About the Book:
In Search of Excellence

An old friend of Tom’s, Rich Karlgaard, the publisher of Forbes magazine, wrote a piece in the 19 November issue of that magazine, praising In Search of Excellence. Below, find Tom’s excerpt of the article, and see the original here. Thanks to Rich for this tribute!

Confidence had been in tatters for several years, following a big and ugly recession. It was 1982. A 17-year boom awaited at the tunnel’s end, but the present mood was awful.

It’s often debated whether Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts or Paul Volcker’s monetary medicine got the U.S. off its back. The answer is both, but let’s add a third and fourth reason. Third was the personal computer. … The PC was more than a machine. It was a garden of entrepreneurship that produced such daring men as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. A fourth reason was a book that came out in 1982: In Search of Excellence, by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman. Yes, I am claiming that a single book belongs up there with tax cuts, a strong dollar and the PC as a pillar of the American renaissance.

In Search of Excellence was the right book for the time. It is a saga of the passion that the authors found in the best companies. The idea of passion in large business was a shape-shifter. In 1982 managers of large companies were expected to be strategic and financial in their focus. Efficiency was prized. Products were things to be counted and shipped, not loved. If quality was a problem, it was a systemic error and not connected to employee morale.

Not fully appreciated at the time was that most American companies had become large and profitable during a time of scant global competition. From the end of World War II through the 1960s little stood in the way. Then came the 1970s, with the rise of Germany and Japan. … The old rules went out the window. In Search of Excellence gave large company managers a new template. Its eight principles are: A Bias for Action; Close to the Customer; Autonomy and Entrepreneurship; Productivity Through People; Hands- On, Value-Driven …

It’s hard to improve on those eight today. So why was In Search of Excellence originally considered so radical? It shredded the idea that business is all about rational behavior and numbers. The very reason that reason often fails is that humans who work in companies and constitute the customer base aren’t entirely rational themselves. Employees and customers seek rational rewards, of course, but they also want something more. They want purpose. They want meaning.

Cathy Mosca posted this on November 26, 2012, in Excellence.
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