Archives: August 2007

The Decent Thing to Do Is the Smart Thing to Do


Going back 25 years to 1982 and In Search of Excellence, Bob Waterman and I were simply interested in what made for excellent corporate performance. We didn't have much in the way of pre-conceived notions. Delightfully, our research showed that some very human "basics"—doing rather than talking, focusing on the growth and wellbeing of our people and our customers, and being clear about "what we care about around here"—were the apparent bedrock of superior performance. Five years on, my Thriving on Chaos snuck into print. Needless to say I was pleased when Hoover Institute reviewer Paul Weaver wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "Mr Peters is an enthusiast, a storyteller and a lover of capitalism. He is saying [in Thriving on Chaos] that effective management is management that delivers more value to customers and more opportunity for service, creativity and growth to workers. He is saying that the decent thing to do is also the smart thing. It's a wonderful message."

Immersed in a somewhat leisurely summer, and on the verge of the 25th birthday of Search, I have been thinking about what the good or bad or indifferent practice of management is all about. Notwithstanding the very real threat posed by nihilistic terrorists, I do believe that entrepreneurial capitalism is the strongest force possible for unleashing human potential and perhaps a relatively peaceable kingdom—from Tinmouth Vermont to Dubai to Nairobi. And, by and large, successful entrepreneurial capitalism depends upon the effective practice of management. And if you believe Paul Weaver—"Effective management is management that delivers more value to customers and more opportunity for service, creativity and growth to workers. ... The decent thing to do is also the smart thing"—effective management is humanistic management. With such grand "stuff" circling in my brain, I composed a rambling piece that you'll find here. It is no more than a halting effort to answer, "What's it all about, Alfie?"

Long Time Coming!

I've had a "just around the corner" project just around the corner for literally years. Namely, a non-trivial Annotation of my Master Slide Presentation. At a dinner last weekend, I got into a discussion with a woman financial services exec, and we turned to the sorry (still!) state of women in senior management in financial services. I offered to send her "a few good quotes" via the women-boomers-geezers-"new" markets Section of the Master. Deciding I wanted it to be useful without me on a stage, I spent most of the last 2 days annotating. I'd call it Lite+ annotation. In any case, it at least explains the obscure #s and the like that dot the presentation. I have no idea whether or not I'll annotate the rest, but this is a start. Please tell me your reaction—i.e., does it help?

Brand You50 Revisited

Cody McKibben, who blogs at, has written a review of Tom's Brand You50. But more importantly, for those of you who prefer a Cliff's Notes summary, he's created his own shorthand version. Thanks, Cody.

All in a Day’s Work

For those of us who spend our days at or Tom Peters Company, a sentence like this jumps off the page: "He believes he always needs to reinvent himself, which is why he developed a cut fastball to go along with his high heat, split-fingered pitch ..." I found it in this article about Jonathan Papelbon, where he describes his new pitch ... the slutter.

Then I realized that it shouldn't come as a surprise that a professional athlete lives with reinvention on his mind and in his repertoire. Any day could bring a trade, an injury, a slump. And, at the end of their careers—the ultimate reinvention. Sometime after the age of thirty(?), forty(?), fifty if they're extremely lucky, they all must re-imagine themselves. And Tom's message, for years, has been that the rest of us have to look at our careers the same way. Are your Brand You skills and reputation polished to the point where you could replace your livelihood overnight?

Patient Safety as Job One

Good for Medicare! It will stop covering claims that stem from preventable errors. [NYT, 19 Aug 2007]

Hospital administrators are screaming about more paperwork snarls. I agree. Paperwork will get worse. Definitions are mushy. Cheating—attributing adverse outcomes to nonpreventable causes—will take place. Willingness to admit errors will decline, even plummet.

While I acknowledge the problems associated with the new regime, and even acknowledge the severity of said problems, I can only say to my hospital administrator friends, "You asked for it!" Medicare is using a blunt weapon out of frustration. Hospitals are, in my experience, now focusing on preventable errors, no doubt of it. But there is an enormous gap between "focusing on" and becoming "fully devoted to." That is, there are now numerous patient safety "programs"—but few on the order, say, of American industry's 179-degree about face-strategic realignment on product quality in the 1980s. There is little doubt that we lose far more lives to preventable errors (like those that stem from the failure to wash hands carefully!) than we save via sexy new surgical procedures. I once told a group of hospital CIOs that implementing electronic medical records would allow them to save more lives than the entire surgery department—perhaps that's an exaggeration, but not by much.

So I pray on bended knee, especially as an "old guy," that such blunt instruments as the new Medicare policy will encourage, at gunpoint if necessary, hospital administrators to move patient safety off the "important programs" list and instead to the top of the "strategic survival right f***ing now" issues list—and keep it there until the problem is brought under control. Remember, the definition of "preventable" is "preventable"—and the bulk of the fix is not cost intensive. Recall how "quality is free" went from consultants' gag line to Holy Writ in industry—and turned out to be true.

Chinese Hegemony?

Economist and former MIT biz school dean Lester Thurow has been wrong about a bunch of things per my assessment. Nonetheless, he is smart and undoubtedly worth reading. And in yesterday's New York Times Week in Review section he offered a fascinating hypothesis in "A Chinese Century? Maybe It's the Next One." Thurow argues clearly, without resort to economist double-speak, that Chinese productivity figures are probably wildly overstated. The point is not to dismiss China's amazing progress, but to suggest that we not base micro- or macro-economic policy or security policy, especially in the short term, on the idea that China will eat our (American, European, Japanese) lunch economically, and thence geopolitically, in the next couple of decades. Thurow does not offer the "China will make mistakes" scenario, but instead says that even if China does not make mistakes, it'll probably be 100 years, or even more, before they "catch up" with the likes of us Americans.

Dismissing China's progress would be a disaster. Wildly overstating China's "inevitable march to Global Hegemony" would also be a disaster. Thurow may be wrong, but his argument is worth absorbing in some detail.

WWI, or Web War One

The September issue of Wired is, as usual, chockablock with SWR—stuff worth reading. I was "taken" (mesmerized!) by "WWI," the story of last May's full-fledged cyberattack ("botnet attack") on Estonia, the most wired country in Europe. Among the savvy members of this Blog community, perhaps I'm the last to know the story—but the "imbedded journalist" (more or less) tale of the attack, a true attack on national sovereignty orchestrated by the Estonians moving a WWII Russian war memorial, was stunning in both the details and the implications thereof.

If you buy the journalists' story—and I can't see why one wouldn't—this was indeed WWI, and we are woefully unprepared, and in fact uninterested in being prepared on an appropriate scale, for what will doubtless be a Dark Black Swan in our collective futures, tomorrow at dawn or a decade from now. The results of said failure to prepare on an appropriate (BIG!) scale could be calamitous.

Sad to say, the lack of attentiveness to the cyberassault problem, like the ineffectualness of many of our anti-terrorist measures, heats up the "survivalist" in me—which ain't so pretty.

Slides: ESPN

Tom spoke on Wednesday to on-air talent at ESPN's homeport of Bristol, CT. Storms and testy telecoms connections delayed our posting of his ESPN slides. But they are now available with this link.

Football: Failing Forward Fast

We all know Tom is a die-hard San Francisco 49ers football fan. (Yes, American football.) But in this article from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in which he is asked his opinion about a pre-season game, Tom likes what he hears about the new coach of the Miami Dolphins and his attitude toward young players and failing the first time out.

"My Summer Vacation"

As you know, I haven't been Posting a lot in the last few weeks. True, I've had seminars in Kenya and Brazil, but my calendar is mainly filled with blanks.

My craft this summer has been brush-cutting and landscaping. I've been putting in about 6 hours a day at it—each session ends when exhaustion makes it end. Typically, I do one in the morning around 7:30 a.m., and one in late afternoon, around 4 p.m. I religiously avoid the midday sun.

Yes, I love Posting and love seminar-ing. But I can honestly say that this has given me more pleasure than anything in recent, or not so recent, memory.

First, there is one helluva lot to say for doing outdoor work in the sun, hour after hour, to that point of exhaustion. This may be particularly true for those of us who spend most of our lives parked at a keyboard or parked in a conference chair or parked on a tarmac. Our primal bodies need this sort of thing! And while regular exercise is great, this is of a whole different character—this is really participating in the outdoor world, not just using it to tone heart muscles, important as that is. Second, this is a seriously cool project of my own design; doing heavy-duty yard (farm) work is one thing, and rewarding—but creating something that you dreamed up is a whole different deal. Third, every day brings surprises. Nothing beats surprises! (E.g., I didn't even know that wonderful boulder was there, as it was covered with brush! What a beauty!) This project started out as a simple effort to clean out a stream filled with debris from the forest in which it started—perhaps 20 years of debris. But the "work" meandered and grew day by day into this opportunity to create a fascinating, enchanting zen-like space that reveals a smidgen of the magnificence of this little piece of Southern Vermont heaven. I never know how the day is going to proceed—how sweet that is. Fourth, this project doesn't aim to impress a soul. At 64, I still have hundreds of stomach-knotting "final exams" every year—my 65 or so speeches where expectations are invariably ridiculously high and a "bad day at the office" is not an option, and the likes of the numerous Posts at this Blog (not every Post is a home run, or even a single, but every one is the creation and exposure of something that will be measured by an incredibly diverse crowd. I am "my own man," and somewhat known for my independence of thought—but there are always those external customers, up to 3 or 4 thousand at a speech, tens of thousands here at Each one is an examining magistrate. Well, there is one customer for this project—me. To be sure, Susan, the artist in the family and a first-rate gardener, offers suggestions, and we and various visitors will use, and perhaps appreciate, the space. But I firmly feel that I am doing this for the sheer joy of doing it, unbidden. Hall of Fame basketball player Larry Bird was once asked what he wanted his epitaph to be; surprisingly, he said that he wanted to have played as hard at practices where not a soul was in attendance as in Game 7 of a World Championship series. Nice.

So that's the deal. Why am I posting less? Because I'm out in the yard (on the farm) doin' my thing, and when I'm not in the yard I'm recovering from that work, and bandaging a thousand cuts from brambles (it looks like I stepped on a mine and barely survived, a friend said—no photos attached) and putting ice on twisted ankles and the like.