Bullets or Cannonballs?


In Jim Collins’ most recent book “Great By Choice” co-authored with Morten Hansen, he tackles some great leadership principles, including the Bullets or Cannonballs analogy. The scenario Collins laid out used the example of two ships, engaged in battle, trying to figure out how to best approach the other. Of course you can see how this applies directly to the world of leadership.

“A bullet is a low-cost, low-risk, and low-distraction test or experiment.”

Great by Choice, page 96

In this analogy Collins and Hansen define a bullet as a low cost, low risk, and low distraction test or experiment to confront a situation. Contrast this with the cannonball approach and all of the risk, effort, energy, and resources that approach takes and you can start to see how firing a bullet is a much more effective approach that allows you to maximize the effort and return on your investment.

By firing a bullet, or several bullets you have an opportunity to assess your approach. Are you on target to achieve the desired result? Or are you way off base, risking your mission? If you are you can course correct because you have the resources left to do so, but if you fire a cannonball first you run the risk of running out of ammunition or doing unnecessary or unintended damage in your approach to the problem you are trying to solve.

If you waste your firepower, you will erode trust, breed doubt, and never be able to lead your team effectively through the constant challenges facing our world today. Firing a bullet, or several bullets is a much more effective way of testing your ideas before firing the cannonball and committing your entire organization to where you want to take your team.

As a leader which one are you going to fire first?

Published by

Bobby Shaw

I am a former restaurant company executive with a passion for developing existing and future leaders to achieve high standards. I love helping organizations develop strong people cultures with an emphasis on leadership development that result in top-notch operations and better business results. I have over 30 years in the restaurant business in all facets of operations, from my start at McDonald's in the grill area in 1984 to overseeing 200+ restaurants with Chipotle Mexican Grill from 2002-2012 to leading Freebirds World Burrito's resurgence from 2013-2016 to working with the Salad and Go restaurant startup as CEO in 2016/2017. My real world experience transcends the typical operations background with a focus in leadership development and coaching. At the core of my background and experience, I believe that how leaders get results is just as important as getting them, and what got them where they are, won't necessarily get them where they want to go. I work closely with individual leaders and companies to improve their results through understanding how their strengths impact the overall results. My goal is to help business leaders and companies learn how to leverage the strengths of their employees by understanding their strengths and what they’re good at, and using that knowledge to positively impact their entire organization.

Leave a Reply