Archives: December 2006

Good Friday 1978.
October 1982.
January 1, 2007.

In Search of Excellence birthday cake

I had to look it up! British management writer Stuart Crainer wrote, in 1999, The 75 Greatest Management Decisions Ever Made. E.g., in the "Marketing Magic" chapter there is the tale of Richard Sears' decision in 1891 to put all his products into a catalog. (Sixty-five percent of Americans still lived in the sticks—and the catalog grew from 32 pages in 1891 to 532 in 1895.) But "Great Decision #45" was the one I was looking for: "In April 1978 McKinsey's John Larson decided to ask colleague Tom Peters to step in at the last minute to make a presentation on some research he'd done. The presentation led to In Search of Excellence."

Apparently (per Crainer) the presentation, to Dart Corporation (Dart Drugs, Tupperware, etc.) in L.A., was made on Good Friday 1978. I do remember that I had less than 24 hours to get my act together; Larson, who ran McK's S.F. Office and was no particular fan, suffered a computer crash that destroyed the mother lode of data he'd intended to present—so he decided to hold onto the meeting, but offer me up as a questionable sub for his all-star data jocks. I remember rather clearly that I hadn't a clue as to what to call my hastily assembled "findings." Somehow the word "Excellence," all by its lonesome (no date, no nothing), ended up on the cover. I wasn't moved by it, and frankly the presentation was no award winner—but I recall a surprisingly intense discussion bubbled up around the meaning of the word "excellence" in business. I guess that was a tip-off—though only much later did I realize it; in general, just putting "the word" on a screen (via transparencies in those ancient PPP/Pre-PowerPoint days) triggered a robust exchange.

To make a long story painlessly short, 4.5 years later Harper & Row shoved In Search of Excellence onto bookstore shelves—mid-October 1982. And the rest is ... whatever.

Advanced math suggests that when the clock strikes midnight 2 days from now, we'll be entering ISOE+25, the quarter-century anniversary year of the book's arrival.

I'm psyched! That I'm still around. (I was 23 days short of my 40th birthday on Search's pub date.) That I still get semi-annual royalty checks from Search. (Not that many books are on the active duty shelves 25 years post initial appearance—the non-virtual shelves, not just the Amazon-Long Tail virtual "shelves.") And that, as I see it, the message—the power of Excellence per se, the word, the idea, the images—is as potent, if not more so, in 2007 as it was in 1982.

I'm psyched because I plan to join with colleagues from here, there and everywhere—starting now with our Blog Community—to celebrate & re-commit to the Idea of Excellence in our lives and in our organizations.

Excellence25. The Search continues ...

[Cake acquisition & photo by Erik Hansen; bakery name to come.]
[Addendum 01.02.07: The bakery is Party Favors on Beacon Street in Brookline, MA. Our thanks to them! And Happy New Year, everybody.—CM]

Tom's Notable Books 2006

"Notable Books 2006" invariably means books published in 2006. Well, the hell with that. Probably 60% or more of my "turn on" books in a given year come from previous years or are galleys for the coming year—I just happen to catch them (more accurately, they catch me) in that year. Hence Notable Books that I have first read in 2006 (furthermore, in no particular order):

Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, 2007—available now (must read #1, 2007—period)

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, Marc Levinson, 2006 (messy innovation)

Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, Kay Redfield Jamison, 1993 (creatives are often freaky—and always necessary)

The Lovemarks Effect: Winning in the Consumer Revolution, Kevin Roberts, 2006 (think "passion-added revolution"—from the master)

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, Brian Wansink, 2006 (health, plus the power of managed behavior change)

Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins: The Paradox of Innovation, Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes, 2002 (wonderful—still an "oddball idea" for some reason)

The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress, Virginia Postrel, 1999, (messy road to progress)

FOOLED BY RANDOMNESS: THE HIDDEN ROLE OF CHANCE IN LIFE AND IN THE MARKETS, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, 2005 (this will be on the list every year—chance and life; don't "read it," ingest it)

The Richness of Life: The Essential Stephen Jay Gould, collected by Steven Rose, 2006 (good for the mind, good for the soul, thinking about life as it really works—SJG always enriches me directly and indirectly)

Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, Daniel Goleman, 2006 (Goleman is back, EQ et al. is all by many measures)

Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, 2002 (EXECUTION!!!—THE "BIBLE")

PrimeTime Women: How to Win the Hearts, Minds, and Business of Boomer Big Spenders, Marti Barletta, 2007—available (Duh! When will "they "get it"??)

50+: Igniting a Revolution to Reinvent America, Bill Novelli, 2006 (best yet on the all-powerful, wildly expanding Boomer-Geezer tsunami)

Grant, Jean Edward Smith, 2001 (U.S. Grant made my year—"a bias for action," Mr Execution)

Grant, John Mosier, 2006

Personal Memoirs: Ulysses S. Grant, U.S. Grant (they still read this at West Point)

Free Your Breath, Free Your Life, Dennis Lewis, 2004 (another perennial)

14 April 2006/ Novosibirsk/Siberia

Tom on stage in Siberia

"It came in a flash." "It arrived from the recesses of my mind." I hate language like that!

But it's more or less true.

I was in—yes—Siberia. For an all-day seminar. It was, simply, odd to be there. Orlando is not odd. Istanbul is not odd. Riyadh is not odd. Novosibirsk is odd. (Odd = Totally new experience.)

As I said recently, I didn't want to do "one more speech"—actually, I never do, but this time was different. And, as I sat in my hotel room, "excellence seeped into my consciousness" (well, it did) for the first time in years.

And there on my cover slide appeared:

EXCELLENCE.
ALWAYS.

And the ground shifted perceptibly. Every speech since (about 50 this year), though unique in its own fashion, has been titled: EXCELLENCE. ALWAYS.

It's been a blast. It is a very cool word:

Synonyms:

Purity.
Transcendence.
Virtue.
Elegance.
Majesty.

Antonyms:

Mediocrity.

And the imagery it conjures up: Old Ben Franklin in Paris. Nelson at Trafalgar. Newton being bonked by the apple. (Okay, that one's not true; neither is the cherry tree decapitation—but the images work anyway.) The Grand Canyon. Grey Meadow Farm/Tinmouth/VT. Hillary at the top of Mount Everest. (No, not Ms Clinton.) Callas in full voice. Churchill at the radio mike. An Apple II, circa 1981. An iPod, circa 2006.

And as Waterman and I said almost 25 years ago: In enterprise! In a career!

Excellence.
What a word.
What an Aspiration.

Welcome back. And thanks, my friends in Novosibirsk.

Department of Amplifications

#1. Re Generals. Many interpretations of my recent Post about the talent and pay of Generals have appeared in Comments. Hooray! Let me speak a bit more clearly about my implicit message that was perhaps too implicit:

I think 4-star generals have a much tougher job than the average CEO, in fact harder than most any CEO's job. They deal daily with the politics of the White House and 535 Members of Congress; and other services and defense contractors; and the other headstrong generals in their command—etc, etc, etc. (None of these people—from Private to President do what she or he is told upon being ordered to do so. CEOs' ability to give orders and expect them to be obeyed is, in my experience, higher than that of the average general.) (And Congress treats generals like fans do football coaches—every Congressperson is a military expert, in his or her own mind, who knows the 4-star general's business better than the general.)

On a daily basis, 4-star generals must oversee issues of readiness that affect the lives or deaths of thousands or tens of thousands of soldiers—not to mention the safety and very future of the United States of America. (Sorry, it ain't the same when P&G boss A.G. Lafley is considering whether or not to approve a color change—heaven forbid—in the Tide box.) Four-star generals also may have to make quick decisions that could lead to the life or death of thousands of soldiers; and in response to an act of WMD terrorism, perhaps hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Despite these incredible challenges, we get, in my experience, with amazing consistency, enormously talented and thoughtful people holding these top military jobs. That is to say that the "supply" of exceptionally talented people in these positions of incredible power and significance is not dependent on the amount they are paid. In private CEO land, we are led to believe that only bozos would be leading companies if we were unwilling to fork over immense sums of money; I think that's mostly ego as one boss compares his pay packet to his 499 Fortune 500 peers'. I likewise take delight in the relatively low ratio of top boss to corporal pay in the military—seems to work for them.

I am a vociferous champion of the Laws of Market Forces. And no particular enemy of high CEO pay. On the other hand, I think it is a lot less related to "supply and demand for extraordinary talent" than these corporate chieftains would admit. (Please feel free to discount all this—remember I am Commander in Chief of the cadre of thinkers who believe that "luck is the last 99%" in the making of great leaders—or management gurus; and ego and luck are the "99.9% factor" in the eclipse of said "great men"—usually men, of course.)

#2. Turkeys. My emphasis was on the word per se—and the implied valuation of one's fellows. Of course there are people who are misfits from the start who evaded the selection process. And of course there are those who cannot grow with the job. Etc. Etc. And etc. But I object—passionately—to the labeling of any one other than the likes of terrorists or serial murderers as "turkeys." I don't mean to play the "religion card"—I'm not very formally religious—but I am Jeffersonian in my belief that "all men are created equal" (while fully acknowledging the "slave oversight" and the "women oversight"). Thence, calling a total misfit of an employee a "turkey" is offensive and inexcusable to me—and revelatory of the speaker.

A Consummated Love Story

Okay. Okay. It's old hat. Antediluvian even. But at the end of 2006 I once again salute Google. Above I wrote "all men are created equal." I felt confident in my wording, but only 99.4% confident. (And understood the dire consequences of screwing up.) So, of course, I went to Google. And there before my eyes appeared, sans reindeer: "Results 1 - 10 of about 802,000 for 'all men are created equal.'" As usual I "hung around" for about 15 minutes chasing various strands—after I'd gotten my confirmation.

I do love that. Thanks, Googlers one and all.

Lucky Fella!

The air travel wearies. The hotel room same-same deadens the soul. The "nights away" add up and up. But ...

Call it self-indulgent if you must. But as a small gift to myself I just went through my entire 226-slide deck of photos at Flickr.

What a lucky fella!

Siberia.
Mauritius.
Dubai.
Oman.
Rome at Easter.
Istanbul.
Sweden.
London.
Paris.
Bucharest/Romania.
Amsterdam.
Barcelona.
Madrid & Madrid & Madrid.
Seoul.
Kuala Lumpur.
Bangkok.
Gabarone/Botswana.
J'burg.
Brazil.
Mexico.
Adelaide.
Etc.
Etc.

And L.A. and Mackinac Island and Maine and Atlanta and Wichita and ...
And Orlando & Orlando & Las Vegas & Las Vegas ...

Packed into 12 months, 33 of 65 events outside the U.S., a lifetime's worth of experiences and new friends and opportunities to spread the word about startling new ways to work and serve and shape a "career" worth savoring.

Yup, one lucky fella!

Wow!

Book cover, the Federalist papers, 1818 edition

I gave Susan a MacBook Pro15 for Christmas—and was pretty damned proud of myself. (I plan to RTM—return to Mac—in 2007.) But she left me in tears, as she turned back the clock to about 180 B.M. (180 years Before Mac.) Yep, I wept when I unwrapped a mint condition 1818 edition of The Federalist—see photo above. (The 1818 was an original—that is, the original original plus current-to-1818 addenda from James Madison et a few.)

The period from the end of the Revolutionary War through about 1815 or so is my hobby. The end of the war was the beginning of an intense and at times acrimonious effort to define human governance in a totally original way.

I love the period as a very amateur historian; but I also love it because this struggle for appropriate organizational models has been my professional preoccupation for over 30 years.

(Obviously this has ramifications for Iraq. The Battle of Baghdad was over in a flash; the effort to achieve stable and equitable governance thus began—and it's been the tough nut to crack. In fact, obviously, the nut has not been cracked—and may not/probably will not be cracked.)

Thanks, Mr Ford!

In 1973–1974 I worked in the Nixon White House on drug abuse treatment and drug interdiction policy. I left on August 1, 1974, Mr Nixon about a week later. (We both went to California.) I hate to say something like this, it's so pretentious, but in a way only those of us who were there at the implosion may know how it felt from the inside. All of which is to say that the administration of the oath of office to Gerald Ford was a very momentous occasion. The Republic was wobbly. Ford doubtless had his faults, but he restored calm in almost a flash with his demeanor. (Anyone remember the picture of him in the White House kitchen toasting his own toast?) Hence, I will miss him. I met him only once, when we were both speaking in San Jose. Our conversation lasted but a couple of minutes, but his graciousness and lack of pretense shone through. Ford was tough when he needed to be tough, to be sure—it goes with the turf. But it is his decency that I shall fondly remember.

Home for the Holidays: The Sweetest Two Words

Laundry owner: "When do you need this?"

Tom: "No rush."

Less S.A.D.

Sunrise in Vermont

"It" is happening! Again! For us Northern Hemisphere denizens coiled in our various corners ... the Sun fell to its knees, gasped, twitched, and began to Arise at 0022AM GMT 22 December (Universal Time), 722PM EST 21 December, 422PM PST 21 December. One micrometer at a burst ... Darkness is being Vanquished. Congratulations S.A.D.ies for having survived another one! Susan and I tipped a glass and listened to the Beatles melodiously declare that "here comes the sun" and "things are getting better all the time"!

Photo above: Sunrise in Vermont, as the days grow longer.