Archives: January 2010

The Fortune Guy Is the One With the Problem

There's a Fortune article on a Goldman guy who quit. ("The Man Who Walked Away from Goldman Sachs," William Cohan, 0208.10.) The Goldman guy was worried about Goldman doing a header like Lehman. The Fortune guy wrote: ""If Goldman's stock went to zero as Lehman Brothers' had ... then Winkelried's decades of hard work would be vaporized in the blip of a Bloomberg screen."

What a horror. Namely, the fact that the Fortune guy could produce that sentence, presumably with no sense of irony.

Suppose my net worth was 100.000% wiped out this morning. I would be unhappy. Very unhappy.

But ...

But if my net worth went to zero, the value of my last several decades of work would be precisely the same, for good or for ill, as it had been before the net worth tanked.

That is, my net worth and the usefulness (if any) of my work are not related except indirectly.

I think finance is absolutely a centerpiece of our economic well-being. Hence I trust that Mr. Winkelried has done work of value to my country and the world in his decades at Goldman Sachs. I assume, in fact, that there should be a multiplier—that is, the economic usefulness of Mr. Winkelried's work is a multiple of his compensation; he's hopefully been a "net contributor" to our collective well-being.

So it's sad that the Fortune guy would only imagine valuing Mr. Winkelried in terms of his net worth—and thence assigning no societal economic value to Mr. Winkelried's decades of 20-hour days.

I know nothing about Mr. Winkelried. But I think the Fortune guy has a whopper of a problem.

(This Post is from the Auckland airport, as I await a flight to Nelson.)

Tom Peters posted this on January 28, 2010, in News.
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What is Excellence?

[Our guest blogger is Seth Godin, who needs no further introduction here. We'd like to thank him very much for this, his first post at]

Twenty-five years ago, my life (and yours, too, probably) was changed by Tom and Bob's book, In Search of Excellence. After that, on a regular basis, Tom has provided us with shots of brilliance and unsettling reminders that we've got a long way to go to reach our potential as organizations and individuals.

Along the way, there's a question that's been nibbled at but never really answered. I mean, I already know many of the 687 ways to create excellence and the imperatives of excellence, but what is it, really?

At first, organizations got excited about the formula: excellence = quality. If we can meet spec, regularly and on budget, we win.

But the quality mantra only takes you so far.

Take, for example, my water company. Are they excellent? Every time I turn on the tap, water comes out. The bills aren't outrageous. I never need to call them. Are they excellent? Or boring?

What about the local grocery or the other boring commodity providers in my life? By my definition, once you start providing a commodity that your customers treat as a commodity, you're no longer excellent.

Here's my take:

Excellence means that you're indispensable. At least right now, in this moment, there's no one else I would choose but you. You, the excellent one, are so surprising, so delightful, so over-the-top and, yes, so human that there really isn't anyone else I'd rather dance with.

The "in the moment" nature of excellence makes it a moving target. JetBlue was excellent, for a while, but then others started catching up and new management started slowing down. Suddenly, it wasn't a JetBlue flight any more, it was just a flight. Easy to switch to Virgin Atlantic or someone else.

Excellence isn't about meeting the spec, it's about setting the spec. It defines what the consumer sees as quality right this minute, and tomorrow, if you're good, you'll reset that expectation again.

The surefire way to achieve excellence, then, is not to create a written spec and match it. The surefire way is to be human. To be artistic: to make a connection with the customer and to somehow change them for the better. The reason Tom and I and others can continue to write about excellence twenty-five years later is that we're not writing about business at all. We're writing about people.

When the Ritz-Carlton hotel empowers every employee from chambermaid to manager to "make things right," they're not engaging in the sort of quality control most managers are comfortable with. In fact, if they were able to write down exactly what to do in every situation, the excellence factor would disappear. What the hotel accomplishes with its policy is this: they challenge their employees to become artists.

The art of connection, the art of being human, the art of making a difference. Artists do things that have never been done before. They dig deep to create passion. They connect by changing things for the better.

The economy has been better, and the economy has been worse. Through it all, the market seeks out, recognizes, and embraces artists, people we can't live without. That's our opportunity right now.

To be excellent means you must be an artist.

[See Seth Godin's new book, Linchpin. It's about art and gifts and connection and yes, excellence.]

What Matters Now, on Paper

We gave you a heads up when What Matters Now, the ebook that Seth Godin put together with the help of over 70 friends, became available. (You're welcome. How could we keep something that fantastic a secret?) Now you can order a paperback with all proceeds going to one of our favorite non-profits, Room to Read.

Solitary Confinement!

Last week Florence!
[See the small picture sample.]

This week doing taping for Audiobook version of coming Little BIG Things—8 a.m. to 5 p.m. shut in a vacuum—in a 6 foot by 6 foot room.






Brand You: Work on Your Writing

Tom reminds us that writing is a craft to be honed in the latest 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).

Mea Culpa

I was in Cannes this time last week, giving a speech to Adecco's top couple of hundred folks. I did not fall in love with Cannes (wretched excess too much, especially in these times). Uncharacteristically, I did "fall in love" with Adecco. (I don't normally allow myself to go more or less gaga over a client.) First, as Mr. Brand You, I do believe that "temping" (in many many formats) will be the way of the world for many more of us in the future than in the past—including for the Gray Tsunami. Forces at work include: Project-based organizations, especially those that need to integrate a shifting portfolio of skills; a Big Recession hangover that will continue to make companies skittish about adding FTEs and keep them obsessed with flexibility-adaptability; economic performance driven by the development and application of intellectual capital, the development of which tends to agglomerate in temporary ways. Adecco not only "gets this," but unlike many of its competitors seems truly committed to development of its "temps"—again, the latter plays into the hands of the "forces at work" enumerated above.

After Cannes, I made a six hour drive to Florence to join Susan for six days of "vacation." I put vacation in quotes, because if the home of the Renaissance doesn't get you thinking and refresh your mind in at least a quasi-professional way, I don't know what will. (To be sure, try as one might, one's thinking may be made a bit sluggish by the Constant Carb Assaults.)

I'm sure a passel of readers with art history degrees (surely we have at least one such reader, eh?) could do justice to the art and cathedrals—but not me. I was on a 6-day "shock & awe" junket, though it was hardly my first visit to Florence. "Shock & Awe"? Yes, it was simply and literally overwhelming; e.g., the magnificent Uffizi gallery, a solid candidate for "world's best." (I left it emotionally drained.)

But as the bankers were bashed at home last week, the story in 14th century Florence was also of bankers, in many cases offending sensibilities to the point that they were offed. Florence is home to the Renaissance and home to the de Medici's, who dominated the commercial sphere in a way that makes today's finance gang look lightweight—both in terms of influence and wretched excess. The de Medicis also commissioned much of the art, wonderful indeed, world-changing beyond a shadow of doubt—but, like today, much of it for their exclusive use. (They also more or less bought the Papacy upon occasion.) (NB: In the same vein, one of Bach's patrons had him imprisoned—another burned some of his music. Ah, the volatile moods of the super-rich!)

"All this" also made me think of globalization, which was also very much alive and very much in good health, save a bloody war here and there and there and here, during the Renaissance-de Medici epoch. Among other things, those thoughts led me to resurrect a marvelous quote from a 2008 article by Peter Jones and Lionel Casson in the Spectator, titled "For Real Globalization, Look at Ancient Rome":

"There is nothing new about a global world. We were living in one 2,000 years ago. ... The Roman in the street ate bread baked with wheat grown in North Africa or Egypt, and fish that had been caught and dried near Gibraltar, He cooked with North African oil in pots and pans of cooper mined in Spain, ate off dishes fired in French kilns, drank wine from Spain or France. ... The Roman of wealth dressed in garments of wool from Miletus or linen from Egypt; his wife wore silks from China, adorned herself with diamonds and pearls from India, and made up with cosmetics from South Arabia. ... He lived in a house whose walls were covered with colored marble veneer quarried in Asia Minor; his furniture was of Indian ebony or teak inlaid with African ivory."

The more things change ...

But, uh, none of the above is about why this Post is titled "Mea Culpa"!

The "mea culpa" refers to my absorbing "distraction" (attraction) during the trip. Namely, Twitter. First, I like Twitter as a communication tool, though I plead guilty as charged by some in terms of mostly using it as a one-way communication vehicle—no small sin. Second, I find the 140-character limit a magnificent challenge! I am in the "beginner's mind" mode—and I am definitely learning anew that "practice makes better," or so I assume and hope. I believe that one can have a full-scale "opinion piece" on a serious topic that occupies 140 characters or less. Hence, I am choosing mostly to use Twitter as a straightforward opinion registry, and am leaving the mega-link practice to many many many others. In short, there are a host of things I really really give a shit about—I've been saying my piece in as many settings as possible for over 35 years, and I'm not inclined to stop; as I recently tweeted, my "live stuff" has absorbed about 5 or 6 million miles and about 9,000 flight legs since 1973.

I love our Friends & Family here at, but am a linear focuser more than a multi-tasker, so Twitter-Am-Mostly-Me at the moment.

Link Roundup #11

Here's a collection of items from news and blogs and friends that we'd like to pass on for the beginning of the new year.

Out of possibly zillions, here's a selection of lists and suggestions for how to survive and thrive in 2010:
Twelve Resolutions on How to be a Mensch, by Bruna Martinuzzi
Ten Things I Know for 2010, from Ian Sanders
How to Take Advantage of Social Media in Your Email Marketing from American Express Open Forum
Ten Practical Tips for Saving Money on Travel from the New York Times

Cool Friend Andrea Learned sent us this trend prediction for 2010: Sustainability Communication.

Lots of fun, this one came to us in the emails. Out of the box (not to say out of control) ideas for consulting at Listen to Peter Day's interview with Neil Mullarkey on comedy and Peter Cook on rock 'n roll. Or use this link.

Also from the emails, a unique idea: Jingle-a-Day for a year.

And finally, "Hire My Friend" is a free application on Facebook that allows you to promote your job-seeker friends within your friend network by announcing their candidacy in your Live/News feed, and placing an information box about them on your profile. Or, become a fan of "Hire My Friend."

Our Hearts Go Out to the Earthquake Victims in Haiti

If you'd like to make a donation or learn more about how you can help, here are some useful links:

The White House website
American Red Cross
Partners in Health

Excellence Slides: Adecco

Adecco, headquartered in Glattbrugg, Switzerland, is the world's largest temporary employment organization, with revenues of over $25 billion and almost 6,000 offices worldwide. Its business is actually boosted by employers' reluctance to add full-time payroll employees amid wobbly economic conditions. Please weigh in by commenting under this post if you attended the event. Let us hear from you! And if you'd like the slides, you can use these links:

Adecco Final
Adecco Long

Tom is in Cannes at the moment, and, if you follow him on Twitter, you know he finds it a bit over the top. But right now, in terms of weather, it has to beat Vermont!

Brand You: Start Something Dull

Tom shares the story of two men who, by doing very dull things, have made a lot of money 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).