Hanging Out With My Beloved SMEs

I'm speaking in Toronto to the conference of my dreams—"Private Company Managers Annual Meeting." For me, it's a one-two punch. First, the best of the best, the winners in Deloitte's "Canada's Best Managed Program." Second, the group consists entirely of mid-sized companies.
The "gurus" (whoops, including me) seem to focus almost exclusively on giant firms. Yet it's the SMEs who create (in every nation) de facto ALL the new jobs—and readily come out on top when it comes to innovation.
What a treat—and a privilege—it will be to hang out with these folks!

Slides are here:
Deloitte, Private Company Managers Annual Meeting, Toronto
Deloitte, Toronto, Long


My niece, who is at the Tuck business school, asked me for a list of best leadership and management books. I put the list below together in haste. Despite the hastiness, I thought you might be interested.



Jeff Pfeffer, Leadership BS
Robert Sutton, Good Boss, Bad Boss
Robert Sutton, The No Asshole Rule
Dov Frohman, Leadership the Hard Way
Richard Branson, The Virgin Way
Robert Cialdini, Influence
Adam Grant, Give and Take
Edgar Schein, Helping
Laura Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, The Power of Small
Laura Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, The Power of Nice
Laura Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, Grit to Great
John Kotter, Leading Change
Thomas Gilovich and Lee Ross, The Wisest One in the Room
Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow
Sally Helgesen, The Female Advantage
Warren Bennis, Leaders
Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader
Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership
Betsy Myers, Take the Lead
George Kohlrieser, Hostage at the Table
Max Bazerman, The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See


Rich Karlgaard, The Soft Edge
Henry Mintzberg, Mintzberg on Management
Henry Mintzberg, Managers Not MBAs
David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around!
Mike Abrashoff, It's Your Ship
Leonard Berry and Kent Seltman, Management Lessons From Mayo Clinic
Dan Pink, To Sell Is Human
Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, Execution
Susan Cain, Quiet
Frank Partnoy, Wait
John Mackey and Raj Sisodia, Conscious Capitalism
Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, First, Break All the Rules


The following related list comes from a draft of my new book [Ed.: work in progress], The Excellence Dividend:

Business by and large has a lousy rep, and management books by and large focus on things that are broken and how to fix them. Yet there is also a robust body of "good news by putting people (REALLY) first" books—e.g., the informal list below. How about a year-long ... "Profit Through Putting People First Business Book Club" for you and/or your leadership team?

Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management Is Over—and Collaboration Is In, by Peter Shankman with Karen Kelly
Uncontainable: How Passion, Commitment, and Conscious Capitalism Built a Business Where Everyone Thrives, by Kip Tindell, CEO Container Store (Container Store is the #1 U.S. company to work for/Fortune)
Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, by John Mackey, CEO Whole Foods, and Raj Sisodia
Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose, by Raj Sisodia, Jag Sheth, and David Wolfe
The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits, by Zeynep Ton
Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love, by Richard Sheridan, CEO Menlo Innovations
Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job, by Dennis Bakke, former CEO, AES
Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down, by Vineet Nayar, CEO, HCL Technologies
The Customer Comes Second: Put Your People First and Watch 'Em Kick Butt, by Hal Rosenbluth, former CEO, Rosenbluth International
Patients Come Second: Leading Change By Changing the Way You Lead, by Paul Spiegelman & Britt Berrett
It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy, by Mike Abrashoff, former commander, USS Benfold
Turn the Ship Around! How to Create Leadership at Every Level, by L. David Marquet
Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big, by Bo Burlingham
Hidden Champions: Success Strategies of Unknown World Market Leaders, by Hermann Simon (#1 "management guru"/Germany)
Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 Best Independent Stores in America, by George Whalin
The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success, by Rich Karlgaard, publisher, Forbes
Everybody Wins: The Story and Lessons Behind RE/MAX, by Phil Harkins & Keith Hollihan
The Dream Manager, by Matthew Kelly
Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, by Tony Hsieh, Zappos
Camellia: A Very Different Company
Fans, Not Customers: How to Create Growth Companies in a No Growth World, by Vernon Hill
Like a Virgin: Secrets They Won't Teach You at Business School, by Richard Branson
Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning, by Mihaly Csikszentmihali
Enough. The Measures of Money, Business, and Life, by John Bogle
An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization, by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey

Humanity: Quotes Collected by Tom

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"—Mary Oliver

"If you ask me what I have come to do in this world, I who am an artist, I will reply: I am here to live my life out loud."—Émile Zola

(Get the PDF)

"[The novel] traced the very ordinary life of a very ordinary woman—a life with few moments of high drama, but which was also remarkable. The extraordinary in the ordinary. It was a theme I often discussed with my students—how we can never consider anybody's life 'ordinary,' how every human existence is a novel with its own compelling narrative. Even if, on the surface, it seems prosaic, the fact remains that each individual life is charged with contradictions and complexities. And no matter much we wish to keep things simple and uneventful, we cannot help but collide with mess. It is our destiny—because mess, the drama we create for ourselves, is an intrinsic part of being alive."
—Hannah, from State of the Union by Douglas Kennedy

"Make each day a Masterpiece!"—John Wooden

"Make your life itself a creative work of art."—Mike Ray, The Highest Goal

"Nobody can prevent you from choosing to be exceptional."—Mark Sanborn, The Fred Factor

"The only thing you have power over is to get good at what you do. That’s all there is; there ain’t no more!"
—Sally Field

"Self-reliance never comes 'naturally' to adults because they have been so conditioned to think non-authentically that it feels wrenching to do otherwise. ... Self Reliance is a last resort to which a person is driven in desperation only when he or she realizes 'that imitation is suicide, that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion.'"
—Lawrence Buell, Emerson

"For Marx, the path to social betterment was through collective resistance of the proletariat to the economic injustices of the capitalist system that produced such misshapenness and fragmentation. For Emerson, the key was to jolt individuals into realizing the untapped power of energy, knowledge and creativity of which all people, at least in principle, are capable. He too hated all systems of human oppression; but his central project, and the basis of his legacy, was to unchain individual minds."
—Lawrence Buell, Emerson

"All human beings are entrepreneurs. When we were in the caves we were all self-employed ... finding our food, feeding ourselves. That's where human history began. ... As civilization came we suppressed it. We became labor because they stamped us, 'You are labor.' We forgot that we are entrepreneurs."
—Muhammad Yunus

"We make our own traps.
"We construct our own cage.
"We build our own roadblocks."
—Douglas Kennedy, State of the Union

"... the delight of being totally within one's own element—of identifying fully with one's work and seeing it as an expression of one's character ... this affection must be so strong that it persists during leisure hours and even makes its way into dreams ... the mind knows no deadlines or constraints and is open to its inner energies ..."
—Robert Grudin, The Grace of Great Things: Creativity and Innovation

"To have a firm persuasion in our work—to feel that what we do is right for ourselves and good for the world at exactly the same time—is one of the great triumphs of human existence."
—David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity

"This is the true joy of Life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one ... the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."
—G.B. Shaw, Man and Superman

"All of our artistic and religious traditions take equally great pains to inform us that we must never mistake a good career for good work. Life is a creative, intimate, unpredictable conversation if it is nothing else—and our life and our work are both the result of the way we hold that passionate conversation."
—David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity

"If I can reduce my work to just a job I have to do, then I keep myself safely away from the losses to be endured in putting my heart’s desires at stake."
—David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity

"When was the last time you asked, 'What do I want to be?'"
—Sara Ann Friedman, Work Matters

"Strive for Excellence. Ignore success."—Bill Young, race car driver

"Do one thing every day that scares you."—Eleanor Roosevelt


HAPPINESS: Eudaimonia ... well-doing, living flourishingly. Megalopsychos ... "great-souled," "magnanimous." More: respect and concern for others; duty to improve oneself; using one's gifts to the fullest extent possible; fully aware; making one's own choices.

LEISURE: pursue excellence; reflect; deepen understanding; opportunity to work for higher ends. ["Rest" vs. "leisure."]

Source: A.C. Grayling, The Meaning of Things: Applying Philosophy to Life

"The antidote to exhaustion is not rest, it is wholeheartedness."
—David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity

"It's no longer enough to be a 'change agent.' You must be a change insurgent—provoking, prodding, warning everyone in sight that complacency is death."
—Bob Reich

"Distinct ... or ... Extinct"—Tom Peters

"Nobody gives you power. You just take it."—Roseanne

"Well-behaved women rarely make history."—Anita Borg, Institute for Women and Technology

"To Hell With Well Behaved ... Recently a young mother asked for advice. What, she wanted to know, was she to do with a 7-year-old who was obstreperous, outspoken, and inconveniently willful? 'Keep her,' I replied. ... The suffragettes refused to be polite in demanding what they wanted or grateful for getting what they deserved. Works for me."
—Anna Quindlen

"You are the storyteller of your own life, and you can create your own legend or not."
—Isabel Allende

"It's always showtime."—David D'Alessandro, Career Warfare

"Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart."
—Henry Clay

"Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones."

"We do no great things, only small things with great love."
—Mother Teresa

"I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble."
—Helen Keller

"Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness."
—Lucius Annaeus Seneca

"Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind."
—Henry James


K = R = P
Kindness = Repeat Business = Profit

K = R = P
Kindness = Employee Retention = Profit

—Tom Peters

"One of the secrets of a long and fruitful life is to forgive everybody of everything every night right before going to bed."
—Bernard Baruch

"The deepest human need is the need to be appreciated."
—William James

"Appreciative words are the most powerful force for good on earth."
—George W. Crane

"The two most powerful things in existence: a kind word and a thoughtful gesture."
—Ken Langone

"One kind word can warm three winter months."—Japanese Proverb

"Employees who don't feel significant rarely make significant contributions."
—Mark Sanborn

"Every child is born an artist. The trick is to remain an artist."—Picasso


"My wife and I went to a [kindergarten] parent-teacher conference and were informed that our budding refrigerator artist, Christopher, would be receiving a grade of Unsatisfactory in art. We were shocked. How could any child—let alone our child—receive a poor grade in art at such a young age? His teacher informed us that he had refused to color within the lines, which was a state requirement for demonstrating 'grade-level motor skills.'"
—Jordan Ayan, AHA!


"How many artists are there in the room? Would you please raise your hands. FIRST GRADE: En mass the children leapt from their seats, arms waving. Every child was an artist. SECOND GRADE: About half the kids raised their hands, shoulder high, no higher. The hands were still. THIRD GRADE: At best, 10 kids out of 30 would raise a hand, tentatively, self-consciously. By the time I reached SIXTH GRADE, no more than one or two kids raised their hands, and then ever so slightly, betraying a fear of being identified by the group as a 'closet artist.' The point is: Every school I visited was participating in the systematic suppression of creative genius."
—Gordon MacKenzie, Orbiting the Giant Hairball

"The key question isn't 'What fosters creativity?' But it is why in God's name isn't everyone creative? Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled? I think therefore a good question might be not why do people create? But why do people not create or innovate? We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything."
—Abe Maslow

"The purpose of professional schools is to educate competent mediocrities."
—Peter Drucker



"The Greeks bequeathed to us one of the most beautiful words in our language—the word enthusiasm'—en theos—a god within. The grandeur of human actions is measured by the inspiration from which they spring. Happy is he who bears a god within, and who obeys it."
—Louis Pasteur

KRJ: "Exuberance is, at its quick, contagious. As it spreads pell-mell through a group, exuberance excites, it delights, and it dispels tension. It alerts the group to change and possibility."

"A leader is someone who creates infectious enthusiasm."
—Ted Turner

KRJ: "'Glorious' was a term [John] Muir would invoke time and again ... despite his conscious attempts to eradicate it from his writing. 'Glorious' and 'joy' and 'exhilaration': no matter how often he scratched out these words once he had written them, they sprang up time and again ..."

KRJ: "To meet Roosevelt, said Churchill, 'with all his buoyant sparkle, his iridescence,' was like 'opening a bottle of champagne.' Churchill, who knew both champagne and human nature, recognized ebullient leadership when he saw it."

"At a time of weakness and mounting despair in the democratic world, Roosevelt stood out by his astonishing appetite for life and by his apparently complete freedom from fear of the future; as a man who welcomed the future eagerly as such, and conveyed the feeling that whatever the times might bring, all would be grist to his mill, nothing would be too formidable or crushing to be subdued. He had unheard of energy and gusto ... and was a spontaneous, optimistic, pleasure-loving ruler with unparalleled capacity for creating confidence."
—Isaiah Berlin on FDR

"Churchill had a very powerful mind, but a romantic and unquantitative one. If he thought about a course of action long enough, if he achieved it alone in his own inner consciousness and desired it passionately, he convinced himself it must be possible. Then, with incomparable invention, eloquence and high spirits, he set out to convince everyone else that it was not only possible, but the only course of action open to man."
—C.P. Snow

"We are all worms. But I do believe that I am a glow-worm."
—Churchill on Churchill

"Before you can inspire with emotion, you must be swamped with it yourself. To convince them, you must yourself believe."
—Winston Churchill

"The multitudes were swept forward till their pace was the same as his."
—Churchill on T.E. Lawrence

"He brought back a real joy to music."—Wynton Marsalis on Louis Armstrong

"If you want to build a ship, don't gather people together to collect wood, and don't assign them tasks and work, but instead teach them to long for the sea."
—Antoine de Saint-Exupery (The Little Prince)

"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in one pretty and well preserved piece, but to skid across the line broadside, thoroughly used up, worn out, leaking oil, shouting 'GERONIMO!'"
—Bill McKenna, professional motorcycle racer

"The object of life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting, 'Holy Shit, What a Ride!!!'"
—Mavis Leyrer (feisty octogenarian, living in Seattle)


"Commit! Engage! Try! Fail! Get up! Try again! Fail again! Try again! But never, ever stop moving on! Progress for humanity is engendered by those in any station who join and savor the fray by giving one hundred percent of themselves to their modest or immodest dreams! Not by those fearful souls who remain glued to the sidelines, stifled by tradition, awash in cynicism and petrified of losing face or giving offense to the reigning authorities.

"Key words: Commit! Engage! Try! Fail! Persist!"

Source: HTSH/Hands That Shape Humanity, Tom Peters’ contribution of "most important advice"—for display at a Bishop Tutu exhibit in South Africa

"In Tom’s world, it's always better to try a swan dive and deliver a colossal belly flop than to step timidly off the board while holding your nose."Fast Company, review of Re-Imagine!


"Be the best. It's the only market that's not crowded."

—George Whalin, Retail Superstars: The 25 Best Independent Stores in America

Tom's Credo: "Commodity" is a state of mind—a loser's state of mind. A-n-y-t-h-i-n-g can be significantly (dramatically?) differentiated.

Some time back I met a senior IBM sales exec. She said her breakthrough had come years before when she was a rookie salesperson for Moore Business Forms. Her product was about a third more expensive than that of their primary competitor. "Our bosses told us," she said, "that it was up to us to dig into the client's operations, be helpful, and find a way to merit the price premium." That is, she and her colleagues were effectively told to de-commoditize a rather ordinary product. "The lesson has stayed with me and paid off throughout my career," she concluded.

The local plumber or electrician does not provide a "commodity service" ...

if he/she knows the job
if he/she is learning new tricks all the time
if he/she has a good disposition
if he/she shows up on time
if he/she is neatly dressed
if he/she has s spiffy truck
if he/she fixes the problem in an elegant and timely fashion—and clearly explains
what was done and why it was done this way or that
if he/she cleans up so that after the fact the client could "eat off the jobsite floor"
if he/she volunteers to do a few tiny tasks outside the one at hand—gratis
if he/she calls 24 hours later to make sure all is well
if, perhaps, he/she even goes so far as to create a blog with occasional posts
featuring practical tips for his clientele—a tiny Virginia swimming pool company became a literal "best-in-world" following this social-media strategy

He/she ain't a commodity!!
(I call such personal de-commoditization ... DWPF/Distinction Worth Paying For.)

My mind returned to that hypothetical plumber/electrician a few days ago as I write. I was on my way to pick up plans from a local engineering firm for a septic system repair. I was driving through a moderately populated suburban area about 50 miles south of Boston. I passed a modest-sized quadrangle with shops and offices. The roadside sign included:

• Quilt shop
• Wedding-cake provider
• Swimming pool sales, service, and installation company
• Tailor offering alterations
• Medical billing service
• Solo lawyer
• "Be Fit"/Fitness center
• Etc.

There are thousands upon thousands of such setups around the country—fact is, they employ the majority of us. And another fact is that each and every one has the opportunity to be no less than a local ... Superstar. No, not a jillion-dollar "unicorn," but to be like that hypothetical plumber/electrician cited above. To be special. Very special. To "be the best." To be an "employer of choice," too—not hiring dozens, but with sustained stellar performance and growing reputation, increasing staff size from, say, three, to five or six or nine. And the "jobs added" would be damn good jobs. Probably not high-paying jobs, but moderate+ paying jobs at a "great company"—the three or five or six or nine employees of this little "be the best" outfit would learn a bushel of good habits and pick up precious hard and soft skills that would increase their "employability quotient" and, thus, serve them well in the years, even decades, to come.

Despite at first blush what appear ordinary-sounding services, none of these operations has to be a "commodity." "Special"/"Excellent"/"Wow!" is not an opportunity open to a chosen few! These differentiating attributes are available to anyone with a vivid imagination, a sterling work ethic, a passion for improvement, and a caring attitude.

Oddly enough, after picking up my septic plans, I went on to get a much-needed haircut. I was a bit early, and sat down to wait. As fate would have it, there was a small framed motto on the magazine table next to me: "When you support small business, you support a dream." What a fitting end to my wee local journey.

Dream on!
Excellence or bust!
Be the Best!
Become an employer-of-choice!


Video: Cass B-School

Cass Business School in London invited Tom to speak at the inaugural Cass Executive Leadership Masterclass. They captured the speech on video, and we thank them for sending us this link:

Cass Business School Masterclass

As they describe it, "Cass has a long tradition of providing 'Masterclasses' ... Cass faculty share their research to help keep alumni on the cutting-edge of developing business knowledge ... [A]nnually, the Cass Executive Leadership Masterclass [will] be delivered by a long-standing, international thought leader to invited executives—our senior alumni, corporate partners and advisory board members, as well as rising alumni executives." Cass honored Tom by making him the first masterclass presenter.

Washington Federal CEO Forum
9 Dec 2016

In addition to FINAL and LONG versions of his presentation, he sent along a PowerPoint he's labeled "Mini-MASTER"—it amounts to an overview, wrapping up the year, in acknowledgement of this being his last presentation of 2016. 

Re-imagine! Seoul, 7 December 2016

He noted the loss of jobs worldwide to computerization—mainly jobs held by middle income employees. In his view, the growth of employment in the future will come from Small and Middle-sized Enterprises (SMEs).

Expomanagement 2016

Tom tells us, "With no shadow of doubt, Salibi puts on the most extraordinary management events in the world—from São Paulo to Radio City Music Hall. From grand ambition to obsession with the tiniest detail, Salibi and HSM have no peers."

Expomanagement in São Paulo will have 3,000 attendees. Over a three-day period, they will listen to an extraordinary group of speakers—and have the opportunity to partake of literally hundreds of workshop-discussions.

Speakers beside Tom include the likes of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Oliver Stone.

Jose Salibi Neto with Tom Peters

Tom’s Online Today

The online International Project Management Day event was presented earlier today by International Institute for Learning (IIL). The program will be available for 90 days at their website.

In keeping with his usual practice, Tom had PowerPoint slides to accompany his presentation. You can get the files here if you'd like:

International Project Management Day
International Project Management Day, Long Version

Tom Live through On-Demand Learning from IIL

November 3, 2016: Tom will participate in an online learning event presented by International Institute for Learning (IIL). He's to be one of the keynote speakers for their International Project Management Day. You can catch the program live on November 3rd, and find it online for 90 days following the event.

Use the code EXCELLENCE at registration online to get 10% off.


Puzzled at work? Discover ways to put Tom’s ideas into Action.