This article provides a practical explanation of the SMaC Recipe, explained by Jim Collins. After reading, you’ll understand the basics of this powerful strategy tool.
What Is the SMaC Recipe?
SMaC is a recipe for converting defined strategic business plans or concepts into reality. The acronym SMaC stands for Specific, Methodical and Consistent. The SMaC recipe comes from chapter six of the book Great by Choice, written by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen. The chapter starts with an introduction of the SMaC recipe, comprising ten very specific principles or actions, written in simple language in 1979 by Howard Putnam – then CEO of Southwest Airlines – in response to the changes that were introduced in the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. These ten action points proved to be so effective that Collins and Hansen analysed these and termed them as SMaC.
In an uncertain, fast changing and ruthless environment, valuable plans require a sustainable approach and methodology. The goal of a SMaC recipe is to create a success formula for a plan that is actually viable. The recipe is clear and concrete, demonstrated by successful implementations in the past, and allows the entire enterprise to combine its strengths and efforts to create a successful result. The recipe provides clear guidelines about what should and shouldn’t happen in order to carry out the plan and creates a replicable and consistent success formula if used correctly.
In their book Great by Choice, Collins and Hansen sketched the principles for building a successful company. In the book, they answer the question: ‘why and how do some companies thrive in uncertainty, or even chaos, while other companies don’t?’ The team behind the book studied the companies that had risen to great heights and termed these companies 10X organisations. A 10X organisation is an organisation that beats its industry indexes with a minimum of ten times in an unstable environment. Collins and Hansen defined 10X organisations as stoic companies that keep their eyes open and accept, without complaining, that they are met with forces beyond their control, are unable to make accurate predictions about future events and that nothing is certain. Nevertheless, they reject the idea that luck, chaos or another external factor determines the chance of success or failure.
Furthermore, Collins and Hansen defined three core behaviours to become a successful business:
10X organisations display extreme consistency of actions, values, norms, goals, performance and methods. They are completely ruthless, monomaniac and unbending in their focus on the goal. Fanatically disciplined often means a non-conforming attitude towards the rest of the world.
When 10X organisations are confronted with uncertainty, they don’t immediately look to others to then merely use their knowledge in a conventional way in order to course correct in case of the tiniest change. They primarily look at empirical evidence and trust in direct observations, practical experiments and tangible evidence. 10X organisations prefer empiricism as the basis for decisive actions.
10X organisations employ a high level of vigilance and therefore anticipate threats and changes in their environment. They assume that the circumstances will turn against them at the worst possible time. They heed their fears, prepare and develop emergency plans in case things go wrong, and include large margins in the area of safety. Productive paranoia makes creative actions possible. After all, these companies are prepared.
SMaC Recipe example and concept
In 1979, Howard Putnam, then CEO of Southwest Airlines, developed a recipe that would transform a company into a 10X organisation in a time that is infamous for deregulations in the aviation industry. The laws would unleash fierce competition and each company would have to fight to retain its market share. Putnam reinforced the position of his airline by creating a strategy for Southwest Airlines containing 10 simple action points:
- Remain an airline for short distances
- Use the Boeing 737 as primary plane for 10-12 years
- Ensure higher occupation of the plane and take fast turns. In most cases within 10 minutes
- The passenger is our number 1 product. Do not take on airfreight or mail, only small packages with a high profitability and low handling costs
- Continue to ask low rates and offer high service
- No catering companies
- No reselling of tickets
- Keep Texas as the first priority
- Retain the family feeling in the services and create a fun atmosphere. We are proud of our employees
- Keep it simple
These ten points formed the SMaC concept. The points are specific, methodical and consistent. From the list, we can see that not all items demand action. The points that indicate not to take action are just as important.
The term SMaC can be used in a number of ways: as an adjective (Let’s build a SMaC system’), as a noun (‘SMaC lowers the risk’), and as a verb (‘Let’s SMaC this project’). When used correctly, a solid SMaC recipe is an operational code for converting strategic concepts into practice, and can be defined in any form and length and for any industry branch as long as it meets the specific, methodical and consistent requirements.
The SMaC recipe, developed by Howard Putnam and described by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen in their book Great by Choice, is a tool to convert conceptual and strategic plans into reality by creating a list of action points that are specific, methodical and consistent. By utilising the three core behaviours described in the book and combining these in creating a SMaC action plan, anyone can have their company grow into a 10X organisation and outpace competition in a highly dynamic and uncertain environment.
Now it’s your turn
What do you think? Are you familiar with the explanation of the SMaC recipe? Do you have any useful tips for becoming a 10X organisation? How do you think a SMaC recipe can be of value to companies, or do you think you can create a unique recipe for personal goals?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Collins, J., & Hansen, M. T. (2011). Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck-Why some thrive despite them all. Random House.
- Scott, L. (2015). Collins on Baldrige as a SMAC Recipe, Discipline, Creativity, and Paranoia.
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