Who is on your bus?

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I heard Jim Collins introduce a simple concept at a Fast Company conference in Phoenix in 2000 that has stuck in my mind ever since.  It was just before his book Good to Great was published (a read I highly recommend!) and he was explaining some of the fundamental concepts of how mediocre companies can become great.

A central theme was WHO, then WHAT.

Simply put, who you have at the core of your business is the most critical part of building a great company.  If you don’t have the right people, it doesn’t matter what you do, it is bound to either fail or deliver mediocre results.

The metaphor he used was Who is on your bus?  If you can imagine driving your bus down the road of life, who is on it, and in which positions?  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you even driving? 
  • Do people get on and off at random stops, or do you go to a specific place and pick up the right person at the right time?
  • What is the atmosphere like inside the bus?  Is it like a Cheech and Chong movie or a ride to school with a strict teacher?
  • Who do you wish would get off?
  • Who do you wish would get on?

Close friends of mine know that I use this metaphor all the time.  We joke about kicking each other off the bus and fantasize about the great people we will bring on.  Sometimes the ride has been akin to one of the raucous public buses I used to ride in Bogota, Colombia with music blaring and people and chickens hanging on top.  Other times it has felt like a quiet, late night ride on the 24 Divisadero bus in San Francisco, with calm views of city lights and an interesting variety of passengers.

I have learned over the years that sometimes people you want to stay on the bus get off.  As painful as this can be, it all makes sense.  Your destinations change, and not everyone will want to go to the new place.

I hope you enjoy this metaphor as much as I do.  Whenever I meet a new, energizing, fun and smart person like I did the other day in the form of Professor Srikumar S. Rao, I think "Oh good!  I must invite him on my bus!"

Who is on your bus?


I am off for a few days vacation.  Following my own advice, I will not be bringing my laptop or checking email or voicemail.  Just 4 days of gazing out at the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains, drinking clean water, smelling fresh air, swimming in a lake and enjoying being with my family.

I look forward to checking in when I get back on Wednesday.  Enjoy your weekend!

3 Responses to “Who is on your bus?”

  1. charlie says:

    http://www.call2biz.com, haah, thanks, i enjoyed this metaphor very much, just like http://www.call2biz.com, it had picked up many smartest people on it along the road of marketing its website, thanks for your metaphor, i will follow your advice, however http://WWW.call2biz.com pick up its passengers without any requirement of any fees, what a free ride, you can enjoy many scenic scenes and would discover many wonderful things,ha, thanks

  2. argos says:

    Pam, I love Jims metaphor of the bus. Don’t forget that he also makes the point that the people on your bus have to be in the right seats!

    Hope you are enjoying the vacation and that you did not bring any electronic devices.