Archives: November 2009

Recession Thoughts: 44 Strategies

Tom's frequently asked to provide strategies for surviving and thriving in a great recession. He shares his suggestions in a new video from The Little BIG Things video series. You can find the video on the top of the right column here on the front page of, or by clicking here. The transcript is available as a pdf. If you'd like to see previously posted videos in the series, be sure to visit our Video page (direct link to TLBT video series).

One More Time.
Economics = Psychology.

Time (1130.09) devotes a column to financial market forecasting, in particular to the wisdom of Robert Prechter. Prechter is a man after my own heart. Psychology and sociology rather than "efficiencies" drive the market: "Prechter argues," says Time, "that standard economic models of financial markets depict prices as reflections ... of true value." But Prechter believes that "waves of social mood are the driving factor" of prices.

All I can add is: Amen!
Maybe even: Duh!

Hmmmm …

There's no "Jack Welch" these days. No one heralded as God-among-CEOs. Partially, I'm sure, because business has a low lower lowest rep during the mega-recession. Jack was a byproduct of good times; the market mostly went up during his 20 years at the helm of GE.

But if there were to be a Jack Welch today ...

I'd consider voting for, or definitely would vote for, even ahead of Steve Jobs ... Cisco's John Chambers. He evaded the dot com IT bust. He's re-tooled his now very big company on several occasions. He's coming out of the recession aggressively. Etc. Etc.*

Funny, but I seldom see him singled out ...

(*And what's not to like about a Silicon Valley guy always caught by the camera wearing a super-sober suit?)

Some Unadulterated Good News for Americans!
Market Share That Matters!

Little is more important to America's long-term future than its true #1 "service industry"—research universities. There are rankings and rankings and rankings, and some are confusing as hell. Among the top 50, various polls give us, roughly, between 50% and 70%. (Add in the Europeans and Canada and the number is consistently at or above 90%.) In one poll, raw # of scientific papers, American universities took the top 24 slots. Given budget woes affecting the likes of the University of California, all of whose campuses are usually in the top 100, the situation is always precarious.

Thanksgiving 2009

In yesterday's post I offered up the epigraph from my forthcoming book, and my delight therewith. Namely:

"Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart."—Henry Clay

It strikes me that Mr. Clay's remark also works particularly well for a Thanksgiving post in the midst of, for many, a very tough year.

When I got back from my Angola-Saudi Arabia-Dubai-Ecuador-India-Etc. marathon, I tweeted about the fact that my greatest thrill (yes, thrill) was the Unmitigated Joy of the Ordinary: doing my laundry, chatting with neighbors at nearby Mach's Market, working through Susan's T'giving shopping list, and, yes, washing the dinner dishes (I don't use the dishwasher—I like the therapeutic part of hand washing).

I am not soft-peddling the loss of a job or a major reduction in hours or the like. Nonetheless, what we pretty much all do have is the opportunity to be thoughtful to others—to offer up "courtesies of a small and trivial character."

Add these kindred quotes to the "keeper" list:

"I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble."—Helen Keller

"We do no great things, only small things with great love."—Mother Teresa

So how about dedicating Thanksgiving 2009 to purposefully Practicing Courtesies of a Small and Trivial Character?

(I started out this Wednesday by sending "Happy Thanksgiving" emails of no more than a few lines in length to about 80 or 90 people.) (As usual, the responses are pretty amazing—so much so that it almost makes the drill feel self-serving.) (Speaking of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I just read that the pilgrim fathers and mothers preceded Thanksgiving by a fast day. I think that is a marvelous idea. Alas, I read the article after breakfast on Wednesday. But next year ...)

At any rate, Happy Thanksgiving. And, as always, my deepest gratitude to our soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines away from home, and in many cases in harm's way, on this November 26th.

The "Eight Courtesies"

The toughest part of writing a new book is choosing the epigraph—a dozen words penned by someone else that perfectly encapsulate what one has been up to for the prior five years. Well, I am entirely happy, even ecstatic, about the epigraph to The Little BIG Things*:

Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart.—Henry Clay

In fact, I'm now making what I call "The 'Eight Courtesies'" the centerpiece of my presentations. Below you'll find the List of Eight. Also, I have included a fully annotated version of The Eight Courtesies PowerPoint. (And a shorter version, from shorter presentations, The Five Courtesies PowerPoint.)

The "Eight Courtesies"

  1. Stay in touch. (MBWA.)
  2. Invest in relationships. (Make friends. Obsess.)
  3. Listen. (Respect. Learn. Student. PROFESSIONAL. Sustainable Competitive Advantage #1)
  4. Ask. (Engage. Inspire. Consult. React.)
  5. Thank. (Appreciate. Acknowledge.)
  6. Network. ("Suck down." C(I)>C(E).)
  7. Apologize. (Unequivocal. Rectify. Over-react. Forgive.)
  8. Practice thoughtfulness. (Kindness is free. This is ... STRATEGIC.)

The "Five Courtesies"

  1. Listen. (Respect. Learn. Student. PROFESSIONAL. Sustainable Competitive Advantage #1.)
  2. Ask. (Engage. Inspire. Consult. React.)
  3. Thank. (Appreciate. Acknowledge.)
  4. Apologize. (Unequivocal. Rectify. Over-react. Forgive.)
  5. Practice thoughtfulness. (Kindness is free. This is ... STRATEGIC.)

[*Tom's new book, The Little BIG Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence, is to appear in early 2010.—CM]

The Mess Will Save Us.

We tend to think of the jobs economy in terms of jobs lost at the likes of GM and jobs added at the likes of Google. And thinking in such a manner is misleading, and downright dangerous.

The fact is that the American economy in particular is an economy of churn—always adding and subtracting jobs at an incredible rate. Forbes (16 November) presents some stunning statistics:

Between September 2008 and September 2009 we lost about 6 million jobs. That's a crushing blow no matter how you look at it. But if you think that the likes of propping up staggering giants such as GM is the answer, think again.

Question: How do you (we!) arrive at a loss of 6 million jobs?

We added—yes, I said ADDED—51 million jobs.
And we lost 57 million jobs.

That is, bizarre as it may seem, in the space of a year there was a churn of over ONE HUNDRED MILLION jobs. (Micro-tizing the math, we didn't "lose a job"—on average, we created 8 jobs and lost 9 jobs for a net of minus 1—and repeated that musical chairs drill enough times to end up 6 million in the hole.)

And this is how it always goes, though typically, thank God, the pluses exceed the minuses.

While the above offers not a smidgeon of relief to jobless Jane or Joe next door, there is long-term good news imbedded in these stats. We are not in fact dependent on a jobs recovery at GM or Chrysler to get us back on our feet. We are dependent, over the long haul, on an out-of-work employee starting a Web-based business and through valiant effort creating three new jobs in the next 18 months. We are dependent on a nervy local electronics dealer stealing a page from Best Buy, and adding his own 3-person "Geek Squad." Etc. Etc.

The message of long-term relative American economic effectiveness is churn, or the "gales of creative destruction" as the economist Joseph Schumpeter put it. Put simply, we "do" churn, painful though the constant dislocations may be, better than anybody else—i.e., our labor markets are the least sticky outside the likes of India or China. I lived with astoundingly productive mega-churn for over three decades in Silicon Valley. It isn't pretty—but over the long haul it works, and works a helluva lot better than government-based bets on particular big companies.

There is a four-letter word for depending on big companies and incentives aimed at big companies to pull our irons out of the fire. Namely ... dumb.

(NB: I apparently coined the term "Brand You." And my pal and our Cool Friend Dan Pink gave us "Free Agent Nation." Never have these ideas been of such profound importance. The issue of Forbes cited above refers to a 2006 Government Accountability Office study that estimates that, hold onto your hat, 30 percent of all U.S. workers are free-lancers or part-timers who are not pocketed into any of the Bureau of Labor Statistics worker stats categories. Unreported annual income from the "informal" economy may be as high as $2.3 TRILLION.)

How Dare You!

Writing in the 23 November issue of Fortune, Geoff Colvin let slip a phrase that made me physically ill. Namely, "in the waning days of this recession ..."

How dare you!

Yes, it does look like Goldman's bonuses, and those of many or most of their I-bank pals, will rebound—perhaps to more than 100% of the pre-catastrophe levels. And, given their vaccination queue-jumping, we can expect that the Goldmanites will not have to miss Turkey Day because of the distraction of fever or swine flu aches and pains.

But there are "a few," perhaps unaware of the recession's "waning days," who, along with their families, are not approaching the holiday season with unmitigated self-satisfaction at the gains made since Turkey Day 2008.

Unemployment stats are awful.
And they will surely get worse.
The "jobs recovery" will doubtless take five years—or more.

Underemployment is widespread literally beyond measure.
There are hours cutbacks, in many or most cases severe.
And pay grade reductions.
And employment temporarily saved by accepting slots three or four steps down the ladder.

Expectations have been truncated.
Pensions have been severed, sometimes months from planned retirement.
House payments are in arrears.
Foreclosures still loom by the million.
Home equity, the mainstay of the American nest-egg, has evaporated, and will not fully rebound even in the next eight or ten years.

And on.
And on.
(And on.)

I agree that it appears that the crisis of potential total-system meltdown that loomed at the edge of Thanksgiving Week 2008 seems to have been evaded. And I, while clipping a clothespin to the end of my nose, was among those who saw the massive financial sector bailouts as an absolute necessity. In fact, overall, and despite the horrifying deficit run up, I believe that the policy makers deserve a solid "B" grade for efforts during the last 13 months.

Nonetheless, millions upon millions upon more millions of my fellow Americans will approach Thanksgiving and Christmas not only traumatized, but with little light at the end of the tunnel.

I wish them well.
And I offer them my humble prayers.

They surely do not need or deserve a self-appointed grandee at Fortune gleefully pontificating about the return of business as usual following our little rough patch.

How dare you, Mr. Colvin!

Tom Peters posted this on November 23, 2009, in News.
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Leadership as a Sacred Trust

In the latest installment of The Little BIG Things video series, Tom describes leadership as a sacred trust. He says that the decision to lead is the decision to be responsible for the growth and development of your fellow human beings. You can find the video on the top of the right column here on the front page of, or by clicking here. If you'd like to see previously posted videos in the series, be sure to visit our Video page (direct link to TLBT video series).

My Heart (and Body) Are in San Francisco, God's Gift to City-hood!

I spoke at an Inc. magazine event last night in San Francisco, commemorating the winner of an entrepreneur-to-be contest with a hearty financial prize. Incidentally, in the name of Chinese ubiquity, much on our minds these days, the event is sponsored by the powerhouse Chinese B2B outfit—Alibaba.

In preparing, I put together a list of ten key factors that I believe characterize entrepreneurial excellence ...

Entrepreneurial Excellence TEN

  1. "Insane" Passion for and commitment to the idea.
  2. Can explain the idea in Simple English and Excite others about its Uniqueness in ONE MINUTE (or less).
  3. Good Accountant/"Wise-man (-woman)"/50-50 Partner.
  4. Devotee of the Experimental Method ("Try it. Now.")/Master of "Plan B"/Relentless/Resilient.
  5. Patience in Hiring/"Great Place to Work" from the get-go.
  6. "d"iversity/M-F balance.
  7. Exude Decency-Character-Integrity.
  8. Playfulness/Fun.
  9. Sweat the details (Execution = Strategy).
  10. EXCELLENCE. Period.

[For the PPT slides, you can use this link.]