"They say plan it. I say do it." Tom Peters
(What follows is an unedited version of Tom's article that appears in the May 22 edition of Time magazine.)
I BELIEVE THAT 90 PERCENT OF WHITE COLLAR JOBS IN THE U.S. WILL EITHER BE DESTROYED, OR ALTERED BEYOND RECOGNITION, IN THE NEXT 10 TO 15 YEARS.
(That's a catastrophic prediction, given that 90 percent of us are engaged in white-collar work of one sort or another. Even most manufacturing jobs, these days, are about the provision of white-collar services in finance, human resources, engineering, etc.)
The number sound outrageous? I think not. That is: Consider what the thresher (et al.) has done to farm labor. Think about what the forklift has done to the distribution center.
TRUE STORY: I talked to an old London docks hand some time back. He allowed as how, in 1970, it took 108 guys some 5 days to unload a timber ship. Then came ... containerization. The comparable task today takes 8 folks 1 day. That is, a 98.5 percent reduction in "man days," from 540 total to just 8.
Stunning when you see the stats, but not news.
PROBLEM: This round, the productivity toolkit aims—belatedly—to reconstruct—make that deconstruct!—white-collar world. In fact I see a 5-sided pincer movement that will bring to fruition my apparently bizarre "90 percent in 10 years" prognostication.
FIRST ... the destructive nature of the current flavor of competition. I'm talking less about Japanese car factories than "dot-coms." To be sure, most will fail. But the survivors will exert enormous pressure—fast!—on the Big Guys. In short, when an Amazon or Charles Schwab moves into your neighborhood, you've got moments, almost literally, to react. Or take King Entrepreneur Jim Clark (Netscape, etc., etc.): His latest, Healtheon/WebMD, aims to squeeze literally hundreds of billions of dollars of waste out of the health care system. (And he has lots of talented dot com company. No small thing. Who knows whom the winners will be? Not me. But I do know that if it's not Amazon or Healtheon/WebMD, it'll be—in very short order—son of Healtheon, granddaughter of Healtheon. One upstart telecoms CEO was asked if he was afraid of the big mergers in his industry. He said he wasn't. His abiding fear was "two sophomore girls, ensconced in a dorm room somewhere," madly inventing the successor to his bold idea.)
And at least some of the Big Guys are catching on—with vigor. Jack Welch is playing his last hand at GE. And the ace is the Internet. It's no exaggeration to say he aims to turn every GE business into a Web-led business, including, as Exhibit A, "old" GE Power Systems. Home is "old economy" Schenectady, but Power Systems boss Bob Nardelli has a vision for industry reinvention that is distinctly new economy, and almost a carbon copy of Jim Clark's in health care. I.e.: Become the Master Puppeteer who eases, greases, and arranges every relationship in the enormous utility industry ... and takes a penny or two on every transaction in the process. Then there's my personal hero, Jacques Nasser. The new Ford chief is going dot-com-berserk. Each week seems to bring a mega deal with a Yahoo or an Oracle or a MSN CarPoint. Now he's providing, effectively gratis, a PC and Internet connection to all 350,000 Ford workers ... including UAW front-line employees in the plant. He says he wants them all to be at home on the Web.
These new—and resurgent old—firms aim to create nothing less than havoc/DESTRUCTION in their enormous theaters/industries. Survivor's sole strategy: Play it to the hilt, or don't bother to play at all.
SECOND ... the new "enterprise software." Behind the jargon lie tools that will hook up every aspect of a business's innards—and then hook all that hooked up stuff to the rest of the "family" of suppliers and the suppliers' suppliers and wholesalers and retailers and end users. I call this software "white-collar robots." The complex products from German software giant SAP aim to do—and will do—to company innards exactly what forklifts and robots and containerization combined did to blue-collar world, circa 1960. Installing these tools is not easy. The technical part is harrowing enough, but the politics is the thing. When the blue-collar robots arrived, the unions raised hell. This time it's the high-level management bureaucrats who are turning Luddite. Why? These tools threaten their cozy white-collar baronies and fiefdoms, carefully crafted over several generations.
But the robots did come. And did triumph. And SAP et al.'s tools, fully functional, will, too.
THIRD ... if the right foot doesn't get you, the left one will. While in India recently, I read of a seminar presented in Delhi by MIT's No.1 computer guru, Michael Dertouzos. He said India could easily boost its GDP by a trillion dollars in the next few years. Source: Performing "backroom" white-collar tasks for Western companies. He guessed that 50 million (white-collar) jobs could be sucked from the West and transplanted to India, at $20,000 per head.
It's already happening in Bangalore and Hyderabad, where tens of thousands of skilled Indian engineers are hard and imaginatively at work on "outsourced" white collar chores for global banks and insurers and air lines. MESSAGE: Just as the new software is a rather exact white-collar analog to the blue-collar robots, so Indian white-collar outsourcing services are a rather exact analog to our shifting, with a vengeance, manufacturing jobs to Thailand and Mexico and others in the 80s and 90s.
FOURTH ... the Web per se. Ford and GM and DaimlerChrysler announce a rare hookup: They will link all their tens of thousands of suppliers into a single, Internet-based network. The as yet unnamed entity will engulf $250 billion per year of car suppliers' products. (And perhaps another $500 billion of those suppliers' suppliers products.) In short, every penny of waste will be wrung from the mammoth system, and speed-of-fulfillment will be reduced dramatically. (P.S.: The three owners plan to set the supply-net "firm" free via IPO in rather short order. Wanna bet that the IPO is worth more, in terms of market capitalization, than any one of the three car companies who conceived them?) And then: Medibuy aims for the same hat trick in medical supplies, DigitalThink in training, CarStation in auto-body shop world. This is the white-hot world of B2B (Business to Business) electronic commerce, which will soon encompass trillions upon trillions of dollars of transactions.
"It" is truly pervasive. A chat with a senior exec at GMAC Realty Services reveals a similar vision for the extended world of real estate: Clients and realtors and lenders and town inspectors will all converge on the Web to do business at lightening speed. Don't be surprised if the traditional "close in 60 days" standard in real estate transactions becomes "close in 5 working days." (Or: 1?)
FIFTH ... time compression. It took 38 years for the radio to get to 50 million users. The Web got there in 4. Hence, my belief that, while it took about a century to revolutionize blue-collar job practice (from time-and-motion guru Frederick Taylor's early pontifications to full impact of the new tools such as robotics), this "brave new white-collar regime" will be mostly installed in a tenth of that. I.e.: 10 years.
Each of these five forces is a fact. Not a supposition. Each influences the others multiplicatively. Hence, my unwillingness to back off my dire predictions about the power of the white-collar tsunami headed our way ... at the speed of light.
(I should also—and quickly—add, if "all this" is daunting: We ain't seen nothin' yet! Read, for example, Computer guru Ray Kurzweil's The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. Kurzweil, a proven businessman as well as pragmatic applied scientist, is no flake. My restatement of his thesis: WE AIN'T SEEN NOTHIN YET. Great Leaps—Forward?—can be expected to arrive hot and heavy for the foreseeable future. Between the truly smart computers/networks and the biotech impact on the very nature of what it is to be human, we will all be busily engaged in redefining the meaning of life—and reinventing ourselves—for the next 50 years. At least.)
BURNING (PERSONAL) QUESTION: ARE MY PREDICTIONS DIRE? OR LIBERATING?
They are dire: UNSETTLING MADNESS IS AFOOT! (Especially if I'm a 48-year-old "white-collar staffer" or "middle manager" entombed in a corporate tower in Manhattan or Miami or Milan.)
They are liberating: BLUE-COLLAR ROBOTS MOSTLY TOOK THE CRAP WORK OUT OF FACTORY AND DISTRIBUTION CENTER AND DOCKSIDE LIFE. WHITE COLLAR "ROBOTS" (AND THE OTHER FOUR FORCES ENUMERATED ABOVE) CAN TAKE THE DRUDGE OUT OF WHITE COLLAR POSITIONS.
(Banish nostalgia! Workin' in a U.S.Steel mill or a GM factory was no walk in the park in 1946. "Passin' papers" in "the tower" is no great joy, either. My Dad did it for 41 years at the Baltimore Gas & Electric Company. He was, sad to say, a white-collar indentured servant. Frank Peters as George Babbit.)
I MUST HASTILY ADD: We're all in this together! It's not "them," this time around. It's all of us. I make most of my living giving live seminars and training programs, and consulting to management. ALL OF "THAT STUFF" IS GRAVITATING TO THE WEB. (Should we say "gravitating" when it's happening at, literally, the speed of light—on exponentially increasing fiber optic networks?) I am scrambling to re-invent myself, at age 57, to not just "cope with," but to exploit the new communication and connection media. Hey, there are young "management gurus" hot on my trail. Hot = Web speed.
P.S.: Perhaps I should add that the Tom Peters Company "slogan" is ...
I don't know about you, but I love the new dot-com ads. The conventional uptight image of business is evaporating. Take jobs.com. Tag line: When you love what you do you're alive. (Full disclosure: I did ads for jobs.com ... because I loved the tag line.) And the far more outrageous FreeAgent.com: Some people enjoy the corporate life. Then again, Some people enjoy nipple clamps.
Such language suggests a new—or, at least, emerging, freedom to think about work as joy and fulfilling with purposes worth pursuing with one's heart and soul.
I'm fed up with Dilbert. He's funny. He's unerringly on the money. But he's a hapless victim, too. DAMNED IF I'M GOING TO BE.
THE WORLD IS GOING THROUGH MORE FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE THAN IT HAS IN HUNDREDS—PERHAPS THOUSANDS—OF YEARS. (The chief economist at Sandia National Labortories, Arnold Baker, said it's the "biggest change since the cavemen began bartering.") I WANT TO BE A PLAYER. A FULL-SCALE PARTICIPANT, WHO EMBRACES THE CHANGE ... AND THE LUCKY OPPORTUNITY TO BE AROUND TO PLAY IN THIS LOVELY, MESSY PLAYGROUND CALLED "LET'S RE-INVENT THE WORLD."
Hence I've constructed a new role model. Or icon. In fact, I call the new exemplar Icon Woman:
- She is turned on by her work!
- The work matters!
- The work is cool!
- She is "in your face"! ("Well-behaved women rarely make history," reminds Anita Borg of the Palo Alto-based Institute for Women in Technology)
- She is an adventurer!
- She is CEO of her own life!
- She is not God. She is not Bionic Woman. She is determined to make a difference! (Dilbert would be appalled, no doubt.)
My Icon Woman, of course, embraces and exploits the Web:
- She submits her resume on the Web, and keeps it perpetually active on the Web.
- She is recruited and negotiates and is hired on the Web.
- She is trained on the Web.
- She creates and conducts scintillating projects on the Web, via a far-flung "virtual" stable of teammates. (Most of whom she's never met.)
- She manages her career and reputation-building efforts on the Web. And has a fab personal Website!
BUT WHAT—exactly?—WILL SHE ACTUALLY DO? THIS MORNING?
Circa May 2010. She will be at home. Working—for the next several months—for Ford on a fiendishly difficult engineering problem. She won't be on Ford's payroll, though she will be drawing full benefits, even as a contractor. (Health care, pensions and re-training, as of President H. Clinton's second term, are no longer tied to a company, but to the individual.) Her 79-person project team, only one of whom she's met face-to-face (she considers face-to-face a quaint idea that her Mom suffered), will come from 14 nations. Her fully wired home is her castle. After a half-dozen virtual meetings this morning, she'll take a so-called "RETRB" (ReTRaining Break), and attend a virtual class in engineering (conducted from God knows where), as part of her virtual/on-line Master's degree program.
She's deeply committed to her self-designed, do-it-from-anywhere-with-anybody "career" path. She is relieved, by the white-collar robots, from 95 percent of the drudge work ... and is adding value by being on tippy top of her intellectual game. HER (only) SECURITY IS HER PERSONAL COMMITMENT TO CONSTANT GROWTH AND HER GLOBAL ("virtual") REP FOR GREAT WORK.
"GET A GRIP, PETERS," you retort. Is this "Be wild and crazy and Webby and CEO-of-your-own-life" picture anything other than New Age/New Economy/Palo-Alto-where-there's-something-funny-in-the-water B.S.?
I think it is relevant and real, rather than wild and crazy ... on at least two important scores.
One is that, though my "house" (farm) is in Vermont, I've hung my professional shingle in Palo Alto since 1981. Fact: ALL HELL IS BREAKING LOOSE "OUT THERE/HERE." AND "THEY" MAY WELL BE REDEFINING THE WORLD. AND (speaking as a 57-year-old) "THEY" DON'T LOOK OR EAT OR TASTE OR SMELL—OR WORK—MUCH LIKE FRANK PETERS OR GEORGE BABBITT OR SCOTT ADAMS' DILBERT.
Two is ... back to the future! I constantly remind my middle-age seminar participants that George Babbitt and Dilbert are not the quintessential Americans. Who are? Ben Franklin. (The Father of self-help literature.) Ralph Waldo Emerson. (Self-reliance was his shtick, recall.) Walt Whitman. And, yes, motivational guru Tony Robbins. And, yes, Donald Trump. And ... Bentonville Arkansas's Sam Walton ... and Bill Gates.
Read Michael Lewis' The New New Thing. Hero Jim Clark, mentioned above, is no charmer. In fact, to my reading, he comes off as about as delectable as Trump. BUT HE'S PURE AMERICAN BRAVADO. A bravado that was lost in the Babbitt-Dilbert-Big Bureaucracy-Cubicle Slave decades.
The quintessential expression of the above? To my mind, the opening of Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March: "I am an American, Chicago born, and go about things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way."
WHAT IF? Maybe the Wild New-Economy America is the Old America. Truer to ourselves. We came here to break free, to make our records in our own awkward ways. (My German grandfather—Jacob Ebert Peters—arrived in the 1880s, and was a wildly successful Baltimore contractor 30 years later. (Then he lost it all in the Great Depression ... also quintessentially American.)
In any event, it's going to be one hell of an interesting ride. And as the grandson of an immigrant, I, for one, can't ask for anything more.
Palo Alto/04.09.00 (Day #100 of the New Millennium)
(On May 6, Tom attended, along with Peter Drucker, Ken Blanchard, Stephen Covey, and 200 prominent others, a celebration of Warren Bennis' magnificent career. Tom was asked to contribute a paper on "staying power." It follows.)
Susan and I, on short notice, invited her mom, age 74, to come down from New Canaan and join us for a Midtown dinner in late February. She said "No." Period. I've known Joan Sargent for a long time. If she's anything, she's self certain.
When we arrived in town from Vermont, we were therefore nonplussed to find a message from Joan, saying, "I'll be arriving at 7."
We were pleased. (Yes, I have a great relationship with my mother-in-law.) And surprised. We obviously asked her why she'd changed her mind.
Short answer: "I decided to say 'Yes.'"
Longer answer. She recalled a friend who'd had a vigorous life into her 90s. "She said she had three 'secrets'," Joan recalled. "First, surround yourself with good books on any and every topic. Second, spend time with people of all ages. And third, push yourself to say 'Yes.'"
She went on to say that she had not intended to drive down from Connecticut. (For those among my readers who've aged a bit, peripheral vision goes for all of us pretty damn early, and night driving is a pain, especially in rain or snow. And the weather was foul.) But she remembered her friend and determinedly decided to say "Yes."
We had a lovely dinner. But for me the peak experience was the friend's advice to my mom-in-law. It made eminent sense, especially because I had this article to write on "How Leaders Stay on Top of Their Game." My only problem: How do I extend the article to the allotted, standard academic 15 pages. It pretty much seemed to me that Joan's friend had said about all that needed to be said.
Surround yourself with books of all sorts.*
Pal around with folks of all stripes and ages.
JUST SAY "YES."
Bigger message: Work assiduously at staying fresh!
* (Candid admission. Susan asserts that #1 on the list is "surround yourself with dogs." She and her Mom (and I) are over-the-top dog lovers. I refuse to "fact check" this with Joan, because I prefer my recollection. So for any of you who'd prefer dogs to books, or would feel moved to add a fourth to my list, feel free to do so. It works either way, as far as I'm concerned, though I admit such factual flexibility does doubtless fly in the face of academic canon. Not the first time.)
Bennis & Co. gave me marching orders for this paper. I am now judged ancient enough - swell, fellas! - to have been accorded the mantle of "staying power." "How'd you do it?" I was asked to answer in this piece. And, then, somehow, my personal observations were to be tied to the leadership milieu at large in these bizarre days ... where staying on top of
one's game is at once more important than ever and more difficult than ever.
(Yikes! Is the last remark ever true! As I write, by coincidence - is it? - the New York Times of the day offers a feature story on Lew Platt. My Cornell engineering classmate is now running the Kendall Jackson winery. This marvelous fellow - always on top of his game, I'd have said - was blindsided by the Internet Express and, in effect, booted from the top slot at staggering Hewlett-Packard. As I said: Yikes.)
Hence ... to the Staying Power Annals of Tom Peters, age 57, "on the scene" since 21 July 1980, when Business Week featured my commentary in a piece summarizing the early research into "excellent companies." (P.S.: After the book appeared in 1982, Peter Drucker, in an interview somewhere, avowed that Bob Waterman and I would tickle the business world's fancy for 18 months. There is many a day - or, rather, night on the road - that I wish the Grand & Great Old Man had been right!) So: God knows what will follow. I have avoided personal ruminations like this as if they were the plague.
Nonetheless ... .
1. Me and "staying power:" I haven't a clue. I never think/thought about "sticking around." A reporter once asked, "What do you hope to be doing at 80?" "Unlike Peter Drucker," I snapped, "I hope I won't still be writing for the Harvard Business Review." I meant it! And now it's 10 or so years later ... and my pen/keyboard is not yet stilled. (Ye gads ... maybe I will be doing this - whatever it is - 20 years from now.)
I don't have a plan. Never had a plan. HOPE I NEVER DO HAVE A PLAN. Years ago I had a power boat on Lake Champlain. Named it "The Cromwell," after Oliver. (Sorry, Charles.) My rationale was a Cromwellian quote: "No one rises so high as he who knows not where he is going." (Or words to that effect.) I LIKE THAT.
(Let's try a touch of honesty: Perhaps my "staying power" comes from the absence of true hobbies ... not so rare among "my type." Thence, I scramble to "stay up" simply because I'm terrified and don't have an inkling as to what I'd do if I didn't! Shit!)
2. I have no staying power. I get bored easily. Hence, no staying power is the real secret to my staying power. I have lots of stamina, but no staying power. I FLIT FROM IDEA TO IDEA. Or, better said, from Passion to Passion. Though I used the word "flit," it's not really appropriate. I FALL IN LOVE EASILY. AND MY PASSION KNOWS NO BOUNDS. (For a while.)
I THINK BOREDOM IS MY "SECRET." Unless I'm totally turned on by the idea I'm chasing, I'm miserable. ("Thomas E. Peters," my wife Susan Sargent calls me. The "E": Excess. What else?)
Where does the low boredom threshold come from? No idea. I suppose that I wear an idea out. Become exhausted. And then scurry on.
(Which is also somewhat bullshit. I "flit" from idea to idea. TRUE. But there are very important constants: E.g.: the "Bias for Action" that was Bedrock Principle No.1 in In Search of Excellence. Also bedrock: Passion rules! More below.)
3. I am a finisher! Though a "flitter" ... albeit a Passionate Flitter ... I am not a flake. Warren and Patricia Ward Biederman, in Organizing Genius, call their Great Group members "dreamers with deadlines." Me, too. IT ... whatever "it" ... IS NOT REAL UNTIL I'VE WRITTEN IT UP. GOTTEN IT PUBLISHED. I have a finisher's compulsion. Always have. In the most trivial ways. Recently got hooked on computer solitaire. You'd be amazed ... APPALLED? ... at the detailed scoring records I keep.
4. I am fearless ... with pen in hand. I am a wimp in face-to-face dealings. (Fear of rejection, see below.) But within the confines of my writing studio (often as not a United Airlines cigar tube) I am a slayer of dragons. The fierier the better. I don't quite get this. BUT, THEN, I DON'T GET MOST OF THIS STUFF. I'm like a bomber pilot, perhaps, only able to kill at long distance?
5. I only see a little around corners. Look, much as I hate it, I'll come clean. I have been remarkably successful. I THINK IT'S BECAUSE OF MY LIMITATIONS. I see around corners, all right, but only "short corners." Bennis and Hal Leavitt and Drucker and Toffler see much farther. THEIR MISFORTUNE. (In some respects.) I see ... BY SHEER ACCIDENT ... exactly far enough ahead to be provocative ... but plausible. In my grad school reading, I was exposed to a social psych researcher, Somebody McGuire. He demonstrated a "zone of acceptance," relative to the change process. If the case for change is too bland ... then HO HUM is the response. Too far out ... and DOESN'T APPLY TO ME is the reaction. But in the middle ground, one is "interesting enough" to be interesting, without being beyond the pale. I have made a career of that Zone of Acceptance SWEET SPOT ... by accident.
If I were smarter, I'd be less useful. It's a fact ... I think.
6. Nothing doesn't interest me. I LOVE SECTION "D" OF USA TODAY! It provides better clues to tomorrow than the Wall Street Journal. I groove on magazines in dentists' offices. I FIND THE WHOLE-WIDE-WORLD A HOOT!
Why? No idea!
(Not true. Perhaps Hal Leavitt gets the credit. At Stanford in 1970, he told us - his MBA students - that Rolling Stone was more relevant than the Wall Street Journal. Or at least that's my memory. Which I like. So, again, I refuse to check with the source.)
What I love to do most ... for the sheer anti-snobbery of it ... is to cite USA Today and other "lowbrow" journals ... and to tie "their stuff" to BIG Trends. I love to connect far-fetched dots! Again: For the sheer hell of it! (Rule No. 1 for fending off boredom: AMUSE YOURSELF.)
7. I am scared shitless of falling behind. Fear has its (big) place in my life. I GOT "HERE." GOD ALONE KNOWS WHY. I L-I-K-E IT "HERE." (Wherever here may be.) The Web ... etc. etc. etc. ... is, in fact, changing everything. Perhaps no one over the age of 27 has the right to pronounce about anything. (There is a big part of me that believes that. Snicker if you will.)
I am investing $$$ millions - literally! - in my Web site. Why? (1) It's fun. (Keeps that boredom at bay.) (2) I'm afraid not to.
8. Which leads to ... maybe this is all B.S. Maybe I do not have staying power ... at this amazing point in time. At this moment ... when it matters most. WHEN THE WORLD IS WOBBLING AT AN UNPRECEDENTED RATE. I'm far from sure - and farther every day - that I am, in fact, fresh. Stuart Crainer penned a lovely piece (per me) in The Times (of London) stating that I was the only one of the "established gurus" to have embraced the Web. Fine ... good on me ... BUT IS IT ENOUGH? (Yes, I do think about these things. Obsess on them, truth be known.)
9. I am a "garbage man." Big secret: I READ EVERYTHING. Flying off to ____ . Grab 15 (!! - no baloney) mags at the airport kiosk. Spend the next four hours poring over them. Emerge with 40 torn out pages. Convert same into 10 new presentation slides. (Power Point ... finally mastered it. Fresh, you know.) Use four of the new slides ... tomorrow morning. One from Cosmopolitan. One from Vanity Fair. One from Sports Afield. One from Scientific American. Not to mention a Bill Parcells quote snared from the New York Post.
MCI guru-madman-Cool Irish Dude Bill McGowan was a self-professed "garbage man." He spotted trends by sucking up stuff from any damn source you can mention. I LOVED BILL. And I've
shamelessly stolen his garbagic secret!
10. I love ambiguity! No ... I ADORE AMBIGUITY. I LOVE MESSES. I LOVE GREAT FICTION. (I LOVE Warren most ... he doesn't know this ... because his favorite playwright is Samuel Beckett.) I ... ESPECIALLY ... LOVE IT WHEN I AM "ACCUSED" OF INCONSISTENCY. My mentors-in-chief (more later), such as Karl Weick and Gene Webb and Charles Handy and Warren, groove on mess/ambiguity. (Especially Karl, in my book.)
"BOTTOM LINE": I LOVE LIFE ... BECAUSE IT IS SO ABSURD!
Why is this my bent? Beats me. (Talk to one of my many shrinks.) (Or don't. None of them ever laid a glove on me. If you can't psych out - out psych? - a world-class shrink, life's not worth living. I'm not being a smart ass here; I never got anywhere with shrinks, because I looked at our "exchanges" as mortal combat. I never really participated. My loss, I suspect. Though I'm not sure. Fact: My first shrink wanted me to smell the roses, be more "balanced." I thought that was stupid. Still do. Never got over it. I'm proud to say I don't have a single good "balanced" friend. God knows, not Warren.)
11. I hate labels. Okay, for a while I was "the excellence guy." (Pleasantly vague.) But - I'd like to think - I am not categorizable. Peter D. has a unique place in the Management Heavens. So I would not/dare not compare myself to His Eminence. But ... my conceit ... we are the only management "gurus" who are label-less. I've done my "excellence thing." And my "customer thing." And my "women's thing." And my "design thing." Etc. Pin me down if you will. I BET YOU CAN'T. (Redux: Boredom rules!)
12. My mom made me an obsessive reader. BLESS YOU, EVELYN CHARLOTTE SNOW PETERS. You have given me no greater gift.
13. I picked my mentors well. Warren's book - An Invented Life - at its most personal is a mentors' book. I once tried my hand at autobiography. The result stunk, except, my friend and publisher Sonny Mehta said, the mentors chapter.
I got lucky. (Like Warren.) I had a Vietnam mentor, Captain Dick Anderson, who was my Captain Bessinger. Then I got doubly lucky. At the big, impersonal Stanford Business School, I latched on to my most important mentor in life ... Gene Webb. The intellectual mentoring was, of course, invaluable. (Understatement.) But the "life mentoring" was worth a million times more. (The S.O.B. died early, in 1994. What a rotten thing to do to a mentee.) Karl Weick and I have only been together in person a couple of times; but Karl remains my litmus test; how would Karl look at this, I ask myself, at least a few times every month. Karl may be appalled, but ... EVERYTHING I WRITE MUST PASS THE "KARL TEST."
Truth is, Warren and I also have little face time on our record. Nonetheless, Warren has inspired me by the very fact of Being Warren ... and not acting as if I was totally full of shit. (He hasn't a clue as to how important his little notes are to me. Especially when I'd taken on Alain Enthoven at Stanford. Firestorm. They haven't sent me an alumni mag since, even though I'm a paid up life member!) Hal Leavitt and Charles Handy have also been more important than most of my blood relatives: They have taken me seriously, and, given my limitless respect for them as absurdly thoughtful humans (as much as "influentials" in my field), they have made a big impact on my life. THEIR WORK PER SE HAS BEEN A GUIDING INFLUENCE. AS HAS THEIR WILLINGNESS TO TAKE ME SERIOUSLY.
(Has anybody ever succeeded big-time with high self-esteem? Low esteem is so valuable!)
Bigger message: None of us in this field, I dare say, has paid enough attention to the "luck" of mentoring in the shaping of leaders. (On second thought, perhaps some of the political scientists have.)
14. I am pissed off at prior miscues. SELF HATRED. STRONG TERM. THE BASIS OF MANY A SUICIDE. AND MOST SUCCESS? In any event, I am most motivated by my irritation at the stuff I got wrong last week or last month or last year. (I GET SO MUCH WRONG.) (In Search of Excellence was a "radical" book. Right? Then why are "globalization" and "information technology" missing from the index?)
Message: Usefully directed self loathing makes the world go 'round. Maybe.
Related factoid (????): I think I get off on fear. I recently spoke to the leadership of the American Medical Association. I am no expert on the machinations of the health care industry. Yet I was determined to be relevant and pointedly provocative, not generic, in my remarks. I WORKED UP A SWEAT THAT IN THE END REQUIRED DRUGS TO CALM. What's that all about? Your call.
15. I am not a "people person." But people fascinate me. Bob Waterman and I argued - the true "revolutionary aspect" of our book - that "soft is hard." THAT IS ... THE "PEOPLE STUFF" AND "PASSION" ARE WHAT MATTERS IN THE END. ("Take that, Harvard B. School," we sputtered in 1982. Hint: We were right!) And yet: I'm not a "people guy." God's truth. I am an observer. The "people stuff" turns me on. AS AN ANALYST. Maybe that's good: If "soft is hard," then "hard is soft." You've gotta be able to look at the "soft stuff" dispassionately.
I ALSO HAPPEN TO BE DESPERATELY IN LOVE WITH POLITICS! It is pure theater. (And occasionally of importance.) If you do not LOVE politics, my plot line goes, then you will accomplish damn little. To use my favorite term: Politics is a hoot.
Lesson: Again, thanks Mom! (She's a political nut. Yes, she talks like this, too, at 90.)
Loving politics means loving the messy process of "getting stuff done." (Was it Tip O'Neil who said, "Politics is the art of the possible"? Gene Webb loved politics. His conceit - re me - was that my dissertation was the first B. School dissertation on implementation per se.)
16. I LOVE CABBIES. I really don't get this one. Damn. I hate self reflection.
Point is: I love talking to cabbies. Hate (mostly) talking to "CEOs." Low self esteem? Not clear. Mostly, I think, I identify more with cabbies than CEOs. And find them more human/interested in humanity.
Or maybe it's something else entirely. Susan glommed on to this. Yes, I have had some success. Enough so that "everybody" wants something from me. An endorsement. (God, it's their life's work. How can I not ... Or: "ten minutes of your time ... five minutes ... to review this business plan." Whatever.) Cabbies don't want a bloody damn thing except a decent tip and the very temporary loan of an ear ... BLESS THEM.
17. Speaking of love: I love BUSINESS. Per se. I read Business Week and Fortune and Forbes ... because ... the Theater of Business turns me on. I think this is, in fact, no small thing. My sixth sense tells me - clearly! - that a lot of people in "my field" are not moved by business. Per se. For one (big) thing, this love affair is helpful because "keeping up" is a pleasure, not a pain. (It also - obviously - increases my credibility enormously.)
Bob Schwartz, another Warren pal* [*Are there any interesting people who aren't F.O.W.?], developed a similar taste for business; he figured that most interesting social experimentation, driven by the relentless storms of the marketplace, occurred in business. True - times 10 or 10,000 - in Internet World. Bob's Tarrytown Conference Center was a moveable feast of business' most intriguing social/workplace/organization experimenters. (And: I think I first met Warren face-to-face there.)
P.S.: Fortune's John Huey, in a recent Advertising Age interview, allowed as how he thought he had a better job than his Time counterpart, Walter Issacson. Business, he declared, is "where it's at" as the millennium turns. HE'S GOT A [damn good] POINT.
18. I think (fear?) this is important: I am a hopeless suck up. Bill Clinton needs everyone to love him. ME TOO! I cherish integrity. Get high on my "prickliness." BUT YOU MUST LOVE ME. Note to Warren: Not enough on this in the leadership literature. That is, the tension between a pointed view ... and ... the desperate need to please.
I want to be provocative as hell. (It's my trademark-brand.) AND I WANT TO "REACH OUT AND TOUCH" EVERY MEMBER OF AN AUDIENCE OF 12,000 I'M ADDRESSING AT THE MOSCONE CENTER. (It's my "secret," which, in fact, makes the provocative part work.)
19. Suck up redux. (Sorta.) I HAD A BREAKTHROUGH MOMENT RE "THIS STUFF." It's a variation on suck up above. I was giving a speech to 4,500 ACE Hardware store owners. It went incredibly well. And ... I figured out why. (Perhaps.)
For that hour I was "with" them ... I WAS A HARDWARE STORE OWNER. Please feel free to laugh. But I think I'm right. It's a version of a top actor's Trick No.1. Trust me: For that hour, I owned a hardware store in Burlington, VT or Palo Alto. Every remark I made - substance and exact choice of language - was consistent with my role-du-jour. When I started thinking on this, I realized I'd been a doctor ... while addressing the American Medical Association's top 1,000 leaders in Miami ten days before. Perhaps this observation is of no use to you, but it has been to me. SUCCESS IN BIG-TIME PUBLIC SPEAKING = ASSUMING THE SHAPE OF ONE'S AUDIENCE.
20. I AM NAUSEATINGLY COMPETITIVE. This is embarrassing. It's a P.C. World ... and one is not to own up to raw, naked aggression. But ... I am bloody competitive. (I even chuckle ... secretly, 'til now ... at: "It's not good enough for me to win. You gotta lose." SICK.) But, we are, after all, on the topic of Staying Power. And I believe that Pete Rose and I do share this trait: No. 1 is fun! And I wanna stay near the head of the league tables, in an absurdly more competitive "guru market" than 15, or 5, years ago. To fail to admit to it ruins this piece.
21. Biographer Strat Sherman says Jack Welch's ace is "2,000 percent" more energy than the rest of us. Well, my secret is 995 percent more energy than most. Fact: PEOPLE - audiences - RESPOND TO ENERGY PER SE. Trust me. (This is a BIG deal.) (Susan says I'd be just as successful on "the circuit" if I read from the phone book. My horrid secret: I fear she has a point.)
Message: Again, pick the right genes?
22. Retirement sucks. If you don't buy this, then you don't have a chance of understanding the idea of "staying on top of your game." 'NUF SAID.
23. YOU MUST PUT YOURSELF AT RISK. REGULARLY. If you're not scared you're not growing. That's my ... reluctant ... but clear ... conclusion. There is a type of Generic Speech that I can give ... to 22 or 22,000 ... with 1.83 hands tied behind my back. BUT WHAT ABOUT SPEAKING TO THE LEGAL DEPARTMENT ... as I did in late '99 ... OF PHILIP MORRIS? I love such speeches. They scare the hell out of me. I am paid a huge sum to address someone/s I have no business addressing. WHOOPS ... BETTER FIGURE OUT SOMETHING INTERESTING TO SAY.
Message from me to me: Put thyself in Harm's Way a dozen times a year. Or go hopelessly stale.
24. I groove on young people. MESSAGE2000: IF YOU DON'T GROOVE ON YOUNG PEOPLE ... HANG UP YOUR SPIKES.
I love Vermont. (God's great and personal gift to me: Grey Meadow Farm, West Tinmouth.) AND I'M GLAD MY (albeit minuscule) CORPORATE HQ IS IN THE CENTER OF THE NEW UNIVERSE ... PALO ALTO. I n-e-e-d the energy of the absurdly youthful Internet Revolution to seep into my pores ... regularly.
YOU/I/WE MUST HONOR YOUTH!
25. IF YOU GREW UP IN THE SOUTH (or, in my case, the Near South ... Annapolis) IN THE 40s AND 50s ... YOU ARE FOREVER SHAMED AT THE MISBEHAVIOR OF WHITE FOLKS. (Message to South Carolina And Georgia: For God's sake take the confederate flag down!)
Hence: Diversity is my God. I HAVEN'T GOT A P.C. CELL IN MY BODY. IT'S SIMPLE (to me): AMERICA'S STRENGTH IS HER ENTREPRENEURIAL AND CREATIVE ENERGY ... READ, DIVERSITY. (Redux: Mess rules!) A friend of mine weeps at the national anthem; I don't (too many memories of Goebbels and mindless - mindful? - symbol worship). I do weep when I see a business gathering that features Jesse's FULL RAINBOW. (Sadly, I rarely feast upon such a sight.)
26. UNLESS YOU ARE PISSING PEOPLE OFF ... YOU ARE NOT ALIVE. Okay, those are not the precise words MLK jr. or Gandhi would have chosen. But it is a fact. I am (see above) a pleaser. But I also know that if everybody loves you, you are pushing no hot buttons. Hence, I have learned - RELUCTANTLY - to take pleasure in the Nasty Notes as well as in the syrup-flavored variety. Nasty = Getting through.
27. I'm wildly ambivalent about this. Post In Search of Excellence, I had a 1984-1986 resurgence as The King of Customer Service. Worthy topic? ABSOLUTELY. Yet ... "it" was a clear byproduct of childish, self-indulgent behavior that resulted from a schedule (200+ speeches per year) that would have killed a horse. I was over stressed. Understatement. I would get VERY PISSED at some little slight ... and make a (almost literal) Congressional Case of it. AND: THE WORLD (e.g.: Dan Rather) LAPPED IT UP.
What I did was, in fact, of value ... self-indulgent or not. But I'm also deeply ashamed of the Immature Self-indulgence.
Bigger point: SOME THINGS PISS ME OFF! E.g.: "Board" pictures from big companies ... in 1999 or 2000 ... that consist ... of ... OLD WHITE MALES.
(Bob Waterman told some interviewer that "Tom is not happy unless he's angry about something. 'Fraid there's more than a grain of truth to that.)
Dunno why, but I've gotten the nerve to "publish" my personal piques. (Anger keeps me fresh???) (BIGGER LEADERSHIP" POINT: DOES ANGER AT "STUPID STUFF" MOTIVATE MOST SUCCESSFUL CHANGE AGENTS?) My case: As I said, I'm really not a "people guy," but I do get infuriated when institutions are ... STUNNINGLY DUMB ... e.g. a Board of Directors that bears No Resemblance Whatsoever to the market the company serves.
28. IT - WHATEVER (thank you, Bob Dole) - IS A HOOT. (And ... if you don't get that ... forget "staying power." No baloney.) A BIG DEAL HEADHUNTER tells me that that "sense of humor" is No. 1 on her list of Must Have traits for any big-time job candidate. Former Gov. Ann Richards says the same thing. (Ann Richards = Best Gov. Texas has had or has.)
Message: Be serious. ("I regret that I have but one life to give ... ) Message: Never take yourself seriously. (And a hundred hundred hackneyed-but-true aphorisms ... IF YOU CAN'T TAKE THE HEAT, STAY OUT OF THE KITCHEN. (Lordy, Bill Clinton gets that one! To his eternal credit.)
29. WHEN YOU LOVE WHAT YOU DO, YOU'RE ALIVE. It's the jobs.com Tag Line. I LOVE IT. (Full disclosure: I'm their spokesperson.) ( Full-disclosure No. 2: I'm their spokesperson ... because ... I love that Tag Line.) My shtick: P-a-s-s-i-o-n. Passion/energy/commitment/care make the world go 'round. Or: Just say "NO" to Ritalin ... for 99.99999% of kids. I LOVE THE OBSTREPEROUS ONES! (And you?) Life =Technicolor.
Quotes (Okay, I don't like doing this either, but these are WWRU/Words Worth Remarking Upon):
"Well-behaved women rarely make history." - Anita Borg, Institute for Women in Technology.
"When was the last time you asked, 'What do I want to be?'" - Sara Ann Friedman, Work Matters.
"I want to be thoroughly used up when I die." - George Bernard Shaw.
"I am an American, Chicago born, and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way." - Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March.
"Everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's own attitude in any set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." - Victor Frankl, psychologist and Auschwitz survivor.
"You are the storyteller of your own life, and you can create your own legend or not." - Isabel Allende.
Coach Bill Parcells: BLAME NOBODY. EXPECT NOTHING. DO SOMETHING.
30. PASSION REDUX. I was reading the current issue of American Psychologist. I am an APA member. But psychologists-psychiatrists Piss Me Off ... mostly. THEY WANT ME (and others) TO BE NORMAL. And: "CHEERFUL." But: I hate "normal." And "cheerful." I LIKE THE SCREWED UP FOLKS. "Adjustment"? WHAT AN AWFUL IDEA. I love mal-adjusted folks who have Monster Egos ... who think they can change the world ... and occasionally do. And: occasionally for the better. Mal-adjustment interests me far more than adjustment. I despise the idea of "balance." And think that "competent" is the worst thing you can accuse a fellow human of being!
There is a role for "our types" (management "experts") who study the creation of terrific systems that "get the most" out of "ordinary people." IT'S JUST THAT THERE IS NO ROLE FOR ME - or Warren, I believe - IN SUCH PURSUITS. The Silicon Valley Miracle is my Coming Out Party: WEIRD RULES! The "gales of creative destruction" (J. Schumpeter) have engulfed us all. AND WHAT A MERRY WIND STORM HOWLS AROUND US! REINVENTING THE WORLD!
I HATE NORMAL. I waited table for 9 years to earn tuition bucks in high school and college. I am, thence, Waiter-Sensitive. And: I "hate" "normal" waiters and waitresses. EVERY MEAL AND EVERY TABLE IS A LEADERSHIP/ THEATRICAL OPPORTUNITY ... OF THE FIRST ORDER ... IF YOUR HEAD IS SCREWED ON RIGHT. I am far too old to be a Pollyanna. Threw away my rose-colored glasses years ago. (Truth is, I veer toward cynicism. Hence, my clinical depression.) Yet ... I do think we can mostly all make a "good thing" out of whatever thing we're engaged in. And ... I am sure ... that "systems" aimed at "optimizing" mass behavior suppress human engagement and thence thwart peak performance ... in the restaurant ... and on the flight deck. (As I write, The Wall Street Journal features a piece attributing Southwest Airlines incredible safety record to management's allowing SWA pilots lots more discretion than other airlines. Upshot: SWA pilots are engaged! Upshot: A spotless, nearly three-decade safety record.)
Passion - engagement - rules! (Believe it.)
31. PASSION REDUX REDUX. WOW! I SURPRISED MYSELF. (Stunned myself, is more like it.) I was on a BBC TV religion show a coupla years ago. The likes of Bishop Tutu had been on previous segments. I WAS TIRED. (Tired = Primitive response = Truth??) "What gives you your obvious fire?" the interviewer asked. I blurted out: ROBERT STRANGE McNAMARA.
MY [PROFESSIONAL] LIFE STANDS AS COUNTERPOINT TO THE BLOODLESS, DISPASSIONATE ANALYTIC APPROACH TO PRIVATE AND PUBLIC ENTERPRISE THAT McNAMARA EPITOMIZED. No baloney: I felt a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders when I said it.
"We" needed a modicum (or more) of organization at Ford (and in the Army Air Corps) when McNamara arrived. Just as we needed - desperately - Frederick Taylor 60 years earlier. But ... NO SURPRISE TO FOLLOWERS OF HUMAN AFFAIRS ... we overdid it. GROTESQUELY. We proudly drained the passion from enterprise. (Thank you Fred Taylor, Peter Drucker and J.K. Galbraith ... the Man Who Never Got Anything Right.) I love Warren. And Karl. And Charles. But my pick as Management Book of the Last Twenty-five Years is Henry Mintzberg's magisterial The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning. SO THOROUGH. SO DAMNING. SO FINAL. (Karl, I've re-read it as frequently as the first ed. of The Social Psychology of Organizing. Hope you won't be offended.)
Yes, in the end, I'm motivated to stay around. To still be writing when McNamara dies. TO QUASH DIS-PASSION!
32. PASSION REDUX REDUX. REDUX. I WANNA BE A PLAYER! The thought of having been around during this incredible-wonderful-awful time ... and not having "participated" ... is too much to contemplate. Period. In my so-called "trademark presentations," I (obviously) have a Final Slide. The honors go to Emile Zola:
If you ask me what I have come to do in this world, I who am an artist, I will reply, I am here to live my life out loud.
33. What I really want to know ... age 57: WHY I CAN'T TAKE A DAY ... A SINGLE DAY ... "OFF"? (Please explain.)
* * * * *
BOTTOM LINE: "Staying power"/"staying on top of one's game," "lessons" associated therewith:
Lack of alternatives!
Perpetual amusement (with the vagaries of life)!
An unfair genetically inherited MEG (Major Energy Gene)!
Anger (base) at dumb "stuff"! AND: an accompanying, abiding need to please!
A cause! (E.g.: unseat the Bloodless McNamara Doctrine)
Discomfort with (HORROR AT) prior efforts!
Before blogging became all the rage, Tom was posting book reviews and Observations (essentially early blog posts) to this site. You can find the archives below.