I Disagree!

From Taipei (the Vice President of the country) to Memphis (senior national church official), I’ve been pushed hard/hounded lately to turn my attention to the non-profit and public sectors. (Part of it may be Drucker’s passing; he spent a lot of energy on non-profits.) I surely agree with the abiding importance of the non-commercial spheres. And in fact, as a government veteran (6 years in the Navy and White House), I’ve probably addressed over 100 gov’t groups in the last 20 years.

But while trying not to sound defensive, I want to offer a defense. I have carefully re-examined my work over the last quarter century, starting with In Search of Excellence, and I can find almost nothing that does not apply … one-for-one …. to the non-profit and public spheres.

Consider the “guiding premise” and the “eight basics” that were the heart of In Search of Excellence (chapters 4 through 12): “Managing Ambiguity and Paradox”; “A Bias for Action”; “Close to the Customer”; “Autonomy and Entrepreneurship”; “Productivity Through People”; “Hands On, Value-Driven”; “Stick to the Knitting”; “Simple Form, Lean Staff”; “Simultaneous Loose-Tight Properties” (tight adherence to a couple of key/visionary values, otherwise enormous latitude for down-the-line initiative).

While about 20 percent of the companies Bob Waterman and I chose in 1982 have faltered (investing in 1982 in our “portfolio,” according to Forbes, would have made you a rich man/woman by 2002, the book’s 20th anniversary), the “basics” have held up surprisingly well—perhaps because they are “simply” universals. (“Universals” that Bob and I felt had fallen into disuse in the “Quantitative Age” that dominated in the 50s through 70s.) Today, the closer I bring my magnifying glass, the more I think all eight/nine of these Guiding Notions are absolutely & unequivocally applicable to non-profit and public enterprise; and that their abiding absence is as deleterious to non-profit and public enterprise effectiveness as to private-sector effectiveness. (In recent times, think FEMA vs the U.S. Coast Guard in the wake of Katrina. Think, in NGO world, about micro-finance aimed directly at an impoverished populace vs giant World Bank projects that seem mostly to have lined the pockets of corrupt politicians in recipient countries.)

Going farther (if less systematically), on a recent trip from DC to Boston, thinking about “all this,” I simply jotted down a few words that have been central to my thought and also my “point of difference” with most other theorists, including, frequently, Drucker: Technicolor, Enthusiasm. Energy. Respect. Listening. Grace. Cause (worth getting up for). Caring. “Thank you” (recognition). Action, action, action. Experimentation, experimentation, experimentation. Quick prototypes. Excellent failures. Fast failures (he who has the most tries usually wins). MBWA (managing by wandering around). Empowerment. Customer intimacy. Decentralization. Accountability. Integrity. Truth-telling. Truth or consequences. Relatively small is relatively beautiful. Widespread entrepreneurial behavior. WOW! Weird! Gasp-worthy! Insanely great! Love! Design (great). Women (as leaders). No barriers (to communication or action). Staggering “value-added.” “Beautiful” systems. (See the pdf version, available at this site, of Tom’s 60 TIBs—my bedrock beliefs, for once in brief.)

Or consider this single slide, on love, from my recent, updated “Leadership50” Special Presentation:

“Message: Leadership is all about love: Passion, Enthusiasms, Appetite for Life, Engagement, Commitment, Great Causes & Determination to Make a Damn Difference, Shared Adventures, Bizarre Failures, Growth, Insatiable Appetite for Change.”

I could go on … and am sorely tempted to. But I’ll stop. I’ve either made my point. Or not. I believe (fervently) in the profit principle, am a fanatic capitalist. But I also fervently believe that the capitalist dream comes true and profit is maximized when … turned-on people are empowered to dream big and produce awesome products and service experiences for their customers and communities. And that “meta”-idea, profit excepted, applies as well to the non-profit and public sectors as to the private sector.


(I could well/may well spend more time in the future on the public and non-profit sectors, but I’d be surprised, even stunned, if my basic ideas and approaches changed much or at all.)

Tom Peters posted this on November 30, 2005, in Excellence.
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