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Jim Collins and $100 Million Dollars

good-to-great

I’m a big fan of Jim Collins’ work, especially the modern day classic Good to Great.

Even if you’re not interested in business, the book is inspiring and practical. Nine years after publication, it’s still kicking ass, and deservedly so.

I recently re-read my favorite passages, and I especially liked the introduction Jim used to convey how much the book meant to him before publication.

***

As I was finishing this manuscript, I went for a run and an odd question popped into my mind: How much would someone have to pay me not to publish Good to Great?

It was an interesting thought experiment, given that I’d just spent the previous five years working on the research project and writing this book. Not there isn’t some number that might entice me to bury it, but by the time I crossed the hundred-million-dollar threshold, it was time to head back down the trail. Even that much couldn’t convince me to abandon the project.

One hundred million dollars! Can you imagine creating something you love so much that you wouldn’t part with it for less than that? Wow.

Aside from making sure I have enough to live responsibly and have my adventures, I don’t focus a lot on money. But I think Jim’s right: most of us have some kind of walk-away price. It’s good to know what it is, because then you know how valuable your work is—even if it’s something you keep to yourself.

I thought about Jim’s question and tried to apply it to my own world. This year I feel confident in saying I wouldn’t take any less than $2 million dollars to walk away. I’d like to think it was more than that, but I’m not 100% sure. Next year, I hope to say that the hypothetical number is $5 or $10 million—we’ll see.

Understand, I’m not trying to get rich—the real-world, business valuation of my work thus far would be less than any of those numbers. The exercise is to think about the perceived valuation; what it would take for you to hide your work and never show it to anyone.

Most of the time, this is a hypothetical exercise. No one’s going to offer me money to stop writing on ChrisGuillebeau.com – it wouldn’t make sense to belong to anyone else, except for all those other people with the same name… which means pretty much no one.

The point is to keep increasing the perceived valuation of your work.

I feel like I’m making at least a $2 million dollar difference in the world now; Jim Collins felt like his contribution was at least $100 million.

I want to keep improving until one day I can say that I wouldn’t take less than $100 million dollars to stop doing what I do. This sounds like an audacious goal—another topic Jim writes about well.

What’s the price for your work? What would it take for you to quit and walk away?

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55 Comments

  • Jeffrey Tang says:

    It’s easy for me to give the flippant “Oh, I don’t care about money” answer, but if I answer honestly, I’d have to say it’s a hard question.

    On one hand, I firmly believe that simply having money wouldn’t be enough to make me happy … but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to doubting that belief sometimes. Would I really be dissatisfied with $100 million in the bank? Or even $10 million?

    It’s also easy to rationalize away the situation, as in “Well, I could take the money and then do something good with it.” Well meaning, to be sure, but I think I’d be missing the point of the exercise.

    But on the other hand, how could I be happy if I denied my drive to excel, to make an impact? I don’t think I could live out my entire life just sitting around and being wealthy. I need something to do.

    I think my number right now would be around $4-5 million, as in enough money to allow me to live comfortably for the rest of my life … tempting.

  • Eduard says:

    I read the book Good to Great a couple of years ago, recommended by my (then) boss. And I still remember some key lessons from it. This is the effect of a work which increases in value as time goes by.

  • Chelsea Bell says:

    Thanks for this reading referral; I am going to pick it up as an ebook if I can find it in that format. I just finished reading REWORK by the folks at 37signals, which I thought was great.

  • David says:

    Does it cheapen or indignify the work we consider important if we attach a monetary valuation to it?

    Maybe it doesn’t and maybe it does, but there’s no question that putting a price on anything assigns a value that’s at least concrete and tangible. That alone carries value.

    In a somewhat similar vein, many environmentalists have pushed hard to assign monetary valuation to the planet’s ecosystems. Detractors will say that’s consumerist and crass, but having a yardstick for things that aren’t always so tangible is, well, good value.

  • Wow really interesting thought, thanks for passing it along, Chris. Especially for those of us who actually are living our utmost dream, assuming that is the thing in question of its ultimate valuation…how could you ever put any price on it? Even if someone would pay me a hundred million dollars to, say, stop traveling…even the pain of saying goodbye to something you loved doing and felt contributed to a greater good notwithstanding – what would be the point of the money? How much money-aided comfort can we ever really be in if we’re in a perpetual state of diminished comfort/happiness?

    Do you think there comes a point where there really is no price, less because of passion or dedication, but because there simply is no point to being bought?

  • RJ Weiss says:

    I think it helps to look at this question backwards also. Asking yourself, “What can I create that I wouldn’t accept 100 million dollars to walk away from.”

    I need to get brainstorming…

  • It’s funny, but for many people the act of blogging is BELIEVING in that valuation, whether they know it or not. Why else would people spend hours and hours crafting something that very few people read?

    Until you “make it” as an artist, you have to believe that your work is as valuable as your peers. I receive only middling traffic to my blog, but I’ll spend hours laboring over a post because I think that if the work is of the same quality as a person making hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars a year, eventually I’ll be compensated accordingly.

  • Actually Chris, MOST people walk away for far, far less than a million dollars, or five or ten million. They walk away from their work and their dreams for about $18,000 to $34,000 to pursue a minimum wage job because it pays the bills. Inspired, mid-level management cubicle monkeys walk away for $50,000 or even $100,000. Better to have a job, security and a steady gig than risk it all for what??? Short -term adventure and the headaches of being an entrepreneur?

    It’s a great question, don’t get me wrong. But the figures are much, much, much lower than a million dollars. And people are walking away in droves.

    I’m living on peanut butter and Ramen noodles now. Yet, the thought of $50,000 a year, a *real job* is tempting. People like to think they wouldn’t sell out, but so many do, every day.

  • Grace says:

    What came to mind immediately for me was my daughter. I’m sure most parents would agree – our kids are our “work” which we wouldn’t trade for $100 million dollars. Having said that, I think I’d walk away from my business for, I’d say, $1 million. Good exercise!

  • linda says:

    i’m not familiar with the book, but what an interesting self-proposition…as i feel my impatience rise with the arrival of my 6th grade boys ‘social skills’ group, i’m thinking that i’m not worth too much…!

    i’ll try and conduct myself with the grace and poise of a million dollar therapist, though!

  • Devin says:

    Hey Chris,

    I am always impressed by your questions.

    As for me, I don’t think I am prepared to think about a real dollar amount. Not because I am ducking the question, I just feel like I am finally getting on track and just getting started in so many ways. I think it would be impossible to abandon my work it this stage just for money, although I do hope to one day wake up and think that I have put out 100 million worth of good into the world. It also brings up a thought about how to measure success without a dollar sign attached. Perhaps a topic for another day.

    Thanks for making me stop to think.
    devin

  • Gaurav Kishore says:

    Excellent post and great food for thought.

    @Becky Blanton I agree with your point of view. This is exactly what came to my mind after reading the blog. People are walking away with much-much less everyday in jobs they love, hate or just do, but nevertheless they are walking away with much less. I think there is another aspect to this – long term versus shot term vision. If I am living year to year and not giving enough thought why I am doing what I am doing then the valuation tends to be less. It is only when you think long term you realize you are getting sold or bought for much less.

  • I wouldn’t stop under something like 50 million, and I’m not sure that’s enough.

    I associate money with the ability to get things done, so I’m trying to build an empire to do just that.

  • Awesome, inspiring, thought-provoking post. You’re on your way to $100 million – no doubt!

  • Crystal says:

    There’s a number for how much money I’d like to have right now: to clear out debt, pump up savings, and maybe move somewhere preferable. But that’s not enough to get me to stop what I’ve started.

    Too many cool people are helping with it, too many great folks are liking it and depending on it. Too many friends met through it. Too many projects and articles that I haven’t finished or haven’t started. There’s way way too much left to do to walk away. Even for money. Huh.

    Nifty, enlightening exercise.

  • Kate says:

    So interesting to read this, as my partner and I were having the “when we win the lottery” discussion this weekend (in the context of noticing where we can *start* living from that place of total freedom from money ick, fear, and perceived limitation) and all I could think when we discussed it was that I would want that lottery money to continue to *invest in* what I am already doing. I would have to think more about how much it would take for me to walk away. There’s so much about personal integrity wrapped up in what I do, and I can’t imagine turning away from the individual client relationships and asking them to find someone else to receive support.

  • Martin says:

    Right now I would say 10,000 unique monthly visitors to my blog or $29.95 it is costing me to maintain it every six months! 🙂

    Folks – when you get an email from somebody who drove 3,000km non-stop with his family across four countries in Europe and the first thing he does coming home is to give you an awesome appreciation of what you posted on your blog the night before. Now that is what I call real value. Because that cannot be bought for money – the feeling to give something for free!

    Martin
    Montreal, Canada

  • I LOVE that book. I’m actually writing a blog post about the Stockdale Paradox this week. That was the part that stuck with me the most.

    And thanks for the reminder about the $100 million question. As other commenters have mentioned above, the problem with taking the money and walking away is… what do you do then? I’m not sure anyone could offer enough money to tempt me off the path I’m on right now.

  • How much would I accept to deny the world the fruits? That’s a tough one.

    In essence, that’s what it boils down to. If you were to be paid $5,000,000 to stop publishing THIS blog and you accept it, would it mean that you can’t start another blog with similar idea and content? If so, is $5 mil worth giving up your life’s purpose?

    But if you could do the same thing elsewhere, then, yeah, I’d take the money and repeat the process elsewhere. How much money? That would depend on the project we are talking about.

    I like RJ’s perspective, and I am going to ponder on the idea of what can I create that I wouldn’t walk away from for an unusual amount of money.

    Thanks for the challenge.

  • Jay says:

    I think everyone has their price at some point, especially if that price allows them to completely live the way they want for the rest of their life. Even if we don’t value money very high or think about it all that much, I think not having to worry about it any more would be just that- one less thing to worry about. That can’t hurt.

  • Greg Blencoe says:

    This reminds me of what wrestler Ted Dibiase (aka “The Million Dollar Man”) used to say:

    “Everybody’s got a price.”

    In all seriousness, I believe that thinking in these terms really misses the point. I honestly don’t think there is any amount of money that should make you want to give up what you love. And if you truly love what you do, you more than likely will make plenty of money.

    Chris, the funny part is that you already seem to be doing what you want to do (i.e. travelling all around the world and inspiring others to live unconventional lives) even without lots of money! Your impact on society is priceless.

  • Roberta says:

    Many years ago, my late father and I would talk about what we would do if we won the lottery. We agreed we would write checks to worthy causes and people whom we could not currently support as we would like. We don’t buy lottery tickets so was another exercise in thought. However, after he died, with my part of his small financial legacy from the sale of his house, I wrote checks. I paid off one bill; the others all went to causes and people of whom he would have approved – and I told them all why and in whose honor I was able to give more that year. My dad was the mayor of 18th Street in Sioux Falls, SD – Bob Beach.
    I have also bought into the philosophy that we can all be philanthropists, no matter what our income or outgo. Thinking that way has changed my attitude about donating funds to causes/people. I would walk away from my regular job, which I enjoy, to work better at my avocations of prayer and animal rescue. Too much to do to stay boxed in :).

  • Meg says:

    Is it totally cheesy and lame of me to say I wouldn’t be interested in taking money to stop what I’m doing? I can’t imagine what I would do with my time if I would have to stop doing it…. Ya know? At least, that’s how the question seems to me. I really wouldn’t want to give up enjoying what I love doing for any sort of money. (Probably why I’m okay with a possibly meager freelance living, if I’m doing what I love and flexible enough to enjoy my hobbies, what else do I really need?)

    Now, if I could still do what I wanted to and simply not serious… Well, why would anyone pay me for that?! 😉 (But it’d be around the million or so mark, something I could theoretically live off of.)

  • Dawna says:

    Wow! What a great way to consider the value of your work. If I asked myself this question 9 months ago when I was working in a large corporate giant I would have said “Give me a $100 and I will go away!” (They gave me a lot more in a lay-off package, but this is our secret!)

    Today with a new blog and career I think it would be considerably higher, even though it is not yet profitable. Maybe the better question is “How valuable is my sanity and self-worth?”

    BTW – Maybe you could talk Jim Collins into researching small businesses. Call it “Tiny to Giant”

  • Andi says:

    Absolutely nothing! I change peoples lives every day with Chinese Medicine and I could never stop wanting to do that no matter what the price. As always, such a thought provoking post! Thanks!!!

  • Tim says:

    The price I put on my love of awesome coffee and bringing this to the world and letting others share the best coffee around the world via crowdsourcing is the cost for me to spend the rest of my life surfing in Byron Bay, snowboarding Oz and France and the US and Canada, cycling around France and Spain, learning French and Spanish fluently.

    I estimate this to be $500k in South Pacific Pesos for the next 50 years. That is 25 million Aussie dollars.

    I could do it for less I suppose, given I’d derive interest from it, BUT would want to be using a lot of it to invest in clean water and micro finance in poor countries.

    On the flip side of course is my insatiable appetite to be doing entrepreneurial stuff so I’d have to be paid NOT to do one of my other projects, rather than paid to NOT chase great coffee everywhere.

    Timbo

  • Chris Harmon says:

    I delete a lot of emails with out reading them.
    But not any from AONC. I read all your emails. And I bet that a lot of your other followers read all your emails too. That has to be worth a lot more than 2 million.

  • Sanford says:

    Is what you are doing a job or a product? Or, is it a way of life? Can you put a price on your dreams? Your soul? Your Life? When you are dying, will you care if that thing never saw the light of day?

    I wouldn’t live long on my own private island with nothing to do. That’s just a fancy death-row in prison.

    If it was only one product, I can always create more. If it is walking away from doing what I do, Not For Love Or Money!

  • moom says:

    Becky – a secure job paying $50,000 a year is worth about $500,000 in a lump sum payment maybe more depending on your age and your “discount rate”. An insecure job might be worth less than $50k.

    For me the number is probably at least $3 million to stop trying to pursue an academic research/policy career in my expertise. But then I’d go off and do something else I’m interested in. The amount depends on how wealthy you already are or expect to be continuing in your current direction and age again (how much more time you have to earn). Also it depends on how much you’ve accomplished. I have already walked away once and trying something else. But I wasn’t good at that and came back. I could start another career feeling I did quite well in the first one. I’m 45 years old…

  • Briana says:

    My work is so intertwined with my life that I don’t think I could ever walk away from it. Answering that question feels like asking me to ignore a large part of myself.

    I also have a hard time distinguishing between 10 million theoretical dollars and 100 million. What would I do with all that money if I couldn’t do what I love?

  • I think it comes down to lifestyle; if you are fortunate to have what you do connected to a kick-ass lifestyle that creates value and change, then no amount of money can really convince you to go elsewhere. If you had the money what would you do? You are already creating killer value. You already have the lifestyle you want. If you can line up the first two, with the right market that is willing to pay, I don’t think anyone would want to get bought out!

    ps – bummed I missed the SXSW meet up; I spent all day on my bike and passed out in my hotel room! Next time…

  • The book sounds great and I love the philosopy. When it comes to my blog and my other business I would sell them for a reasonable price. They’re quite new and I could easily set them up again. How much though? Probably more than I think it’s worth because it represents a fair amount of work. You can’t really sell your own passion and creativity though. It’s worthless to someone else. What are they going to do with it? How can they keep building on the momentum you started? I think I’m a bit off topic here but thanks again for getting me thinking:)

  • emma says:

    I’ve tried to walk away for money. My bank account and credit card companies would certainly be happier with me if I did. But I never can. A crushed soul isn’t worth any amount of money. Period.

  • Mars Dorian says:

    I don’t think I have a price for that.

    how could you even think about that ?
    Selling out on your soul ? That’s high treason. Not in this lifetime, and not in the next one.

    I think you have to be a true fanatic of your own’s life purpose in order to built something outstanding. Focus all your fire on your destiny and the perceived value will be — unlimited.

  • Stephanie says:

    I personally could not name a price for my creativity. I have not done anything at this point that is worth any kind of money . I have a blog I have not had as much time to write in as I would like, which the blog semi addresses, and I make jewelry but never made much money at it, and I love to take interesting and fun pictures of not only our family, but buildings and flowers and all kinds of interesting things, and the fact is, my creativity iIS me. I can’t put a monetary value on who I am. I would love millions of dollars, but there is no amount of money someone could give me to not ever write or draw or take pictures or make jewelry again. Even if none of those passions every make me a dime, they are beyond value to me. They are a big part of who I am. So, I guess my answer is, there is nothing I could do that I love that I would take money to not do or to not share if I did. What good would the money do me if I could not spend it on any of my passioins ?
    Great question !!

  • Steven says:

    I would happily leave my present job if it meant I could pursue travel. I can be bought! I expect to be a working stiff for a few more years, all the while building a great excuse to hit the road and stay there! I don’t think I could put a price on my dream of building a travel-oriented hobby and business. It’s what I want to be doing.

  • Richard Kan says:

    My work (read: not job) is my passion and reason of my being. I would never dream of quitting it for whatever price. Work based on principle(s) operates on the concept of “I think, therefore i am”. It defines you as an individual. Naming a price for what one believe in is not only hypocritical, but abandoning the very principles the individual hold ni the first place. Might as well do as everybody does – get a job and focus on getting rich; forget non-material ideals like morality, creativity and other “-vities”. There is always a thin line between temptation and passion. Making a meaningful difference to others is never easy – accepting a meaningless (or senseless) deal is much easier. Also, a great artist never puts a price to his/her masterpiece nor compliment himself – the appreciation/acclaim/acknowledgment comes from others.

  • Matt says:

    Very interesting and thought provoking questions. I may have to pick that book up and put it in my reading lineup. For me it all comes down to whether you are happy with your current situation or not. I am not thriving in my current job situation and am making some life changes to rectify that. Therefore my price to quit and walk away is low.

    Now if I were living my dreams and passions it would be more difficult put a price on that. Would I really want to walk away from the very thing that gives my life meaning? Something to think about and ponder for sure.

  • Cheryl Paris says:

    Hello Chris,

    Interesting questions. I love what I do for a living and well I got to think a lot before I quote my price to quit what I love doing.
    I feel privileged to be able to make a difference in lives one at a time by providing guidance, and moral support.

    Bye for now,
    Cheryl

  • Paula says:

    Cool thought experiment to find out how much you really enjoy what you’re currently doing (workwise and probably otherwise…)! For example, I’d walk away from my current putting money in the bank gig (technical translation) for a year’s income to find something else or work on what I really want to do (start a homestead with my husband and help interested others learn how to live without “modern” distractions – the short version), from which I’d like to say, no amount of money would turn me away. Still, you never know, a sick family member or other inopportune events can change everything. But a good experiment just the same!

  • Suddenly Susan says:

    I perused the book “Good to Great” at the suggestion of a new boss a couple of years ago. One thing that still remains in my memory is the part talking about being on the right bus. It’s a question I ask myself periodically.

    I’m new to your site ~ very intrigued with your ideas! Thanks for not keeping them to yourself. (smiles!)

    P.S. I can be bought.

  • Susan says:

    I’m not sure what my number is, or if you can really put a number on something you feel driven to do everyday. Giving up your day job or a fun project is one thing, but the core of your life’s work is another. It’s like putting a price on spirituality or passion or life itself.

  • rickey says:

    Great question. After I read it another question came to mind. Is my life’s work such that anyone would value it or be threatened by it enough to pay me to bury it? Hmmm.

  • Dan Singleton says:

    The last couple years I have not put a value (dollar) on my work. I provide the best service I can in the niche I created which grossed less compared to my competition. Then the worst happened — the market tanked. Then I went to work providing the best service I can. My dollar value increased (client gave me a excellent raise) and people all around me are leaving the field due to no jobs.

    I look at it this way, what’s enough money? I enjoy my work and have a life that is great. I consider myself a very rich (not money) man.

    Good question Chris.

  • Frankerson P says:

    Nice thoughts on this one. I can’t come up with a high dollar value for anything I’m doing at the moment…so I guess I obviously haven’t found the thing I’m supposed to be doing yet.

    Now if only I could figure that part out…

    Cheers!

  • wow, great article, chris!
    super timely too.. i’m facing this exact question right now

    =)

  • Kat Fulton says:

    YES! I would walk away for pretty high up into the multi-trillions! I almost can’t even imagine walking away because I LOVE my work/play so much. Thanks for lighting my fire with this post, Chris. Woo hoo!

  • Ian Berry says:

    As usual Chris a very insightful article and for me a great twist on the concept of how much is enough.

  • Lisa Murray says:

    Fantastic question, and one I’ve been pondering lately. I’ve realised that my commitment to my purpose is so strong that selling out isn’t an option… no matter what, I know I’m going to deliver what I came here to do!

    For all of us, it is time to step up and share our insights and passions with the world in whatever form they arrive. No amount of money (or lack of it!!) will stop me from doing what I came here to do… simple… but not always easy!!

  • JoieDeVivre says:

    What a great thought experiment! Some days I feel like I’d walk away for a few extra hours of sleep; no money required! How’s *that* for putting your life into context 🙂

  • juds123 says:

    For making me think otherwise, for letting me realize I have the cannot-be-bought intangibles, for jolting me to what-ifs, your question is also worth a lot!

    Nice one, Chris! 😉

  • Phil says:

    Chris – great questions. I’m not sure that money would do it for me. I try to help people find their greatness and make the most of their lives. If i was really motivated by money I’d probably be doing something else right now. It is a great question to ask – what is my vocation? What is the thing that I was put on earth to do? What could I not stop doing even if someone tried to stop me? I suspect that is what Jim Collins is getting at – he felt compelled to write this book. I don’t even know what I’d do if I suddenly stumbled on $100m anyway – probably give most of it away!

  • Ricardo Diaz says:

    Nice question Chris…..
    I think my amount is 100,000 EUR.
    Happily it is steadily growing on a daily basis 🙂

  • Barbara Saunders says:

    I believe that if you ask most people what they want most, it’s something that can’t be bought at any price: “find my soulmate”, “leave a legacy”, “write that book/symphony”. None can be bought. The interesting thing about the exercise you presented here is that the way to arrive at an amount is actually, “How much would it take so that I could stop doing things for money and free up my time for …?”

    As much as bad jobs can cost us family time, health, and self-esteem, to an even greater extent they can cost us our true work.

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