Déjà  vu …

One of Yogi Berra’s more famous “Yogi-isms” is “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Yup, Yogi, and I hate that feeling, but it’s got me on the run at the moment. Is it a sign of age (or exhaustion?) when one reads headline after headline after headline (biz headlines, to be sure), shakes one’s head, and exclaims (to oneself) (or one’s blogmates), “I said that an eternity ago”?

Here’s the deal/s, or at least a few thereof. I’ve been ranting against major mergers for a decade/decades. Now such ranting is “in.” Big mergers are “out” and asset disposal is “in.” (HP, IBM, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Viacom, and many others are rushing to eschew elusive “synergy” and shed their “one-stop shopping” non-starter and … duh … “focus” (i.e., do something well). Cost cutting, six sigma, and “bottom line uber alles” are mostly “out.” “Organic growth,” “innovation,” and “top line” emphasis are definitely … duh … “in.” (Do you get the feeling in the last few months that GE & its CEO, Jeff Immelt, invented “innovation”? Well, GE/Edison did invent inventing … but alas GE mostly forgot it for a few decades … and have apparently re-discovered it—déjà vu all over again.) “Design” (“cool” beats “blah”) is suddenly “in” … duh … as innovation’s chirpy handmaiden. Hey, even GM is going there … which means that even the last of the last are getting it.

In 1987 I went to Munich for Oktoberfest (as far as I can remember) and keynoted a “Congress” on “business and the environment” with a speech I titled “Go Green, Get Rich.” Well, you guessed it, now that’s … duh … become a “real”/”in” idea, not because of me in ’87 or BP in ’00, but because GE/Immelt embraced it in ’05! (Motorolans must feel the same way on another dimension. They spearheaded the quality revival in America with their highly visible & effective emphasis on Six Sigma in the late ’80s; six sigma’s success & importance is now pretty much universally attributed to GE—Jack Welch, this time—in the mid- to late-’90s.)

Oh yeah, and now the press and Giant Cos are even swarming around the “novel” idea of going beyond market “micro-targeting” and … duh … marketing to … Women & Boomers-Geezers.

So I’m off in an hour to Martha’s Vineyard, not to “do the circuit” (heaven forbid) … but to put on my invisibility cloak and hide for a couple of weeks in my little shack out next to Mr Jefferson’s 1801 Cape Pogue light; to get there you depart civilization as we know it, take not one but two ferries, then deflate your tires to 13 pounds and drive 4 miles over the sand. My only neighbor is an octogenarian Nobel laureate (medicine) who performed the first kidney transplant way back when. So, confronted with “déjà vu all over again” (and again), what am I supposed to do? My publisher says “look for the next big thing.” I’ve always thought that was pure bullshit. (Arrogant bullshit at that.) I’ve never “looked for” a “big thing” (or much of anything). I’ve never concocted a “theory of the universe” (à la Mike Porter). I’ve mostly let “it” “look for” me … just waited until something/s really, truly pissed me off—the lack of attention to people and customers and excellence in the late ’70s, early ’80s; the lack of attention to the likes of innovation & design & marketing to women in the ’90s; and so on—and then I’ve ranted on, mostly to defuse my own ire.

At the moment, by the way, I guess I could say I’m re-pissed off (déjà vu all over again?) about something right at the core of my personal & professional being. In a Mark Helprin* book of short stories, The Pacific, one protagonist, a former corporate chieftain, now 82, reveals to his daughter that he always hated the company he ran … “because it wasn’t human and it wasn’t alive, and all the thousands of people whose lives were molded around it were like sequins on a corpse. It had no desire or regret, it didn’t know the difference between right or wrong, it couldn’t breathe or kiss or sweat. I wasted my precious time on it, my life, and it will never die.” Yes, I’m re-pissed off. Why must “business” be thus? I do love business at its best/as I dream it can be; i.e., the self-determined, scary-but-exhilarating “brand you life.” I do not understand why one would not attempt to “make each day a masterpiece” (John Wooden), engage in/rejoice in/create Wow Work-Wow Projects (yours truly); “make your life itself a creative art” (per creativity guru & old pal & reformed hyper-quantitative marketing researcher Mike Ray). I do think one can—and must, for sanity’s (and, now, survival’s) sake—invest in great causes. Not so much “saving the environment” as “making Your 100 Square Feet a study in Magnificence & Excellence & Beauty & Surprise & Wow & Wonder & Joy & Grace” … as a 17-year-old busboy. (Hey, it’s why I’m so hung up on Cirque du Soleil as “greatest/coolest ever”—for right now anyway.)

So off I go to untrammeled solitude and reflection out in the Atlantic somewhere (or at least in the middle of Nantucket Sound). No roads. No electricity. No phone (except very occasional 1-bar cell reception). Damn few neighbors except for gulls and osprey and oyster catchers and rabbits and deer and ticks and more ticks and poison ivy … oh yeah, and one very bright red, 14-foot rowboat.

I’ll let you know how it all turns out …

*Remember the “*” above? I really think Mark Helprin has few if any peers as a writer. A Soldier of the Great War is one of my “Top 5” books, and The Pacific is clearly my favorite short story collection.

Tom Peters posted this on August 2, 2005, in Excellence.
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