got to be done. I’m going to take responsibility and do what I can.’ That is, I think, where it really begins.

I think a lot of people in education have that. That is why they went into education. So, you’ve got a lot of level five material right out of the gate.

NYLAND: So, leadership initiative — taking responsibility to DO something — is essential for transformational leaders?

COLLINS: [Yes] they focus on making their minibus a pocket of greatness, rather than trying to wait for the whole bus. How am I going to do that? Well, I may not yet be a full level five leader, but I can focus on caring for my teachers. I can make decisions about who gets to be on this minibus (and there’s constraints on that in education, I understand). Every time you’re able to make or influence that choice, you start with people first.

Then, with those disciplined people, you begin to engage in disciplined thought about what really turns our flywheel. What can we truly be distinct about that our community will really value, that it really needs? 

Confronting the Brutal Facts

NYLAND: How do you know where to start?

COLLINS: What really gets people’s attention are brutal facts. You ignite change first by confronting brutal facts and we have to have brutal clarity about what we can actually have influence over and what we can’t.

I’m not going to change the secretary of education, the state legislature or the state budget. I’m not going to change the conditions in the neighborhood overnight. I can’t change all those things.

But, what I can change, what I can have influence on is what’s going on in your classroom, what’s going on in our building. What’s going on in our district. What are the things we can do something about? What are the brutal facts about what we can’t change and what are the brutal facts we can change? Let’s put all our energies into that — a simple list. These are things we can do something about. These are things we can’t.

That’s transformational in itself because the stuff you can’t change is like a black hole — it just draws everybody in. The other side of the coin is these are the things we can influence. We will put our energies into that. That’s transferring energy from the black hole of negative energy to, ‘We can do this. We can do A and B and C and D. Let’s focus on that. What we can do.’ That’s a powerful question. What can we do?

Learning by Doing

NYLAND: What else do leaders need to do to keep turning the flywheel?

COLLINS: Get the flywheel turning. You build momentum over time. I’m a big believer in the 20 Mile March — some very consistent thing that you’re going to do, like walking across the United States. No matter what the weather conditions, I’m going to do 20 miles a day.

[Leaders figure out], what is our 20 mile march? That gives you a sense of control in a world that’s out of control. It might be windy, it might be cold, it might be hot, it might be wonderful, but, you say we’re going to march, we’re going to bring our own sense of consistency and control. That, then, gives us a heartbeat, a way to be able to move consistently forward.

NYLAND: Turning the flywheel and leadership development go hand-in-hand, then? Each reinforces the other?

COLLINS: It’s kind of funny, because the whole framework of Good to Great begins with level five leadership, but what I’ve really learned is you do all these practical things, focusing on taking care of your people, confronting the brutal facts, finding a hedgehog, turning the flywheel. Going on the 20 mile march.

All the concepts that we write about leads you to become more of that level five leader. By doing the things level five leaders do, you become more like a level five leader. Doing actual practical stuff helps you personally evolve as a leader.

NYLAND: That’s awesome. That’s very concrete. The metaphor that comes to mind is a staircase where you do the things you just described at the bottom of the staircase and get something small started. Then, you climb the staircase to look at the rest of the Good to Great concepts and figure out, what’s next? We make the first part work well and then figure out what to add next.

COLLINS: That’s a great way to think of it. One of my friends, Tommy Caldwell, is one of the world’s greatest rock climbers. He talks about laying the foundation for climbs he initially thought were impossible. How did he make them possible?

He says it’s like building a giant stone tower. You lay down a series of blocks on the ground, and then you step up on them. You begin to lay the next layer of blocks and you step up on those. You lay the next layer of blocks and you step up on those. And, if somebody just walked in, they would see you 12 stories of blocks up above the ground, and it looks like you leapt up there, but you got there by laying one set of blocks at a time and then stepping up. It’s a layering process. It’s very workmanlike.

I think that’s one of the great paradoxes. Doing something transformational is very workmanlike. That’s one of the things I love about level five leaders. They’re very comfortable being workmanlike. ‘This is going to be really spectacular when it’s done, but right now, we’ve got to lay down these blocks. That’s going to work.’ 

Jim Collins rock climbing on a steep rock face
Jim Collins, a lifelong climber, explores challenging situations in his latest publication Turning the Flywheel.
A Personal Flywheel – Being Curious

NYLAND: Awesome. So, do you have a flywheel for your mountain climbing, a personal one?

COLLINS: Well, not for mountain climbing. I’m more of an avocational climber. Although, I think that, in climbing, a lot of it is a constant feedback loop of identifying your weaknesses as a climber. If there are a hundred moves on a route, and you lose one of your holds on the 73rd move … 

So, the way you build a flywheel is you systematically break down and eradicate those weaknesses. Then, you step up to the next tier of ability, and then you find new weaknesses and learn how to address those. It’s like a cumulative journey of despair.

In my own work, I very much have a flywheel. Mine starts with curiosity. If I’m driven by things I’m really curious about then I can’t help but want to pursue answers to that question. I can’t help but want to construct a method for answering the question. That usually involves research of some kind.

If I do the research, I can’t help but have insights that come from that. With those insights you can’t help but want to figure out how those insights can be easily shared with the rest of the world. And, there’s a point where you have to figure out, how do I convey this idea? I had to come up with the metaphor of the flywheel and how flywheels work so that people can grab the idea and really use it. You can’t help but want to be able to publish and share that in a way that people will be able to access. Eventually that becomes a funding mechanism to be able to pursue the next set of questions. Right? And, then, around the flywheel goes.

I’m a self-employed professor of the world and the driving force of my flywheel has been curiosity. It’s about the next set of questions and the next set of questions after that, rigorously pursued.

The flywheel would stop if it didn’t start with the question of curiosity. My personal flywheel really turns because there are things that I really want to figure out and share. That’s the essence of it.

NYLAND: That’s a great example. In preparing for this interview I found that Good to Great was still listed as one of the five best business books for the year, some 15 years after initial publication. So, you’re doing well at keeping the flywheel moving and keeping people engaged with your ideas.

COLLINS: And, some good luck along the way. I never expected that Good to Great would be as impactful as it’s been. But, I’m very grateful that it has been.

NYLAND: I’m fascinated by the two examples that you gave, climbing and systematically breaking down the weaknesses. Great true-to-life metaphors. Breaking down weaknesses seems to be one of our critical challenges. We, as educators, are paid to know, but if we’re not making mistakes — confronting our weaknesses — we’re not learning. Making that shift from knowing to learning is critical. 

Making an Impact

NYLAND: Did I notice that you have experience as a test pilot?

COLLINS: That was actually my grandfather, who I’m named after, so people sometimes think that that’s me. My grandfather, whose name was Jimmy Collins, was a famous test pilot in the 1930s. He died at the age of 30 in 1935, test piloting the first military dive bombers. The plane ripped apart. But, before that, he wrote a book called Test Pilot that was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post. After his crash, my grandmother made sure it was published and it was widely read.

In 1938, they made a movie out of it. Clark Gable plays my grandfather and Myrna Loy plays my grandmother. Whatever I do in my life, I’ll never measure up to my grandfather — I’ll never be played in the movie by Clark Gable.

NYLAND: But you will impact lots and lots of lives.

COLLINS: Yes, he didn’t get as much of a runway as I’ve had.

An Education Flywheel

NYLAND: What else should I have asked? Is there any other message that you would like to convey? 

COLLINS: One thing that you alluded to earlier is key. You were asking if you can build a flywheel at any level. 

I deliberately chose to feature an individual school in the Turning the Flywheel monograph. I chose Deb because I thought that public schools on the military base have unique challenges, and it showed what she did over time.

But I think education is interesting. It’s like a flywheel with concentric circles. What’s a flywheel within the classroom? As a teacher, how do I build momentum for learning? I imagine great teachers do exactly that. They find a way to create a momentum of learning and give students a continuous sense of, ‘Wow, I can master this material.’ So, how does a flywheel look in the classroom?

Then, there’s a flywheel for an individual school, which is what Deb did at Ware Elementary. The next layer out is a flywheel for a district.

Each of these has elements that would play off of each other. The beauty of a district flywheel is that it’s going to have a leadership development element for school leaders. The district flywheel would interact, also, with the political landscape in ways that individual schools and teachers will not.

Those are three layers that immediately strike me as within the power of schools and school districts to be able to do — teacher flywheel, school flywheel, district flywheel.

Ultimately, in this country, we have to have a state-by-state or national flywheel momentum. It isn’t something that happens overnight. 

The Importance of Equity

COLLINS: I go back to that thing that we talked about at the beginning. America is simply not the best of what we could be if we have results that can be predicted by zip code.

NYLAND: Yes, indeed! Have you done any matched pairs work to find schools or districts that are making that happen?

COLLINS: I was an advisor on a project in Arizona. The Center for the Future of Arizona did a ‘Beat the Odds’ study.

They took public schools that have a high Latino population and difficult environments in which they’re operating, and compared those that produced better results in the same environment to ones that didn’t produce an improvement in results. The big, big difference was this notion of a strong, steady school leader who was able to stay consistently with some program that builds momentum over time, rather than constantly changing.

The other research I’ve done has taken a lens looking more at the individual leaders, as opposed to the individual schools, per se. I think one of the great challenges that I don’t know how to solve, and maybe you could figure out, is how do we have enough of the right leaders to make all of our schools great? 

NYLAND: That’s what I’m passionate about helping figure out, and you’re doing awesome work in helping make that happen. So, I really thank you for your time today.

COLLINS: You’re welcome. I appreciate your time as well. Thank you for letting me engage you, as well, with some questions. I really appreciate your experience. You’ve been on the ground. You’ve actually been there, done it, worked on it. That makes it a real privilege to be able to talk with you.

NYLAND: That’s my excitement and my passion. We are not there yet, but I see so many tantalizing places along the way where we’re getting smarter. It’s a matter of scale. How do we make those individual successes — classroom, school and district — part of our national success, rather than an accident of time, place, leader.

So, thank you sharing for your new work. Thank you for doing this interview for AASA. Your work will be much appreciated and applied by our AASA members.

COLLINS: It’s a privilege. Let’s get those transformational leadership flywheels turning for classrooms, for schools and for districts. At the deepest level, we need an overall K-12 flywheel that reaches a point that you’re just as statistically likely to get at the same point at age 18 as any other kid in this country! That may be the most important challenge that our country faces.


Jim Collins and Larry Nyland
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Additional Resources

Much more information about Jim Collins and his concepts is available on his website, including articles, a listing of his other books, videos and other tools.

Copies of Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great can be ordered from www.harpercollins.com.