Deja Vu All Over Again

Been reading a lot of bedrock stuff, such as Jim O'Toole's brilliant Creating the Good Life: Applying Aristotle's Wisdom to Find Meaning and Happiness, which challenges the reader to pursue a disciplined, virtuous life of continuous growth—until one's last breath. My mind kept wandering back to 1982 and the publication of In Search of Excellence. As solid as I hope (and think) our research and analytic framework were, I am also convinced that no small part of our success was derivative of the word "excellence" per se. Alas, it wasn't and isn't a word used often in business or organizational life in general. And yet I believe it is a universal aspiration. It is in fact a beautiful word with beautiful implications.

And "all that" took me back to the contents of the book. We begin with a robust theoretical exploration of individual, organizational and business excellence. But the heart of the book, in most readers' eyes, was our chapters on the "eight basics" of enterprise excellence. You'll find them displayed below:

Excellence1982: The Bedrock "Eight Basics"

  1. A Bias for Action
  2. Close to the Customer
  3. Autonomy and Entrepreneurship
  4. Productivity Through People
  5. Hands On, Value-Driven
  6. Stick to the Knitting
  7. Simple Form, Lean Staff
  8. Simultaneous Loose-Tight Properties

I have promised myself—and it is one promise I vow never to break—that there will never but never be an In Search of Excellence, Revised. Moreover, as I look at the list above I think it's held up pretty damn well. (As did the financial performance of the companies selected.) On the other hand, a lot has changed, and several of the "new practices," circa 1982, have become "conventional wisdom," circa 2005 (e.g., listening to customers). That conclusion and my general restlessness led me to casually start scribbling some "stuff" down. What might my "basics" of "excellence" be today? I winnowed a list of about 100 candidates to a baker's dozen. The "final" list is indeed longer than, and not so succinct as, 1982's—doubtless drawbacks. Yet it is my best effort to display what I think is most essential to surviving/thriving with excellence, circa crazy 2005. It follows:

Excellence2005: The Bedrock Baker's Dozen

  1. A Bias For Action Is Job One! (Construct a discipline/Culture of EXECUTION!)
  2. DECENTRALIZATION! ACCOUNTABILITY! (Tom's "Top Two," 1965-2005.)
  3. Fail. Forward. Fast. ("Reward Excellent Failures, Punish Mediocre Successes.")
  4. "Metabolic Management" Matters! (Hustle! Adapt! EAT CHANGE! Win the "O.O.D.A. Loop" War—Confuse Your Competitors!)
  5. INNOVATE or Die. ("Game-changers" or Bust! Lead the Customer! Just Shout "No" to Imitation!)
  6. A Damn Good Product. (Pursue "Dramatic Difference.")
  7. A Damn Cool Product. (Design Rules!)
  8. Ride the Value Added Curve to the Sky! Sell "GamechangerSolutions"; Provide "Scintillating Experiences"; Become a "Dream Merchant"; Strive to Be a "Lovemark.")
  9. Relentlessly Pursue the "Big Two" Markets. (WOMEN Buy Everything. Boomers & Geezers Have All the Money!)
  10. Best "Talent"/Roster Wins! (HR Rules! Everyone a Leader! Women Lead Best! "Weird" Matters Most! A Workplace to Brag About! Educate for Creativity!)
  11. Wanted/Demanded: Radical Technology Strategies! ("Incrementalism" Is for Wimps!)
  12. Hard Is Soft! Soft Is Hard! (People! Passion! Enthusiasm! Wow! INTEGRITY! TRUST! Good Citizen.)
  13. Accept No Less Than EXCELLENCE! (Excellence, Pursuit thereof, Is the Only Thing That Vaults Everyone Out of Bed in the Morning.)

All yours—and you'll also find a three-slide version posted as a new Special Presentation.