Christmas 2008

So, a Christmas post is in order. I have been thinking about it for days, no kidding, and have had no success in the arenas of Big Ideas. Or little ideas. And I am ever so fearful-horrified of glibness at this particular moment.

Let’s start with the fact that a lot of people who deserved better (or didn’t, for that matter) are having truly crappy-rotten Christmases. And it pains me personally—one case at a time ad infinitum. Sure, the auto industry made its own mess by and large, but I honestly teared up yesterday listening to a little (“little”?) NPR story about a 15-year-old family-run restaurant-tavern directly across from the main gate to a GM plant that closed down indefinitely last night. Sure it’s a “big world out there,” and sure such things are always going on—but this one got to me as I went about my Christmas shopping, modest though it is this year. And then that led me to my frighteningly rare thoughts about the roughly two billions of my “global village” neighbors trying to make it on a buck-a-day …

And then I stopped for papers—and picked up the New York Post (I have a longstanding penchant for tabloids), and said in an inappropriately loud voice that turned heads, “You f#%^ers.” I had just seen the big photo on page one of Bernard Madoff’s son Andrew and his wife, laden with conspicuously high-end shopping bags as they went about their holiday shopping in Manhattan. Just got to me. Should they not buy gifts? Or go to Wal*Mart? That’s not the point (for me); the point is Total Incredible Inexcusable Nauseating Pathetic Insensitivity, of the sort we saw from the Big Three Beggars flying in their corporate jets to D.C. a few weeks ago. In my head the words “Have they no shame?” run around and around and around.

And then my hair shirt starts to itch. I’ve asked myself 100 times, or a hundred hundred times, “Tom, what could you have done differently?” While I cannot bear the entire burden of human greed run amok, I can find plenty of fault. I ceaselessly preach the basics and people first. Yet I did not in any way, shape, or form scream often enough or loud enough about the obvious wretchedly wretched excess of the last several years. Like Greenspan, I definitely believe that I took my Silicon Valley lessons a bit too seriously and drank the “self-regulating unfettered capitalism” Koolaid. I remain a capitalist (it works) but I shall go to my grave beating the crap out of myself for not having seen the obvious and for not having used my not inconsequential bully pulpit. (For God’s sake, I routinely call health care professionals killers for not washing their hands; surely I could have shouted “Enough!” upon regular occasion regarding the growing absurdity of demonstrated greed and the lack of any semblance of accountability.)

So, we’re in for it. And may be in for it for the foreseeable future. And the bottom may—or may not—be in sight. This is beyond any shadow of doubt the biggest financial crisis in 75 years. And despite my advanced age, even I have Zero Experience with anything like this. Hence, how does one give serious advice, or play expert with a straight face?

Then there’s the glib stuff galore that is the current staple of the shameless self-help gurus. E.g., get up with a smile and get on with life! Or, remember it’s your family and friends who are your anchors! Both things are true, but hackneyed to say the least.

So here is my effort, probably futile and surely inadequate, to be a little less hackneyed than I otherwise might:

***Feel the pain. Feel free to hurt and hurt badly for every single person laid off or fired, maybe even the Lehman gang. (I admit I can’t personally go as far as Lehmanites, but I do feel that I should—they are, after all, more or less human beings.) There is a lot of hurt “out there” and it is inappropriate not to feel it; that’s my view. It shouldn’t paralyze you, but it should haunt you.

***Be of help. Feel the pain—and do something about it. Whether it’s a $100 bill dropped in the Salvation Army bowl, or some hours serving in the soup kitchen, help out. Sure, it’ll make you feel better, but that’s not the point. There are a lot of people who need help. Period. So help. And keep helping. This is not a rich man’s-woman’s blog, but the average peruser of has a little room to spare—or more. Give until you are half poor—money and time.

***Kind words or no words. Go gentle in the world. Period. A little kindness goes a long way. Especially when the fans are all covered with crap. I said “action” a minute ago, but now I’m saying attitude. No, not some ginned up “positive mental attitude”—just human grace and thoughtfulness and gentleness and decency roughly 100% of the time.

***Say “Thank you” to anyone who goes even a quarter-step, eighth-step out of their way to be helpful or cheerful. Most everyone is under great pressure—and positive acknowledgement of their being is a true and enormous gift.

***In your professional lives, work on your thoughtfulness as if your life depended on it—it does in the sense of your Final Exam with St Peter. (Or whomever.) You may have to make tough decisions, but you can streeeeetch to ameliorate the pain and, per the above, exude decency 100.00000% of the time.

***Re-assess your needs. From an economic standpoint, we do, in fact, have to spend our way out of this bind—banks must offer credit for new car purchases, etc. On the other hand, many of us could use a hearty dose of newfound simplicity and thriftiness in our lives longterm. This is a matchless, if painful, time to reassess what it’s all about.

***People have long memories. To be “P&L” focused, those to whom you extend kindnesses in tough times will likely reward you 10-fold in the long term. (Make that 100-fold.) “Thoughtfulness pays” is a fact of life in business or “the rest.”

***Get outdoors. Exercise and good breathing habits are gifts from the Gods when it comes to longevity or equanimity or stress reduction. But do your exercise outside—”close to the soil” is not reserved for those of us who live on farms in the likes of Vermont. Up your daily exercise regimen to at least an hour—outdoors. Being in touch with the soil, including urban asphalt, is good for the soul and sanity and those around you.

***Basics #1. “It’s always ‘the people.'” It may be glib, but in this instance I don’t care. Network, keep your promises, behave decently. You are as good as your relationships. Period. Short term. Long term. Good times. Tough times. This is the time (though all times are, in fact, the time) to “over”invest in relationship building and maintenance.

***Basics #2. Execution is king. I arrived at a retail shop at, literally, 4:57 p.m. three days ago. It closed at 5 p.m., and the doorcloser was poised by the door, hovering by the door, whatever. Open early, stay open late—even if the traffic is approximately zilch. For God’s sake ……
(Why o why o why o why should I have to write this???)

***Basics #3. MBWA.* (*Managing By Wandering Around.) To be present is to care. To be absent is broadcasting contempt or disregard or shameful insensitivity.

***Basics #4. Keep growing. Learn new stuff. Have lunch with new people. Get better and better at what you do. Glib or not, we’re either growing or contracting—and it’s not your 401(k) I’m talking about. I’m off on a new sustainable architecture jag. I indulged in a mini-library of about 10 books—and I’m about to dig in.

***Basics #5. Be accountable. You must take absolute & unequivocal & total responsibility for the stuff you promise, real or implied—especially the accumulation of so-called “small stuff.” (Five minutes late to a meeting is late, not “a little late.”) The current mega-crisis is to a significant degree an accountability (lack thereof) crisis—sure, Mr Rubin, you had nothing to do with the Citigroup implosion; sure, Angelo-I-screwed-the-world-and-took-home-$100,000,000-for-my-efforts-as-a-walkaway-reward (Countrywide), you were jus’ helpin’ people buy homes.

***Basic #6. Become a better listener-hearer. Practice. Practice. Practice.

***”You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”—Gandhi. (Talk about glib!!!!!!) “Make each day matter.” (Talk about glib!!!!!) This is your life. You have neither yesterday. Nor tomorrow. Only today. (Talk about glib!!!!!!)

In summary, as I try to sort all this out:

Close at 5:05 p.m.

Sorry, it’s the best I can do.

Tom Peters posted this on December 23, 2008, in Strategies.
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