The Infinite Power of Positive Thinking and Acting

“Think positive” is a/the watchword of almost every “improving performance” seminar or self-help book. Thinking right (positive) is dead on, but far easier said than done—obviously.

Nonetheless, I wish to hell my U.S.A. could find a way to get back into the positive mental orbit. Suddenly (9/11/01), we are all about borders and barriers. Don’t I believe there’s a serious terror threat? Well, actually, that’s my point.

I think there is a severe terrorist threat—and that there will be for as far into the future as I or my 20-something boys can see. (And there will doubtless be nasty events in the process.) The disruptive power of one person, or a small band, is matchless, and will only get worse. Forever and ever, Amen—and regardless of the size of our Army or the CIA or Homeland Security.

And, I think, perhaps arrogantly, that the single most important step toward ameliorating (not eradicating—impossible, even unthinkable) the terrorist threat (small bands, not nations with well-defined positions on maps) is for the United States to continue to be the matchless, energetic, open, self-improving Beacon of Hope it has been for two-and-a-quarter centuries. (Maybe we can even brighten the wattage of that Beacon.) I’m reading a marvelous and thoughtful book, Inventing Human Rights. In effect, there was not even the idea of human rights until the 1700s. And—clearly!—the American and French revolutions were the seminal landmarks in the one giant step for mankind toward human liberty. Then the U.S., unlike France, blessed with an infinite horizon, what we now call the continental United States, took the next giant step and effectively invented Positive Thinking. “Strike out on your own! Move West (the Appalachians first)! Re-define yourself.” Re-imaginings and Re-definition and Exploration and Entrepreneurship and Brand You (sorry, couldn’t help myself—but Ben Franklin would have applauded) were and are the underpinnings of America’s great, successful, productive society—along with our steady flow of immigrant-malcontents setting out on ridiculously dangerous voyages of re-definition and self discovery. (Immigrant = In Search of Re-definition. Right?)

My conclusion then, as an apparently strong voice in the unabashedly Positivist Reagan Revolution, is that the power of positive thinking must be retained or regained at all costs. (My White House friends of that era tell me that In Search of Excellence was a seminal clarion call, perceived as such, for American businesses to stop hiding behind our growing protectionist walls and emulation of Japanese management—and come out swinging in our own style, which we subsequently did). Which to me means that we must deal with, and to some extent learn to live with, the near-infinite in length threat of havoc, never to be fully eradicated, caused by somebody at any given time pissed off about something—and return posthaste to our more careful to be sure, historic positivist selves. Of course we must be “tough with terrorists,” but the idea that bombs and fortified borders and cowering behind said borders are the solution is insane. Positivist, open, daring, freedom-obsessed America is still the world’s best hope.

I say all this because I have been troubled of late, very troubled, by the strident words of several of our 2008 presidential candidates from both parties. Their message: Build walls and hide now and forevermore.

And I say that all this from me is the antithesis of a political statement. American-style Positivism is my life’s work at home and abroad. Cubicle slaves and bedraggled corporations—in Turkey or Romania or Siberia or in Kansas City or Miami or Boston—rise up and cast off your self-imposed shackles. Join the Global Economy (you have no choice, for God’s sake), re-imagine and re-invent yourselves or your company. Understand that pioneering is the back to the future requisite. It is indeed—again—your great grandfather’s world of self-reliance.

To hide is the ultimate victory for Osama and other terrorists. If we build walls, bomb, and slash the flow of immigrants, we may survive for awhile, even decades—but we will cease to be America and to be the globe’s Beacon of Liberty and the Infinite Possibilities of Re-imaginings.

(Why the hell do you think I called my last book Re-imagine—it was a 300-page Technicolor rant that said … rise up and regain your great grandfathers’ sense of infinite possibilities and accountability. My Grandfather Peters came to our Beacon of Hope, Baltimore variety, in about 1870 and proceeded, from nothing, to become a wildly successful contractor and philanthropist—until he was wiped out, never to recover, by the Great Depression. He was gone before I arrived, but I never stop thinking of him, his victories, and his losses; perhaps he was my Quintessential American Beacon, when, at age 22, helped along by the Navy, I migrated to California and proceeded to stay there for the next 35 years—making my way, as a noisy participant, through the birthing and coming of age of the Silicon Valley colossus; in the process I avoided my father’s tiresome professional life as a Cubicle Slave in the Tall Towers of the Eastern Seaboard.)

Four deafening cheers for the power of positive thinking—and acting! May we re-discover it posthaste!

Tom Peters posted this on June 13, 2007, in Brand You.
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