Archives: November 2007


The book Built to Last made popular the concept of the "BHAG"—the "Big Hairy Audacious Goal."

You know what the problem is with BHAGs? They're big and hairy.



I'm almost apologetic for posting—I'd love to leave Mike Neiss' "Embrace the Mess?" at the top for a long run. Still, here are a few tidbits ...

Mother Lode!

The Atlantic this month (12.07) is loaded with my favorite sort of analyses; namely, those that reveal counter-intuitive truths (or decent speculations, at any rate). Consider:

*SLUMS ARE GOOD. Today's burgeoning slums are the product of people pouring into the cities from the countryside—in pursuit of jobs. (In 2008, cities' population will surpass countryside population.) While eyesores and cause of appropriate concern, said cities are in fact the source of jobs, and overall poverty reduction is significantly attributable to the migration—burgeoning slums notwithstanding. The assertion is that no nation has grown wealthy since the start of the Industrial Revolution until the country-city migration was in full flower. ("Bright Lights, Big Cities," Matthew Quirk)

*HOME OWNERSHIP IS BAD. There are indeed enormous benefits to home ownership. But the big drawback, especially in times of economic revolution, is that home ownership measurably slows migration from where the jobs were to where the jobs are. ("Housebound," Clive Crook)

*WE HAVE TOO MANY DOCTORS. The supply of doctors to an area is significantly determined by the wealth and insurance coverage of the population. Hence there are more docs per capita in well-off areas—where, in fact, medical problems are less intense per capita. This also leads in particular to an excess of specialists—lots of docs prescribe lots of tests and make lots of referrals. As to the "bottom line," healthcare, per several sound measures, is no better in places with lotsa per capita docs than in places that are doc-deprived. It gets more interesting: The more specialists, the worse the outcomes. (More or less.) Specialists trip over one another, give conflicting advice, and are notoriously bad at cross-communication. More on specialists: The glamour and pay accorded to specialists comes at the price of less and less well-paid primary care docs—it is the vanishing primary care docs who are primarily responsible for good healthcare outcomes. Dr Elliott Fisher, Center for Evaluative Clinical Sciences at Dartmouth Medical School: "If we sent 30 percent of the doctors in this country to Africa, we might raise the level of health on both continents." ("Overdose," Shannon Brownlee)

*Less AID, more aid. "Scents & Sensibility," by Sarah Chayes, is the saga of helping Afghans successfully build a soap and body-oil business. It's also the umpteenth repeat of the story of how such "on the ground," practical, human-scale efforts are slowed or halted by the ham-handedness of USAID. [Web-only slideshow]

*THE LATE-BIRD STARTS THE CREATIVE ENTERPRISE. From "How You Sleep Is Who You Are" [not available online]: "Early risers prefer to gather knowledge from concrete information. They reach conclusions through logic and analysis. Night-owls are more imaginative and open to unconventional ideas, preferring the unknown and favoring intuitive leaps on their way to reaching conclusions." Morning people are more self-controlled, more formal, respect authority, and obsess on making a good impression. The late bunch are more independent and have less respect for authority. (Research source cited by the Atlantic: "Morning and Evening Types: Exploring Their Personality Styles," by Juan Francisco Diaz-Morales.) (TP note: Sounds like we need a night-owl CEO matched by an early-bird CFO.)

Ask 'em!

Don't remember where I was among the many stops during my just completed mega-trip. But I do remember the exchange, more or less. It went like this:

Exec: "But Tom, how do we find out what it is that people really want?"
Tom (after a long pause and a lot of thought—and I'm not kidding): "Ask 'em."

Listening Is an Act of Love book coverOf course I acknowledged that it's not so easy as that. If you are a close-to-the-vest sort, folks will wonder what your true agenda is—or what seminar you're just back from. So you'll just have to practice and be persistent. (And actually care about what you hear!) I recalled this little exchange when, last night at Georgetown's Barnes & Noble, I happened across Listening Is An Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project, by Dave Isay.

Isay, MacArthur Fellowship winner among many other things, started StoryCorps in 2003. Guiding principles are:

  • "Our stories—the stories of everyday people—are as interesting and important as the celebrity stories we are bombarded with ...
  • "If we take the time to listen, we'll find wisdom, wonder and poetry in the lives and stories of the people all around us.
  • "We all want to know our lives have mattered ...
  • "Listening is an act of love."

I probably bought the book because I randomly opened it at page 60, a 5-pager titled "Ken Kobus, 58, tells his friend Ron Baraff, 42, about making steel." It was wonderful, in the truest—filled with wonder—sense of that wonderful, if overused, word. (An equally compelling 2-pager on Samuel Black, a Cincinnati public school teacher, followed. Etc.)

I loved the stories—and truly loved the "Listening is an act of love" idea. To "get" the idea, I think you must truly ponder the meaning of "love" as used here. Listening is probably-doubtless the premier "act of love." True for the husband or wife or preacher or doctor*—and, I'd contend, equally true for the IS project leader heading a 6-person team. (*Docs are notoriously lousy listeners, but that's another day's comment.) In fact it seems to me that "listening is the ultimate leadership skill" ("listening with love"?) is an idea, and a practical idea at that, well worth pondering—and operationalizing.

As I say all this, I am of course mostly parroting Matthew Kelly, author of The Dream Manager and our recent Cool Friend. He contends that we are all driven by our dreams, and if leaders make a "strategic" commitment to discovering the dreams of their followers, and then provide opportunities to pursue those dreams (shape the organization's culture around the pursuit of those dreams), "organizational effectiveness" and "customer satisfaction" will vault to the top of the league tables.

So: the Six Big Words I take from the above are:


I'll say more later, but for now, write the Six Words on a 3X5 card, stick it in your pocket, read it before—and after—your next meeting or phone call or even email, and ponder it.

Lemme know if it makes sense-works.

Two More Recs

Per the topic just above, I've got two more reading recommendations. And you know I must be serious, because they are from the Harvard Business Review (12.07), not normally on my "Top 1000 Sources of Inspiration" list.

  • "The Four Truths of the Storyteller," by Peter Guber. ("The stories that move and captivate people are those that are true to the teller, the audience, the moment, and the mission.")
  • "Making Relationships Work," an interview with John Gottman. ("Good relationships aren't about 'clear communication'—they're about small moments of attachment and intimacy." PLEASE RE-READ THAT. NOW. BIG "DUH": IT'S AS IMPORTANT AT WORK AS IN MARRIAGE OR CHILD-REARING. It also reminds me of one of my favorite related quotes, from the great American statesman, Henry Clay: "Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart.")

Whoops! One More Recommendation

A Leader's Legacy book coverA Leader's Legacy by my good friends and colleagues Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner was in my enormous "welcome home pile" last week. As always with this dynamic duo, the research is sound, the ideas first-rate, and the stories (stories—remember?) fabulous. But what leaped out from the Contents page was this chapter title: "Leaders Should Want to Be Liked." Hooray! I have always thought the "You don't have to be liked, but you have to be respected" Macho Crap was just that—Crap! Moreover, dangerous crap. The Big Idea here ... ta-da ... is that we'll work harder for someone we like than someone we don't. Alas, it is indeed a "big idea." (K & P cite some very "tough" bosses in support of this topic.)

Embrace the Mess?

The New York Times Sunday editorial [11.25.07] on what's wrong with the health care system in the U.S. and how to fix it was thought provoking. The system is a mess—a rather complex mess at that. Contrary to what we'd believe from the simple sound-bite solutions the politicians are offering us, it is a problem that has to be addressed at many different levels of a mind-boggling maze. There seems to be a real reluctance to acknowledge this complexity.

It made me think of how many of my clients want to attack their business problems as if they were playing checkers, when in reality, their business is more like a three-dimensional chess game. Every move at the executive level has implications throughout the organization and, eventually, the marketplace. The impact of these moves can be subtle and often take a significant period of time before they surface. By then, the cause and effect relationship is often not recognized.

Many of the executives I deal with are linear thinkers.


Cool Friend: Vicki Donlan

New Cool Friend Vicki Donlan asked 1,000 women to name their obstacles to success. Her findings? Number one obstacle: themselves. Number two: the old boys network. Number three: inadequate family leave policies in the U.S. These issues and more are presented in Donlan's book, Her Turn: Why It's Time for Women to Lead in America. Erik discusses it with her for our Cool Friends interview here. Everyone can benefit from reading the interview and from her advice, because, as Donlan states, "The wage gap doesn't affect just women; it affects men. Today, in this country, both the woman and the man in a couple have to be working in order to put food on the table for their families. If women are not being paid fairly, then the men in their lives are not getting a fair shake, either."

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Tom Peters Company and For any of you who are new to the tradition, we'd like to point out a helpful video on showing how to carve a turkey. We hope you all have a wonderful holiday. Or, if it's not a holiday in your part of the world, then we hope you'll give thanks along with us.

Packing Will Be So Much Easier*

Tom has just reported to me that, immediately upon returning home, he ordered his Kindle from A "book" review will be forthcoming.

*If books he hasn't read yet are on offer.