Waterman Memorial

On Sunday, May 1, in Burlingame CA, Tom spoke at the memorial service for his In Search of Excellence coauthor and great friend, Bob Waterman. Bob died on January 2, 2022. Here are Tom’s remarks:

Bob’s resume goes on for pages pointing out the important contributions he has made to his community—and the world as a whole. My principal connection with Bob, however, was a single activity. And it was a defining activity.

In 1982, Bob and I coauthored a book for which the publisher signaled his measly expectations with what he deemed an optimistic first printing of 5,000. We did a bit better than that. The first year was marked by 44 printings, sales of 1,300,000, and was the #1 New York Times non-fiction bestseller virtually every week of the year—to the point that People Magazine, in its year-end issue, called In Search “The Phenomenon of 1983. Tom Peters and Bob Waterman searched for excellence and created a business bible.” As for the impact on Bob and me, it was, time and again “Oh, you’re the excellence guy!” Life was never to be the same!

Bob and I were, on the one hand, cut from the same cloth. We were both trained as engineers, both earned MBAs from Stanford, both labored at McKinsey’s San Francisco office. But we were also very different. I was noisy in person and in print, profane, opinionated to a fault, longwinded and verbose. Bob was calm, measured, thoughtful, succinct, and only opened his mouth when he had something of significance to say.

Blending those differences and I reflected deeply on this, is what in the end distinguished the book. After Bob had done a massive re-write—I might add, on his spanking new Apple II—of an early draft of mine which ran to 1,000+ pages [1,400, actually], I thought he’d cut the best material and damped the raging fire that was my trademark. But I subsequently concluded that the ceaseless back-and-forth, the blending of the noisy and the calm, in retrospect enabled the book to find a sweet spot and to viscerally connect with the living breathing business- or non-business reader and the woman or man on the street. In Search of Excellence challenged her and him directly and powerfully, but not by whacking them over the head with a splintery two by four.

(As to the woman or man on the street, we were deluged with letters—remember those? —not mainly from the big dudes, but from fire chiefs, Navy captains, sports coaches, school principals, and even senior church officials.)

Bob and I became truly good pals named bob-n-tom or tom-n-bob, and the Waterman family, starting with the incredible Judy, in effect became my second family during a personal rough patch which coincided with much of the book’s birthing.

Again, in some critical way the book reflected that familial interwovenness rather perfectly. After all, the guiding idea of the book was to get beyond the sterile spreadsheets and bloodless depiction of business and to get to the human heart of enterprise and its moral responsibility to the individual, the community, and the world. And I believe that Bob and Tom’s Excellent Adventure did just that.

One last anecdote. When the book became the talk of the town, we were invited to go to Manhattan to be interviewed on the “Today Show” by Bryant Gumbel. As we sat in the green room, Bob turned to me and said, “Well who gets to say it on national TV?” I looked puzzled. He said, “Who gets to say ‘MBWA’ to the world?” (MBWA, or Managing By Wandering Around, lifted from HP, became our symbol of humanized rather than abstract leadership practices.) We decided to flip a coin, and damned if Bob didn’t win. After 40 years of holding a grudge, I will on this occasion forgive Bob for winning that coin flip.

I miss him [my partner and twin] to an unimaginable degree. Rest in peace, brother. May you enjoy for eternity MBWA in the heavens above.

Interview with Johann Verheem of Parsons School of Design

On January 31st, 2022 Tom joined Professor Johann Verheem and the Strategic Design for Global Leadership masters students at Parsons School of Design. This is a very unique business graduate program that believes it exemplifies Tom’s saying: “Hard is Soft. Soft is Hard.” The small cohort says they are a co-created course by diverse students with various backgrounds and different opinions.

Tom says, “My life goal—and I’m going to stay healthy so I can make a couple more steps—is to humanize professional education. And my 3 particular targets—who are my worst-of-the-worst list—are MBAs, Med schools and engineering schools.” Being able to speak with these students who are getting a less traditional, more humanized business degree brings Tom immense joy.

Watch the great discussion between Tom and this class below.

Escape into a Book

Everyone needs a getaway from time to time. Tom and Susan are spending a month in Santa Barbara. They’re enjoying the change of pace from New England.

Taking a break, doing something new, changing your mindset can lead you to innovate and create more unique work product. Try to change your mindset occasionally–whether it’s a stay someplace sunny or a warm bath with a great book.

Tom has long contended, “Great fiction beats professional tomes when it comes to management instruction. Why? Enterprises are nothing other than canvases upon which human dramas are enacted.”

Here are Tom’s most recent recommendations for fiction reads:

  • Anthem, by Noah Hawley
  • 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land, Anthony Doerr
  • The Daughters of Mars, by Thomas Keneally
  • The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse, by Charlie Mackesy
    Tom’s current recommendations for non-fiction may include some professional tomes, but also art, history, meditation, and other topics:

  • This Is How They Tell Me How the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race, by Nicole Perlroth
  • The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness, by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval
  • The Power of Small: Why Little Things Make All the Difference, by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval
  • Bruegel. The Complete Paintings. 40th Edition. by Jürgen Müller
  • The B Corp Handbook: How You Can Use Business as a Force for Good, by Ryan Honeyman and Tiffany Jana
  • Liars: Falsehood and Free Speech in an Age of Deception, by Cass R. Sunstein
  • Meditation Now or Never, by Steve Hagen
  • Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence That Caring Makes a Difference, by Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli
  • Midnight in Chernobyl, by Adam Higginbotham
  • Course 6: Leadership with Urgency–OUT NOW!

    Tom’s final course is now out! WOW.

    His series, Excellence: Now More Than Ever, The Excellence Dividend Online Experience, consists of six courses and offers a total of 99 Steps to Excellence, each followed by specific actions you can take NOW. The goal of this series is simple: to offer you and your organization a helping hand in implementing the products of decades of Tom’s research.

    Course 6 is the culmination of Tom’s course series. Leadership with Urgency will invite you to take a very close look at your daily leadership habits and start to make some immediate changes to improve how you’re getting things done. They may sound simple, but as you’ll read below, they’re not exactly easy. Nothing worthwhile is, right?

    Course 6: Leadership with Urgency

    [Below is what Tom has written to introduce this course, beginning with a quote from Dov Frohman.]

    Avoid busy-ness, free up your time, stay focused on what really matters. Let me put it bluntly: every leader should routinely keep a substantial portion of his or her time—I would say as much as 50 percent—unscheduled. . . .Only when you have substantial ‘slop’ in your schedule—unscheduled time—will you have the space to reflect on what you are doing, learn from experience, and recover from your inevitable mistakes. . . . It takes enormous effort on the part of the leader to keep free time for the truly important things.” Dov Frohman, Leadership the Hard Way

    High-tech superstar Dov Frohman lays down an outrageous law: 50 percent UNSCHEDULED TIME.

    Frankly, I don’t think many of us could pull this off—could even pull off 25 percent free time. Nonetheless, Frohman’s credentials from Intel and from reshaping Israel’s high-tech sector are impeccable. My goal is to have you reflect on the likes of Frohman’s outrageous command. I don’t think I could do it—but upon personal reflection I think he is absolutely positively on the money.


    How many of us have had a boss who is late to four out of every five meetings because he’s overscheduled? Well, count me as one who’s experienced it—and lost all respect for the boss as a result thereof. The late boss is disrespectful (and, I’d bet, an awful decision-maker). You can’t do “frenzy” and “thoughtful” at the same time. I’d bet his decision-making is as half-assed as his on-time record.

    The goal of this course is to lay down some formidable leadership challenges. It’s meant to get you thinking and trying several of these ideas out. I’m going to push you, for instance, on your communication skills. I’m going to tell you that each of the 15 people who report to you is very different from the other 14. Which means you need 15 dramatically different communication strategies in order to move forward effectively—every top football coach knows that, and so does every superior third-grade teacher, but damn few bosses seem to get it. They blame a miscommunication on the recipient—when in fact it is the boss’s fault 100 percent of the time!

    Twenty challenges are forthcoming. I hope they help you down the path to leadership excellence.

    Good luck.

    Register for Course 6: Leadership with Urgency today.


    Tom has assembled wise words that he has collected over his years of research, those that he shares most often or feels are most valuable. He uses these words to guide his work, whether speaking or writing or simply living. The words themselves come from military leaders, professors, photographers, entrepreneurs, film directors, business leaders, and high-level researchers because, as Tom acknowledges, excellence can be ubiquitous.

    If you’re in need of inspiration or a thoughtful reminder, download the Forty-three Quotes.

    Bob and Tom’s Excellent Adventure: 1977-2022

    Bob Waterman died, at age 86, on January 2, 2022; among other things, the 2nd day of the year that marks the 40th anniversary of the 1982 publication of In Search of Excellence.

    Bob and I co-created/co-authored In Search. We both thought we had done a pretty decent job, and the reception to the presentations of the book’s material had been uniformly heartening; but make no mistake, we were both staggered by the reception the book received and, for that matter, continues to receive. The only person more surprised than we were was our Harper & Row publisher, Ed Burlingame.

    Bob and I were, on the one hand, cut from the same cloth. We were both trained as engineers, Bob at the Colorado School of Mines, me at Cornell. We both got MBAs from the Stanford Business School, and we both labored at McKinsey’s San Francisco office.

    But we were also very different in ways that doubtless, in retrospect, drove our book’s success. I was noisy (orally and in print), profane, and opinionated. Bob was calm and thoughtful. Blending those differences was, upon reflection, what in the end made the book. After Bob had done a re-write of an early draft of the manuscript on his spanking new Apple II, my closest McKinsey friend, Alan Kennedy, was furious, and thought Bob had drained the spirit from the book. I was irritated, too; but I subsequently believe that the to-ing and fro-ing enabled the book to connect with the real business or non-business reader and leader—challenging her or him pretty directly, but not whacking her or him over the head with a splintery two-by-four.

    Bob and I became close pals, and the Waterman family, starting with the wonderful Judy Waterman, became my second family during a rough patch in my personal life which coincided with the book’s birthing.

    Bob and I never argued. At least in the normal usage of the word. We “argued” by editing intensely the most recent draft of the manuscript that one of us had handed over to the other.

    A year before the book’s publication, I left McKinsey rather unceremoniously, having pushed some “strategy first-last-forever” power players too hard with my incessant “people first” ranting. But the writing process, amazingly, continued without a hitch. I even continued my presentations of the materials to McKinsey clients as the material was massaged and massaged some more.

    Bob was a dear dear pal, his family was my family, and in some strange way the book reflected that rather perfectly. The idea of the book was to get beyond the sterile P&Ls and org charts, and get to the human heart of enterprise and its place in the community and the world. The data and our extensive research led us that way, but the true magic was arguably the quiet Tom & Bob Show that made the book what it was and is, and made it a dramatic departure from the bloodless depiction of business practices that were the norm in the 1977-1982 interval that marked the book’s birthing and road-testing.

    I loved Bob dearly and miss him to an unimaginable degree. Rest in peace, brother.

    Read Tom’s full remembrance article.

    For more on Bob Waterman, check out this Cool Friend interview with him.

    The In Search of Excellence Boys

    Tom’s In Search of Excellence coauthor and friend, Bob Waterman, is in failing health. The two were enjoying each other’s company, as you can see in this rare photo of them together, as recently as 2019. We hope you’ll join us in sending well wishes to Bob and his family.

    Course 5: Leadership Excellence – OUT NOW!

    Tom has done it again! Leadership Excellence is his second to last course and it provides ready-to-use strategies for every leader.

    Tom says, “This is simply a series of tools guaranteed to make you a more effective leader. Guaranteed because I have seen each one work a jillion times.” With Tom’s leadership toolbox you can try a few tools today, then some more next week. Pick a half dozen of the tools on offer. Or try them all. You’ll have to stick with them, adapt them to your situation, and march on.

    Read on to learn more about Course 5: Leadership Excellence and Tom’s full course series, Excellence: Now More Than Ever.

    Course Series

    Excellence: Now More Than Ever, The Excellence Dividend Online Experience consists of six courses and offers a total of 99 Steps to Excellence, each followed by specific actions you can take NOW. The goal of this series is simple: to offer you and your organization—a 2-person accountancy, a 14-person training department, a 23-person non-profit staff, or a division of a giant company—a helping hand in implementing the products of decades of Tom’s research.

    Course 5: Leadership Excellence

    [Below is what Tom has written to introduce this course.]

    The U.S. Navy paid my way through college. I paid them back with four years of service. The first 18 months were in Vietnam, where I was a Navy combat engineer (Seabee). I had two tours in Vietnam, two commanding officers (COs). I call them “Captain Day” and “Captain Night.” Together they taught me more about leadership—good and bad—than I could imagine. And the lessons stuck.

    Captain Day, my first deployment boss, loved his sailors—not unlike how Dwight Eisenhower loved his Army troops and Herb Kelleher loved his team at Southwest Airlines (more on that coming up). He was a no-nonsense get-the-job-done-on-time guy, but he clearly gave a damn—A BIG DAMN—about each and every one of us. He also avoided the command tent and spent most of his day in the field. Ten years after Vietnam I learned what to call his style: MBWA (Managing By Wandering Around)—a Hewlett-Packard invention.

    Deployment No. 2 brought “Captain Night.” He had a different style of “leadership” entirely. It’s often called “by the book.” He was a stickler for formalities. In fact, I sometimes thought he was more interested in typo-free reports of jobs not yet done than hell-and-highwater-completed construction with, perhaps, sketchy documentation. I had a crappy time, as did virtually all of us junior officers, and our track record in getting things done for our customers was less than sterling. For me, the quintessential event came when I was summoned to the CO’s office and lectured on the difference between “tangible” and “palpable” in a report I’d prepared that was going up the chain of command—to this day, over 50 years later, I have no idea what the difference is between the two words. But I damn well know the difference between “Day” and “Night”—and the yawning gap between leadership that fosters growth and pride-in-accomplishment versus leadership that does the opposite.

    I went from Vietnam to the Pentagon, and got another “degree” in leadership—this time leadership in big bureaucracies. Some of my bosses could move mountains, some could not.

    I don’t like fancy stuff, so I’ve boiled my leadership learning in this course to 24 tools. No theory, just 24 leadership tools that work. My goal, then, is to give you a big box of “stuff”—practical ideas you can apply as soon as you finish watching and reading.


    Register for Course 5: Leadership Excellence today.



    8.27.2018 revised 7.9.2021

    Tom wants to remind us of the importance of Hard is Soft. Soft is Hard. Here’s what he says:

    (“Hard [plans, numbers, org charts] is soft [abstract, readily manipulable]. Soft [people, relationships, culture] is hard [bedrock, lasting].)”

    My Life in Six Words

    The terms ‘hard facts’ and ‘the soft stuff’ used in business imply that data are somehow real and strong while emotions are weak and less important.”George Kohlrieser, Hostage at the Table: How Leaders Can Overcome Conflict, Influence Others, and Raise Performance

    My life in six words: Hard is soft. Soft is hard.

    Hard (numbers/plans/org charts) is soft: Plans are often fantasies; organizational charts have little to do with the way the organization actually works; and numbers are readily manipulated. Case in point: “quants” and ratings-agency staffers cleverly packaged and evaluated “derivatives” of valueless mortgages, thus spurring the multi-trillion dollar financial crash of 2007–2008 and beyond.

    Soft (people/relationships/culture) is hard: The best “people practices” (caring, training, acknowledging) create the most wholesome, community-minded organizations—and win in the marketplace as well. Effective people practices, design that inspires, customers who are enthralled, vendors who bend over backwards to assist us are all byproducts of a supportive culture nurtured one day at a time.

    This was the heart of In Search of Excellence. This is the heart of my work today. This has been the heart of every one of my books. “Hard is soft/soft is hard” has been taken up by some, but I’m afraid it’s not the norm. And as I write, we are beginning to emerge from the grip of COVID-19 and deep social and political unrest. Humane and thoughtful behavior is in fact more important than ever. Far more important!

    Google Gets a [B-I-G] [SOFT] Surprise

    Project Oxygen [data from founding in 1998 to 2013] shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others’ different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas. Those traits sounds more like what gets as an English or theater major than as a programmer. …

    “Project Aristotle [2017] further supports the importance of soft skills even in high-tech environments. Project Aristotle analyzes data on inventive and productive teams,. Google takes pride in it’s A-teams, assembled with top scientists, each with the most specialized knowledge and able to throw down one cutting-edge idea after another. Its data analysis revealed, however, that the company’s most important and productive ideas come from B-teams comprised of employees that don’t always have to be the smartest people in the room. Project Aristotle shows that that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. …

    “[Tech] billionaire venture capitalist and ‘Shark Tank’ TV personality Mark Cuban looks for philosophy majors when he’s investing in sharks most likely to succeed.”Source: Valerie Strauss, “The surprising thing Google learned about its employees—and what it means for today’s students” (Washington Post)

    Bonus: All Hail the Liberal Arts

    AT GRADUATION: Business and professional degree holders in general [MBAs, engineers, lawyers, etc.] have higher interview and hire rates, and higher starting salaries, than new liberal arts grads.

    YEAR 20: Liberal arts grads have risen farther than their biz-professional degree holder peers. At one giant tech firm, 43 percent of liberal arts grads had made it to upper-middle management compared to 32 percent of engineering grads. At one giant financial services firm, 60 percent of the worst managers, according to company evaluations, had MBAs, while 60 percent of the best had only BAs.

    Source: Henry Mintzberg, Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development, 

    More/Sample among these:

    The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World, by Scott Hartley

    You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education, by George Anders

    Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm, by Christian Madsbjerg

    Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein



    I believe the business world is at a crossroads, where hard-edged people are dominating the narrative and discussion. … The battle for attention and money boiling inside most companies and among most managers is that between the hard and soft edges. …

    “Far too many companies invest too little time and money in their soft-edge excellence. … The this mistake has three main reasons:

      “1. The hard edge is easier to quantify. …
      “2. Successful hard-edge investment provides a faster return on investment. …
      “3. CEOs, CFOs, chief operating officers, boards of directors, and shareholders speak the language of finance. …

    “Here’s the case for investing time and money in your company’s soft edge:

      “1. Soft-edge strength leads to greater brand recognition, higher profit margins, … [It] is the ticket out of Commodityville.
      “2. Companies strong in the soft edge are better prepared to survive a big strategic mistake or cataclysmic disruption …
      “3. Hard-edge strength provides a fleeting advantage. [It] is easier to clone than the soft edge.”

    1982-2021: In Search of Excellence/Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism

    Hard is soft. Soft is hard.

    “Hard [plans, numbers, org charts] is soft.

    “Soft [people, relationships, culture] is hard.”

    Q.E.D. (IMHO.)

    The “You Like, I Like” Fifty-Two – What a difference design makes!

    In May we posted Tom’s “You Like, I Like” Fifty-Two. Tom insists that at the top of the list of Extreme Differentiators is DESIGN. Today we post the designed pdf and WOW, what a difference design makes!

    Tom shares fifty-two mostly contrarian pairings to provoke some thought on ever important issues.